As your business grows more people will have a stake in it and will want to know how it’s getting on. So it will be in your interest to make sure that what they hear, read and believe, is on message. The best way to do that is through good PR. If you are not a natural at public relations it’s worth getting in a specialist. Here are just a few things to consider when looking for one.
What do you need?
Firstly, what exactly do you want them to do? Do you just need someone to write and distribute press releases or do you want someone who will help you raise your profile and build trusted relationships with key stakeholders in your business?
Stakeholders can be anyone with an interest, including your customers and potential customers, employees and suppliers, financiers and journalists, and the communities that you operate in. Each will have their own reason to be interested in what your business does and how it is managed.
A good PR specialist will be able to help you manage the messages that those stakeholders receive in order to create the most favourable impression. However be warned, PR can’t make a bad situation good but it can help by managing the story, and keeping people informed, until things improve.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that you are just looking for someone to deal with getting the simple stories out there. Press releases are a succinct way to get news out to the media and over to your audience. Your PR specialist can prepare and distribute your releases, and go the next step by following up to generate interviews and in-depth features with interested editors.
What’s their writing style?
A picture may be worth a thousand words but words are still important and it helps if your PR specialist can write for your audiences, in your voice. It’s not much use if your press releases are written in a highly technical or academic style if the potential audience are lay people who are not interested in complex ideas or jargon. Your written communications need to reflect the style of your business and take into account the level of detail that your audience will be comfortable with.
Contacts, contacts, contacts
Look for a PR specialist with experience in your business sector – it’s not absolutely essential, as they can easily do the research, but it will save time if they already have a list of media contacts for your sector, and all the key names on speed dial. They will have spent years building up those trusted relationships and they will be happy to use them to your advantage. If they also have experience in your particular field then even better as they will be able to speak to their contacts with some authority on your behalf.
Managing your stakeholder relationships
There are so many things that a PR specialists could be doing to help you manage your stakeholder relationships. Writing and sending out press releases is only a small, and probably the least interesting, part of their day. Make sure that you get the best out of them. Here are just a few more things they could be doing for your business.
Ideally, your PR specialist will have the capacity to write in-depth articles around the issues, as well as press releases around business activity. But what else might you expect them to do?
- Write speeches for events like launches and media conferences
- Arrange media interviews and introduce you to journalists and editors as ‘someone whose opinion they should be seeking’
- Find speaking opportunities, at major events, for key people in your business
- Advise on dealing with the media, particularly in a crisis situation
- Manage your social media
Pitching editorial ideas
If you want to be seen as an expert in your field, for example as a consultant, trainer or coach, it will help if you can get some articles into the media that your target audiences will want to read. You may be an excellent speaker, but writing may not be your strength. A PR specialist could not only help you write your article but also use their expertise, and contacts, to pitch your idea to editors. It’s much better to have a writing commission in place before you start writing. Apart from the fact that it will be more likely to get published if it meets the brief, it will also help you to know who you are writing for, and have them in mind, as you put ‘pen to paper’.
Pitching to busy editors is quite a skill and a specialist will know what the key media are looking for, and how to put it to them. They will also be in a better position to reassure the editor that the deadline and brief will be met. The last thing any editor wants is to find that, come the publishing deadline, they have a gaping hole where a well-written piece should be.
Introducing you as an opinion leader
A sprinkling of opinions adds colour to an article and journalists like to have people that they can approach for a quick response. You may not always have a new product or the next big idea to talk about but, if you have some opinions that are relevant to your industry, it would be good to be recognised as a ‘go to’ person for a topical comment. Your PR specialist can introduce you to key journalists at every level as one to watch. The editor of The Times might not be beating a path to your door immediately but your local media might and that’s always a good place to start.
Writing speeches that work
Even the best speaker can come unstuck on the day when faced with a time slot and an over-zealous chairperson. Getting someone to write your speech so that it flows, fits the allotted time, and covers all the salient points, may seem like a luxury but it could make all the difference. Say you had to present to neighbouring businesses, and local councillors, to win their approval on the planning for your next venture. With a poorly prepared speech you might inadvertently miss out the benefits to your audience, lose their vote, and delay the project.
Making celebrity connections
Nothing attracts attention to a launch or opening like a celebrity. Whether you’ve seen them in the media, or the town hall in the case of the local mayor, having a local celebrity adds sparkle and a level of endorsement to an occasion. If your PR specialist has celebrity connections, however minor, they might be able to help with product launches, and retail openings. Who knows, as you become more successful, you might find that you are the local celebrity who is invited to cut that ribbon.
Planning for a crisis
Stuff happens – it’s a fact of life – however, what sorts the wheat from the chaff is how we deal with it when it does happen. A good PR specialist will help you look at scenarios and plan for a potential crisis before it happens. For example, your business may make children’s toys and potential scenarios might include coping if there was an accident as a direct result of a child playing with one of your products. Most business leaders have learned not to say ‘No comment’ but what should you say instead, who would be your agreed spokesperson, what activities would you roll out to keep stakeholders informed while you dealt with the situation. These are the kind of things that you don’t want to be sorting out on the hop. In the heat of the moment, and suddenly caught off guard by a local journalist, people say the first thing that comes to mind. Even when it is genuine, and from the heart, it can be the stuff of PR nightmares. Make sure you sleep soundly at night by having in a place a PR crisis management plan that you will hopefully never need.