“What is it that you actually do?” is a question that I’ve pretty much had throughout my career. I get it; most people see us drinking free champagne at events, getting tonnes of freebies from clients, and when there are late nights, we take flatlays of strategically placed Dominos and beer. It hardly seems like a difficult career, but I promise you, there’s a lot of late nights, stressful moments and temper tantrums behind the Instagram Stories… and that’s just clients! I joke. Kind of.
PR can seem like a minefield if you have no idea what it actually means. Its name, by nature, is vague – “Public Relations” – and everyone has a slightly different interpretation. Not helped by freelancers and agencies offering different services and grey areas like social media, SEO and PPC; which sometimes sit with a PR agency and sometimes a digital agency. It’s confusing, I know, so when people ask me the question, I put it as simply as I can: “I help get a brand’s messages (be that a product or service) out to the right people through the right channels. It’s as simple as that.” So, whether that means landing the front page of the Guardian, securing a column in a local paper or standing outside a shopping centre with branded balloons, it all falls under the PR banner.
Whilst I, of course, want brands to come to us for their PR, I’m also really passionate about empowering people to understand how PR works. For smaller business owners, this will give them the chance to accelerate their own marketing in the start-up and scale-up stage, and when businesses are ready to engage an agency, them understanding how it works just makes it easier for everyone. So, with this in mind, I’ve pulled together the ultimate A-Z of PR; a look at the key terms that you should know.
Marketing 101 – know your audience. This is so fundamental when it comes to PR because if you haven’t identified who you need to get to, how will you know where to pitch your stories? So many people make the mistake of thinking that quantity is important when it comes to press coverage, but it has to be about quality. Getting 100 pieces of coverage in unrelated newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs is pointless if they’re not helping to attract your target customers.
A boilerplate is the extra information that you provide to a journalist at the end of your press release. It’s not to be included in the release itself, but gives you a chance to give them a little more insight into you and what you do in a few sentences. I always try to include company background, milestone dates, awards and anything else of interest.
You might hear this term a lot when you speak to a PR and really, it’s just about getting people’s attention by telling compelling stories. You might create written content in the form of press releases or blogs, or visual content for your social media; you want to create content that appeals to your audience and resonates with them. Having a ‘call to action’ in your content is really important too, whether that’s “find out more”, “visit our website” or “buy now”… you want to tell them what to do next.
The staple of good PR, data gives you the stats and facts to back up what you’re saying. Your data might come from your own market research or national surveys, but it’s key to giving your story credibility. Data can also help your business – and wider industry – make strategic decisions; if you know what consumers want, you can start to plan how you satisfy those needs through your products and services.
Engagement used to be a bit of a wishy-washy term in PR to describe how well a campaign did, in the place of what is deemed more measurable ROI (return on investment, eg. sales revenue, new leads etc). Now, thanks to social media, it has a lot more weight behind it as it measures the public shares, likes and comments on your posts and stories. It doesn’t necessarily translate to sales but is a great way to build your community.
Publications often release a calendar of their planned editorial for the year, which is a list of topics that they’re planning to cover. These are a great opportunity for you to put yourself, or your product/service, forward for inclusion. The pandemic has changed things a little so you might find they’re not released in the same way (usually October or November for the coming year) but keep your eyes on your target titles and hopefully you’ll nail some great opportunities for your 2021 PR plan.
Linked to knowing your audience, understanding audience profiles, more specifically, generations is really important when planning an effective PR campaign. There is such a remarkable difference in how the generations consume information and buy products and services, so make sure that you’re ahead of the curve. Understand the difference between Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen-Z and Generation Alpha; this will help you pitch what you have to offer in a way that appeals to them.
Hi res images
The bane of every PRs existence… I feel like we spend most of our time reminding clients to send us hi res images. When you hear this, it refers to high quality, print ready images that are good enough to feature in newspapers, magazines, brochures and other key printed material. The technical part is making sure that they are at least 300 dpi (dots per inch – or pixels per inch) and definitely over 1 megabyte.
The buzzword of the early 21st Century, influencers form a huge part of many PR and marketing strategies. I’ve written a whole piece about how to work well with influencers, so check it out but, essentially, they are bloggers and content creators who have audiences that will share your brand’s values and have an audience that will be interested in your product or service. Executed well and an influencer strategy can be the key to your success and drive a lot of revenue your way!
PR gets a bad reputation when it comes to journalists, often because of the “spray and pray” approach that PR professionals take to sending out press releases and just hoping for the best. However, the reality is that journalists need us as much as we need them and one sure-fire way to give them what they want is seeing a journalist request. You’ll find these under the #journorequest hashtag on Twitter but also via media databases like Gorkana, and they can help you build great relationships with your target journos.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a grey area when it comes to PR and whilst I would definitely recommend using an expert in this area, adding the important “key words” that they use as part of your SEO strategy is really important. Often, journalists will copy and paste phrases, paragraphs and even full press releases, so including your key words in there can help boost your SEO when you land online coverage.
Whether you’re a product or service-based business, getting into listicles is a brilliant way to boost your PR. This could be anything from “The 10 best date night locations in London” to “The five skincare products to use right now”, journalists are often pulling together their recommended lists for articles, especially for Valentine’s Day and Christmas gift lists. Making sure you’re on their radar, whether you’re new to the market or an established brand, is key and a media kit (see the next point) can help you achieve this.
Also known as a ‘press kit’ or ‘media toolkit’, this is your package of promotional material that tells journalists and influencers all of the key information about you. It will vary slightly depending on your business, but key information to include: an elevator pitch (a 60-second description of what your business is and why do people want or need it), boilerplate, fact sheets, key press releases, biographies of founder(s), inclusion of brief case studies (if relevant), any notable coverage (especially national and international titles), a lookbook or set of key images, and your contact information. This media kit is usually digital and sent in a low res format (PDF) that won’t block inboxes.
When you think of PRs sipping free champagne at events know that this is actually “working”… networking to be precise. Having a Little Black Book of contacts is always a good idea when you have a business to promote, so get out there (when events are the “done” thing again) and meet people at networking events. There are also tonnes of great virtual events at the moment; from speed networking to industry socials. Find membership and business groups for your sector(s) and target audiences, and start to build a name for yourself… but don’t go in with the hard sell. Networking is a long game; it’s about creating relationships with people.
AKA a ‘comment piece’, this can be a great way to position yourself as an expert in your field. You might choose a general subject about your industry or a more current issue (eg. dare we say it… Brexit) and use that as a hook to give your opinion about what it means for your sector. You can pitch your opinion piece to your target journalist, but make sure that it’s actually opinionated and topical; draw them in with either controversy or a new way of thinking… remember, if you don’t entice them, you won’t draw their readers in either.
The ‘bread and butter’ of the PR world but something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, a press release will often be your first interaction with a journalist. It’s how you share your news with your target media; whether that’s business or brand news, a product launch or an introduction to people involved in the business, a press release helps you get your brand in front of your target customers. Check out our guide to writing a great press release and also our press release template over on Pocket Sized PR.
Whilst you’ll often be creating your own opportunities, through press releases and comment pieces, much like forward features there are also some great existing Q&A opportunities out there. Have a look at key business and industry titles to see what profiles they do with other people – often recurring features like ‘5 Minutes With’ and ‘Spotlight On’. Getting in these can help position as an expert in your industry and align your brand with the right media. They’re also super-easy to take part in; you put yourself forward and usually just complete a set of pre-determined questions by email. A great ‘quick win’ for your PR!
You will often hear PR professionals talk about proactive and reactive opportunities. They speak for themselves but, for example, reactive PR could be comment pieces based on topical issues in the news or putting yourself forward for interview opportunities to speak about headline news. I would say that both are equally as important as each other; obviously when you’re doing your PR plan you can put proactive ideas (stories, stunts, gifting, influencer activity etc) in there, but the reactive will come and go as you move through your campaign, so just allow yourself some time to fit reactive PR in.
A staple of most PR campaigns, seasonal dates provide great PR opportunities for brands. Traditional dates include Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, April Fool’s Day, Halloween and Christmas, but thanks to PRs there is now a 365 calendar of awareness days and weeks that can give you a PR hook. From World Gin Day and National Chocolate Week to more serious, health-related campaigns like Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Stoptober.
This links right back to our first point about knowing your audience; once you’ve identified who you want to get to, you can then choose the newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, TV programmes and radio stations that they listen to and read. I referred to “spray and pray” earlier, which is when you just send your release to every man and his dog, but what you need to do is create a target media list (or press list, if you prefer) and identify the right journalists at each title, noting down their contact details and why they’ll be interested in your brand.
Back to the fundamentals of marketing, but knowing your unique selling point is key. What makes you, your business, your product or service unique? Are you the only one offering it? Are you doing what others are but better? Sometimes, your USP will stand out and make you a no-brainer to your customers, but if you’re competing against others, it’s important to showcase what the ‘need’ is for your product or service and why people should spend their money with you. Get this across through a mixture of facts, data, personality and brand proposition.
There’s no denying that video content is king. Moving images will always stop people scrolling online, whether a social media newsfeed or a magazine website. Think about how you can use video effectively to tell your story and engage people with your brand. Journalists are really keen on this too as they’re all focusing on how to best use video, so it’s a strategy worth adopting. But, do your research about the best format for the media you’re using; when it comes to websites, MP4s will usually work best, but social media channels are a different ball game; for example, Facebook won’t autoplay YouTube because they’re rival companies so upload the file directly to Facebook.
Ok, so this one sounds a bit harsh but always think… “who cares?” News needs to be just that. You having a new website isn’t remotely exciting to anyone, but if it opens up a new shopping experience for customers or embraces new technology like AI, then there might be an angle in it. I kid you not that we’ve written press releases about new printers before, but when they’re offering the retail industry an innovative way to deliver their marketing campaigns, there’s a way to make it sound sexy.
Speaking of which, sex sells. We all know it. But no, I don’t mean bringing a #MeToo crisis comms situation to your door by using scantily clad women to promote a product. Instead, I mean thinking about how to present your information in the most attractive way. You might have lots of information to put into a press release, but think about it in order of what’s going to be the most appealing to the audience first, rather than what’s important to you or the company. Going back to your new website, will your audience care that you spent £10k on a new website? No. But will they care that you now offer a virtual personal shopping service that predicts the clothes they’d love and sends them to their door? Probably.
In most cases – not all – profiling the people behind the brand can be a really powerful tool when it comes to PR. People love to understand the ‘story’, so using yourself – or the founders – is a must-consider when crafting your PR campaign. It might be that you just use Instagram Stories to show behind-the-scenes or you might want to become an expert in your field, with regular interviews and comment pieces; look at the best way to showcase the people behind the brand.
Ok, let’s break this down… Zeitgeist is German: zeit means “time” and geist means “spirit” so, Zeitgeist is easily translated as the “spirit of the time”. It’s often banded around with the word “cultural”, looking at what’s going on culturally, religiously and intellectually during a certain period of time. This links back to understanding the different generations and what they expect of businesses and brands. For example, you might refer to the “free love and progressive thinking of the 60s” or, for the modern era, an expectation of “sustainability and eco-living”.
Whilst not the full synopsis of what PR is, I hope this gives you a good understanding of the key terms and activity that fall under this often-unknown industry. It’s simple when you know it… and if you still struggle, drop us a line to see how we can help take your PR strategy to the next level.