Sometimes, you just need a bigger microphone. When self-described “rock mama” Stacey Marmolejo, the owner of two Twin Cities’ School of Rock locations, decided to open a new one in Burnsville, she used a public relations campaign to spread School of Rock’s message in a way that would bypass much of today’s consumer skepticism.
As I’ve said before, we live in a culture that is highly cynical. Most people consider themselves to be fairly media-savvy and almost nobody wants to admit to being influenced by advertising. This is why public relations—and the broader category of Earned Media—can be so valuable to your business.
Unlike traditional advertising and direct marketing, Earned Media is where a third party is promoting you without being directly paid to do so. As noted, this includes public relations, where you promote a story to the media in the hopes they’ll cover it. It can also include giving quotes in articles. These allow you to be a resource to reporters—providing your expert opinion—even on stories that you don’t originate. The biggest challenge with this kind of media coverage is that you can’t directly control the timing and placement of the message.
We also include awards and speaking engagements under Earned Media. If a local or national organization or your industry’s professional association gives out awards for great work, do everything you can to promote your company for these (so long as they’re given out by a reputable group). Likewise, take any opportunity to speak to groups in your target audience. Most of the time, the mere fact that you’ve been asked to present to a group is validation of your brand message.
What makes earned media so great is that your brand receives a transfer of credibility from the third party who’s promoting you. And unlike paid promotions, there’s no skepticism from your audience. So how do you get these great benefits? These three steps will put you on the right path.
Like traditional advertising, it’s important to know where you want to put your message. To maximize the impact on your audience, read and watch the media in your local area and industry niche. Subscribe to the area newspapers and magazines; watch the local news; and join any organizations where you are likely to meet reporters and editors. You want to find the media outlets, reporters and associations that the members of your audience are most likely to follow or engage with.
Whenever possible, learn the names of the reporters and association personnel who are most likely to cover your company. Send your information directly to them rather than to a generic “editor@” or “info@” email address. Don’t forget more specialized reporters; the society page editor, for instance, might be interested in your special event if it involves community leaders, while the real estate editor would be most interested in your new office space.
Earned media sources need content. Reporters are often working on deadline and have space in their publication or broadcast to fill up. They’re anxious for material that will appeal to their audience. Same thing for associations and civic groups. They have to provide events and information that will keep their members interested and engaged. If you can supply that, they’ll be more than happy to give you a platform.
To do this, your information should be new, noteworthy, and relevant to a large share of their audience. Reporters are not interested in yesterday’s news, items that are only of internal interest, or routine events. So forget about the press release that simply notes your company’s new hire, you won’t see a lot of traction from something like that. You may get a blurb mention in the People section, but it’s unlikely to drive any significant media coverage or new business.
Another tactic is to provide reporters with good human interest stories. These engaging articles provide a behind-the-scenes look at an event or otherwise faceless organization by highlighting the emotional struggles or achievements of one or more specific people. Human interest stories put a friendly face on your company and—because they are not directly promoting your business—are unlikely to be viewed with much cynicism.
Ultimately, as with all marketing communications efforts, it comes down to your goals. If your objective is to get mentioned in some of those “What's Happening” blurbs, a generic press release about your new employee will serve your purpose. However, if your aim is to drive interest in your business, you’re better off pitching an article about trends in your industry and how your company is well-equipped to address them. In that context, a mention of new hires becomes one example to prove the overall point of the article.
To maximize your favorable coverage, take steps to make it easy for reporters and association personnel. Give them the home or mobile number where they can reach your primary media contact. When you receive a call from a reporter, get back to him or her as soon as you can. As I mentioned above, reporters are working on deadline and will appreciate a rapid response.
You should also develop a virtual media kit to live on your website. Include the history of your company, your mission and goals, brief profiles and photos of key staff and board members, as well as any recent news releases. This information should frame your brand in a way that makes it easy for the media to understand where your company is coming from and how coverage of you might fit into their editorial calendar.
When there’s breaking news in your industry, take advantage of the opportunity to promote your brand. The best way to do this is to develop key personnel as local “experts” who can speak to the important issues in your sector. Train these experts and make them available to reporters whenever possible.
No one likes to feel taken advantage of, and no one wants to be used to promote your business interests. Don’t treat the media outlets and associations as sources of free promotion. Instead, do everything you can to deliver great content in a way that respects the reporter or organization’s needs.
Always thank a reporter for his or her coverage. Send a hand written thank-you note. And never nitpick over minor inaccuracies. Corrections appear in small type on a back page. They are not worth your effort or running the risk of irritating an editor or association personnel. Follow these basic guidelines, and you’ll develop long-lasting relationships with the media that can really pay off.