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Back-to-basics: What is PR?

August 31, 2022
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Faye
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Building with "what is your story?" on the side

Learn what PR is, why you need it and how to pitch to journalists effectively. 

What is PR?

One of the greatest ironies of marketing is that PR (the discipline dedicated to reputation) has a confusing reputation. Does anyone know what PR (public relations) is, why it’s important and how to do it? 

Yes! We do. Let us take you on a whistlestop tour of all things PR, so you know how to spot opportunities to get featured in the press. 

PR is storytelling. But not through your social media, a blog, or even the news section of your website – that’s marketing. PR is storytelling through journalists; that’s why it should arguably be called media relations. 

In a nutshell, PR works like this:

  • you tell the media your story
  • they decide if it’s relevant to their readers/viewers/listeners
  • if so, they use it
  • people see it and learn about your product/service/brand

PR is powerful because it’s a third-party endorsement. Expert approval, if you will. 

Let’s draw on an analogy to bring this to life.

If a young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person — that’s marketing (engaging with your audience). 

If the young man tells his date how handsome, intelligent and successful he is — that’s advertising (telling your audience about you). 

If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, intelligent and successful her date is — that’s public relations (a third party telling your audience who you are).

How do I do my own PR?

It’s important to explain there are zero guarantees of coverage with PR. Zero. Every day, executive spokespeople wait in TV studios to be interviewed, only for the news agenda to shift. Or the double-page spread you’d been promised is cut to half a page in favour of a Love Island Crocs feature. 

However, you can increase your chances of being talked about with these three tips.

1) “So what?”

Your story must be interesting. But what’s interesting to you as a business owner isn’t necessarily relevant to the wider world. Journalists will always ask, “so what?” Your story must pass that test. 

For example, things that might matter to you but won't get coverage:

  • A new website/logo
  • A sponsorship deal

Things that are of interest to journalists:

  • Fastest/slowest/best/worst - like this from a motorsport racing company, Straightliners.
  • A local version of a national topic – like this from English Heritage 
  • A heartfelt, authentic human story – like this from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Products for seasonal gift guides – look at all these

The list is endless because there is so much scope for creativity. 

Good media coverage comes from a strong story. So how do you get your story in front of the media? Through connection. On to tip number two. 

2) Media connections

Back in the day, brands connected with media by sending out a press release. Every journalist got the same story in the same way at the same time. 

But things have changed. There’s a school of thought that press releases are outdated and that pitching bespoke stories directly to journalists is the best way to get coverage. 

Our advice? Do both. 

Writing a press release is good practice because it forces you to be clear on your story. It’s also handy if you have existing contacts or an industry mailing list (Newspress for automotive PR, for example). 

Quick tips for writing a press release:

  • Put the best stuff first. Make sure you answer the “so what?” question in the first couple of lines… ideally the headline. Imagine your press release is being deleted from the bottom up. Would the reader still get the key messages even if the second half had gone? You need the answer to be yes.
  • Include a quote from a person – not a bland, ‘we are delighted that blah blah blah’ one, one that adds something special. Give an anecdote or a lesson learnt, something that could only be said by someone close to the story. 
  • Write in straight talk but make it enjoyable to read. Highlight why your product/service is newsworthy, but don’t make it pushy. Ensure you have covered all the essential details, but don’t make it too long. 

While there is great merit to having a press release, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Don’t send a blanket email with a four-figure BCC’d list.

Use your time targeting a smaller number of journalists with a clear idea of why they would be interested. Take a step back and think about where your story sits. The best way to do this is to read the titles, listen to the show, watch the programme, and research the journalist. 

How you do this depends on your business, offering, and story. Here are some examples:

  • A small business with little or no online shop? You need to keep it in the local news and make it clear where people can find you. 
  • A niche product or service for a particular trade? Look at the trade press for that sector; it’s what your prospective clients are reading. 
  • A fitness brand? Sports titles are a must. But don’t forget the fitness writers for national publications too. 

Create a document, call it your target media list, and write down the journalist's name, who they write for (include TV and radio), their contact details (Twitter is useful for this) and some notes on what they write about.

Choose five to ten journalists and contact them directly. It’s a good idea to take the key points from your press release and put them in your email in bullet points. Keep it to the point and explain you can give more information if they’re interested. 

Remember that it’s about you offering them a story that works for their readers. Make it as easy as possible for them to feature you.

You also have to be realistic about expectations… it’s unlikely Phil and Holly from This Morning will chat about your local school fundraiser. Aim high – there’s no reason your shampoo bar can’t make it into Vogue - but don’t expect results overnight. Building connections with journalists takes time. 

It’s time well spent.

3) A quick note about photos. 

If you have taken the time to craft a story, invest time in getting eye-catching photos and video – it will lead to more coverage.

Think of this example. You open a new dance studio for your business. What do you think would make the story pop? a) a photo of yourself standing outside your building or b) an image of a dance class in action? 

Yes, the answer is b. The movement, colours, and action all bring the story to life. Look at this from the National Ballet of Marseille.

For product photography, think about how you make your offering newsworthy. Seasonal backgrounds, highlighting an on-trend ingredient, a real person wearing/using/consuming it. And here is one of my absolute favourites… if you hand-make your products, how about sharing the original sketches or the design process? It gives such depth to the story. 

If these three tips have got your brain whirring and PR is something you’d like to prioritise, let’s have a chat. We have a network of trusted PR professionals and photographers and can match you up with the perfect people, depending on your project. 

hello@ignitioncollective.com or 01295 768122

Extra resources

A prompt

Think about the publications your target client or customer reads, watches and listens to. Choose one and become familiar with it. Focus on where your product or service would fit in. Research the journalist and contact them.

A book to buy

Hype Yourself by Lucy Werner. A no-nonsense PR toolkit for small businesses. 

A person to follow

@faye_hatton_PR (the author of this blog).

About the author:

Guest author:

Faye

Writing makes Faye feel alive. It’s her passion as well as her business.

She see's herself asan extension of her clients' in-house team because she cares. She adore words,she is a woman of her words, she will work tirelessly to deliver what you need.

If you want Faye on your side, get in touch.

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