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Posts Tagged ‘public relations’


Public Relations for Small Businesses: Interview with Robb Deigh

August 16th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen
Robb Deigh

Robb Deigh

Robb Deigh is President of RDC Communication, a strategic communication, marketing, and public relations firm located outside of Washington, DC.  He worked in journalism and PR at PBS, AOL, Blackboard, Inc., and a large PR agency before venturing out on his own 12 years ago.  He’s the author of How Come No One Knows About Us?, as well as numerous articles for trade journals and other publications.  In the following interview with Robb, he offers suggestions on how to get a PR program in place, what mistakes to avoid, and how to track the ROI of your PR efforts.
 
What are the biggest challenges small businesses face when it comes to planning and executing public relations?

Besides the obvious—budget—there are two.  First, their language and messages might be all over the place.  I take clients through a messaging exercise that helps create a strong, solid set of messages that can then be used on their website and in presentations, print materials, and other communications.  If everyone on the team uses the messages, it is a very powerful tool. 

The second challenge is knowing how to get attention using traditional and social media.  Make a list of stories you can pitch to the media and match those stories to the right publications and appropriate reporters.  Knowing how to pitch a story is THE most important PR skill to have.  In terms of social media, small businesses need to get their messages and website in order before deciding to start a blog, use Facebook, or even publish an e-newsletter.  Make sure that before you say something to the world, you have something to say.  If you use Twitter, you know that there is a lot of jibberish out there right alongside useful information.
 
What are some easy ways for small businesses to get going with PR?

Start out by creating your organizational messages.   Get your team together and brainstorm a list of all of your company’s attributes.  Use those attributes to build 5-6 great messages that tell prospects, “Here is what we can do for you.”  Update your website with those messages, since all of your communication is designed to steer prospects there first.  Then, try some press.  If budget is tight, build your own small press list.  What do you and your audiences read?  The reporters at those publications are your targets. Get their email addresses and send them announcements when you have real news.  Put yourself in their place and call them with great story ideas about your industry.  

What should small businesses avoid doing?

Three things immediately spring to mind:

  1. Don’t assign a non-communications person in your organization the task of doing PR.  It will end up taking a back seat to his/her real job.  Hire someone with applicable experience and, if needed, get some outside help.  
  2. When pitching stories, do not call reporters with non-news.  
  3. Don’t blog, use Facebook or Twitter, or publish an e-newsletter unless you have something useful and non-self-promotional to say.   Educate your audience and give them the advantage of your expertise.

How can you track the ROI of your public relations efforts?  Seeing a mention in the press is great, but figuring out if it’s generating leads is probably not so easy.

Absolutely!  A stack of clips with your company’s name in it is definitely not a measure of success.  But clips that include at least one of your 5-6 main messages are of immense value.  That’s part of your long-term public relations ROI.  Make sure that when you do an interview, publish an article, or make a presentation, you use your messages.  In time, you will hear them echo back to you in the news media and elsewhere.  That’s how you know it is working.  Of course, you’ll also know it’s working when your sales increase, because good PR leads to high visibility which leads to higher sales.     

Care to share a couple of success stories?

I’ve helped dozens of companies go from being virtually invisible to being strong brands, but I think my biggest PR/media successes over the years have occurred when I have found good story ideas within client organizations and packaged those stories with 2-3 good sources for the right reporters at the right time. 

When you have a great story pitch, make an initial phone call and then send details by email. If you are doing it correctly, you really are doing part of the reporter’s job—finding good stories and sources.   Make it easy for them to say “yes.”  It works the same whether you are pitching your community paper or CNN (although CNN will be harder to reach on the phone!).

Podcasting: The Underused Marketing Tool with Big Potential

August 2nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Jay BerkowitzI recently watched a video (online of course) that featured Jay Berkowitz, CEO of the internet marketing firm Ten Golden Rules.  He was talking about social media, which he is wont to do, and mentioned podcasting as a great online marketing tool simply because it is so underutilized.  I found this bit of information intriguing and decided to blog about podcasting for several reasons. 

  • First, as he pointed out, podcasting is a one way social media tool, unlike Facebook and Twitter (when they are used properly). 
  • Second, there are few competitors so it’s a relatively easy market to dominate once you pick your topic.
  • Third, I am sick and tired of hearing nothing but Facebook and Twitter this, Facebook and Twitter that.  At this point, articles on those social media platforms are redundant and boring. 
  • Fourth, podcasting is a creative medium and can be used in a variety of ways.
  • And fifth, a series of podcasts is a great way to position yourself as a thought leader on a specific topic and can really drive some traffic to your site (and hopefully convert some leads into clients).

 To quote Jay directly:

There are very few podcasts on any topic, but there are now millions of iPhones, iPods and iTouches – 25% of users download podcasts. It is a great way to build a following with an audience looking for this content, very few competitors are podcasting. You could also add the shows to your website.

Now, please forgive me if we have gotten this far and you’re scratching your head wondering what on Earth a podcast is.  It’s an audio broadcast, or, to put it another way, a song with no singing, only talking.  You can listen to it online or download it to listen to on your iPod or other MP3 player. A podcast can be short or long, include one person’s voice or a few people’s, and actually, it could include music if you’re so inclined.

Here’s how you could use a podcast: 

  • Distribute a weekly podcast that includes a secret word or phrase to receive a special discount on a product or service.
  • Create a series of educational podcasts on a specific topic that would be of interest to your target market.
  • Use podcasting for PR and release news in a more personal, immediate way.
  • Advertise new products or services using your most persuasive sales skills. 
  • Replace one blog post a week with a podcast. 

To create a podcast, you need some software.  I’ve certainly listened to podcasts, but I’ve never made one.  Google to the rescue!  A quick search on podcasting software resulted in this nice little list of 2010 Podcast Software Reviews, which is very comprehensive.  Underneath the long chart comparing the features of 10 podcast software programs is a tutorial on what to look for in podcast software.  Good information to have for a newbie. 

I’m curious to know if any of you have used podcasts for marketing purposes, and if they’ve been successful.  Leave a comment and let me know!

The 4 Different Types of Press Releases And Where to Distribute Them

July 7th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Thanks to the popularity of social media and blogging, I think public relations often gets overlooked by small business people. It’s too bad, because well-written press releases that contain valuable information and are distributed via the appropriate channel can go a long way in spreading the word about your business.  The argument that you don’t have time to write and distribute one more thing is a cop-out, because you don’t.  Just re-publish stuff you’ve already written about on your blog, in your newsletter, and on the polls/surveys/research you’ve conducted.

Stack of paperThe best part of public relations these days is the proliferation of online distribution services happy to do the work for you so your press release doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.  Just match your press release to the appropriate outlet listed below, and you’re good to go.

Significant Findings

You’ll want to distribute any huge news via Newswise.  They specialize in knowledge-based news content and are the go-to news source for journalists and media professionals.  The press releases they distribute include research results, feature pitches, and breaking news.  If your biotech company discovered the cure for cancer, this is where you’d announce it.  And you will want to limit what you submit to this site anyway; at $500 a pop, it isn’t cheap.

General

Press releases that are of a more general nature—a new product release or service offering, a change in leadership, significant new clients, success stories—would be distributed through PR Newswire.  They have a really broad reach and deliver press releases to the print and broadcast newsrooms, journalists, bloggers, financial portals, social media networks, Web sites, content syndicators and search engines.  They charge $100-300 per press release. 

Viral

If you’d like your press release to go viral—and really, who wouldn’t?—send your valuable, content-packed release to WiredPRNews.  Even though a lot of companies like to say their service is unique, theirs really is.  They use SEO to make press releases more visible to search engines, making it more likely that your press release is read and shared by a lot of people.  And they only charge around $25/press release. 

Social Media

Press releases that include a multi-media component—photos, videos, MP3 audio—are more likely to make it onto the social media circuit.  Distribute those via Marketwire, which specializes in multi-media press releases and even offers a monitoring service so you can track the effectiveness of your release.  Pricing varies depending on the services you choose to use. 

Photo courtesy of Crittz/Flickr.

Can Your Business Benefit From an Incubator?

June 23rd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Joining a business incubator has, in all honesty, never even crossed my mind.  Many young businesses rely on a hodgepodge of networking events, memberships in groups like Business Network International and chambers of commerce, and the advice and counseling of a business coach to facilitate growth.  The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how beneficial a business incubator could be.  More importantly, what have I missed out on?

To pique my curiosity, I looked up the incubator closest to me: INC.spire in Reston, VA, which is part of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce.   I already knew that business incubators basically serve as a convenient one-stop-shop for growing companies, though many have restrictions on company age, industry, location, financing in place, etc., including INC.spire.  

Let’s start with these interesting stats from the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA):

Number of business incubators in North America, 2006: 1,400.
Number of business incubators in North America, 1980: 12.
Companies still in business five years later: 87%.
Non-incubated companies/startups still in business five years later: 20%.

Based on those stats alone, I’d have to say, yes, your business could probably benefit from an incubator.  Aside from a high rate of success, incubators offer a comprehensive list of services, including a lot of advice from experts in various fields, to support a company’s growth and success.  INC.spire’s services include:

Mentors.  Each client is matched with a personal mentor selected from the incubator’s Advisory Council

Advice.  One-on-one legal, marketing, public relations, human resources, government contracting, and finance advice.

Networking.  Networking events with other incubator clients, incubator alums, Reston Chamber boards and members, and business leaders in Northern Virginia.

Public Relations.  INC.spire press releases about its clients, incubator client profiles in INC.spire and Chamber newsletters, and introductions to the local press.

Office space.  A fully furnished office with high-speed internet and access to the Chamber’s meeting rooms for a small monthly fee.

I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use mentoring and operational advice every once in a while.  No matter what industry you’re in, no matter how young or old your business is, having someone guide you, answer your questions, act as a sounding board, share best practices, and help you solve a particularly vexing problem is invaluable.  All that free publicity INC.spire offers is pretty awesome, too, though I’m sure not every incubator offers that service. If you’re interested, NBIA can help you find a business incubator near you. 

Have you used an incubator to jump-start your business?  I’d love to hear from you and perhaps profile you in an upcoming blog post.

Public Relations 101

January 27th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Doesn’t it always seem that the cool people in books and movies have jobs in fashion, advertising, or public relations?  The cutthroat fashion industry is equal parts glamour and anxiety, but hey, they look good.  Advertising jobs require patience, creativity, determination, and a thick skin.  Once you take away the cushy paycheck, you are left with demanding clients and a lot of stress.  However, if the entertainment industry is to be believed (ha ha), the people who work in advertising are young, thin, sartorialists of the highest order, and really, really good looking. 

The public relations industry is treated the same way, but only if you work in sexy fields—fashion, hospitality, retail, and interior design spring to mind.  At its most basic level, though, public relations is all about four things: generating interesting news (or press) releases, sending that news to the right people, pitching stories, and, if need be, containing damaging news/stories. 

For small business people, getting press is a great way to boost visibility and position yourself as a leader in your industry.  You are doing something newsworthy!  You must be important!  To get you started, here is a step-by-step guide to creating an in-house public relations machine.

  1. Before you even write a press release, you need to put together a targeted media list. Start with your local and regional newspapers and magazines.  They are always looking for interesting news stories, and, especially in this economy, they like to write about upbeat, local success stories.  Figure out who covers your industry by looking up the publication online; if that doesn’t yield a definitive answer, call them.  If you live near a major metropolitan area, repeat this process with that city’s newspaper.  Next up are the regional and national publications that cover your industry.   Again, repeat process of figuring out who to add to your list.
  2. Now that you have a targeted media list, sign up for a press release distribution service like PRNewswire, PR.com, or pressreleasepoint.com.  Your press releases will be sent out to thousands of media outlets and further your chances of getting press.
  3. If you’ve never seen one, surprise!, press releases are formatted in a certain way.  Use a search engine to look up “press release templates” for a visual example.  If I explained it here, I’d just be wasting space.  Just remember two things:   Write them on an electronic version of your letterhead and insert what’s called a boilerplate at the end (it’s basic information about your company, such as your mission, years in business, etc.).
  4. Time to think of newsworthy press releases to distribute.  It’s easier than you think.  One of my clients is a wine bar restaurant located in a quaint, historic town.  I write and distribute press releases for them twice a month (consistency is key in the restaurant industry).  Here are subjects I have written about: new menu items, new wine flights, profile of the chef, a wine cooler giveaway, a regular nutrition series they host that is led by a holistic nutritionist, wine dinners, a new produce vendor the supplies them with local and mostly organic products.  I think you get the idea.  
  5. When you send out your first press release to your targeted media list, preface the message by introducing yourself and saying “I’d like to add you to my media list”. 
  6. Once you are comfortable sending out press releases, you can pitch stories to writers (via phone).  If you are about to launch an exciting new product for example, decide where you’d like that story to appear most.  Call the writer at that publication and tell them why you think this story would be of interest to their readers.  If they say no, choose another writer to call.  Be persistent!   

Once you send out a press release, whether or not it’s published, put it on your website’s “news” page.  If you don’t have a news page, you need one!