Let’s get this out of the way from the get-go: ‘PR’ does not stand for ‘press release’.
While dealing with the media in a bid to generate editorial coverage for their clients is something a professional PR consultant does on a regular basis, it’s not all they do by a long shot.
So what is PR?
According to the Public Relations Society of America (which recently crowdsourced a definition more in line with today’s social age):
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
It’s clumsily written, and to anyone outside of the industry, it doesn’t make a whole lotta sense.
I look at PR as deepening the intensity of connection a brand has with the people that matter most to the success of its business (cause or issue if you’re a nonprofit). This could be your clients or customers, industry influencers such as analysts, bloggers or journalists; it may also be a local council, industry body or government authority if they’re somehow integral to the successful running of your business.
Notice I haven’t mentioned generating column inches in the local newspaper for your new widget. That’s publicity, and while there’s a definite need for companies to get media exposure for their brand, product or service, by just focusing on this aspect you miss out on the plethora of other opportunities that fall under the PR banner.
Stop, think and reframe
Stop, think and reframe what you’re trying to achieve – instead of simply getting a one-hit burst of editorial exposure for your business in a trade magazine (which may or may not have much effect), why not take the longer term view and build positive relationships with the editors and journalists who cover your industry? That way you’re in a better position to gain editorial exposure over a longer period of time; indeed, wouldn’t it be better that journalists come calling because they know, like and trust you rather than you always having to pitch them?
Why not seek out those bloggers or power tweeters who influence the potential buyers of your products and services and add value to what it is they’re talking and writing about?
Better still, why not establish your own channels via social media and put into place a content strategy starting with a blog, or maybe an online video series or podcast show, and then distribute via the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?
Why not build a database of fans and followers of your business and then place priority on sending out a regular e-newsletter jam-packed with interesting, relevant and thought-provoking information (rather than just bang on about your products or services or new client wins all the time)?
Highlight your expertise
Why not organise a free event for existing and potential customers so you can highlight your knowledge and expertise?
If you run a dog training school, hold free training sessions that people can attend with their pets to get a taste of what you’re offering. (Oh, and don’t forget to get these potential customers on to your database and then continue to provide them with compelling content about caring for your dog, training tips etc).
If you run a hairdressing salon, hold a champagne and cheese night to show off the latest trends in hairstyles.
If you’re a company that custom develops mobile apps for other businesses, write guest posts in online digital marketing magazines or blogs aimed at demystifying what’s involved in getting an app from idea to Apple’s App Store.
If you’ve just opened up a new bar, invite influential food, beverage, and lifestyle bloggers to rock up and spend a night soaking up the atmosphere of your establishment—drinks on the house.
Develop the skills
This, folks, is PR. All of it. Everything from a coffee meeting with a journalist, to providing sample product to influencers on Twitter, to hosting a roundtable discussion with industry experts that you record and upload to iTunes as a podcast, to producing a series of ‘how-to’ videos on YouTube.
At the risk of upsetting some of my colleagues in the public relations world, entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t need an agency necessarily to build their brand; rather they can develop the skills over time to in effect become their own PR consultants.
However, it all starts with a mindset: developing the right frame of mind so you embrace the myriad opportunities out there to connect with your audience in a positive, meaningful and respectful way.
Over coming weeks I’ll strip back the notion of public relations and get down and dirty into the tactics you can employ to generate buzz for your brand and deepen the relationship you have with the people who matter most to the success of your business.