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Danielle Simpson’s monthly ‘call to action’: Don't cut back on PR

publication date: Apr 5, 2009
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author/source: Danielle Simpson
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simpsonPublic relations has always been seen as a ‘nice peripheral activity’ but as advertising executives continue to forego their daily Starbucks and drown their sorrows at the corporate coffee machine, PR has dramatically come to the fore. According to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising Bellwether report, marketing budgets were reduced by the greatest extent ever in the survey’s nine-year history in Q4. As the pressure to secure ‘free-of-charge’ coverage has increased, press releases are flying around like fishing lines without hooks!

Spending is unlikely to recover until at least 2010, so many companies are relying on PR to connect with consumers. Of course, some businesses have let PR personnel go and are riding the storm regardless, but countless others are pursuing in-house activities. But how is it that some companies making themselves heard while others are floundering?

PR can be classified into ‘proactive’ and ‘reactive’ promotional activity. The press release remains one of the staple tools in proactive PR but weak activities are a costly waste of time. It goes without saying that ‘blanket-dropping’, or submitting them to on-line newswire sites, is only half of the battle. The rest lies in understanding the stories and angles journalists are looking for, forward planning weeks in advance, shaping editors’ schedules and remaining at the forefront of people’s minds to remain in the spotlight.

The most effective press releases add value because they are ‘less about us’ and ‘more about you’. They communicate ‘how we make your life easier’. So instead of promoting a company’s attributes they are topical, provide useful quantitative or qualitative information, generate awareness or give scope for journalists to consult other businesses as part of a larger feature. They often go as far as to include a ‘human angle’ and so present a ‘story’ along with their ‘trumpet-blowing’ corporate news.

Brands can also gain valuable coverage by offering an ‘exclusive’ story to one contact. This could involve pitching the news to an individual, writing a short piece for the local paper, appearing on a radio or television station, or targeting topical content for a publication or trade title. If an ‘exclusive’ story has been accepted it’s a false economy to publicise the news to rival publications. The media logically gravitate towards the most trustworthy sources.

Successful PR goes back to basics: all communication includes the relevant contact details and client’s details; the comments provided are clear and concise; quality JPEGs are offered with captions and clear headings. When media interaction is defined by accuracy, speed and availability, PR growth will follow because successful brands become renowned for generating ‘good news’. A common mistake is to release a ‘taster’ then wait for the press to make contact – they are generally too busy with piles of comprehensive alternatives. When the cost of researching, writing and distributing press releases is so low, compared to other forms of marketing, most businesses can’t afford not to tell their news and tell it well.

Building an effective PR strategy means recognising the harm in antagonising the media too. Offering information before obtaining permission or highlighting case studies unwilling to be interviewed are just two examples. To be most effective I advise companies to build the PR function into core business strategy, encourage staff to look for ‘opportunities’ daily, direct media calls efficiently and discuss PR with clients and customers regularly.

And finally, when a company makes key personnel available to the media, the business stands a better chance of gaining maximum exposure. As a PR I’m renowned for being available in the most bizarre places: out jogging, at dinner parties, in labour... (unfortunately it’s true). Make the most of your own resources – business leaders can get the same level of PR presence by educating employees to manage the media effectively.

Danielle Simpson is Creative Director of thebrandeffect, working with some of the most successful property companies in the south. Log on to www.thebrandeffect.co.uk for info.