What is PR?
Every organization has a story—what you do, why you do it, and how all of that affects the world.
When you tell that story through paid ad campaigns or events, it’s called advertising. When you tell that story through a non-paid communications effort it’s called public relations (PR).
“PR aims to secure publicity that’s validated and earned, not purchased,” says Hepp. “It’s not just the article about your product in the NY Times. It’s also speaking engagements, guest blog posts, industry awards, and other opportunities that present themselves throughout the year.”
Make the Effort
Often businesses see their competitors in the news and wonder, “Why are they getting attention, and I’m not?”
Odds are, it’s because your competitors are doing more than sending out blanket press releases and waiting for something to happen.
Says Hepp: “Businesses without a public relations program don’t understand that their competitors are getting the recognition and ‘buzz’ because there is a deliberate effort to pitch stories on the company and engage with the media.”
There is no single greater value to a company than having people talk about it and validate its importance.
Expect to Invest
One mistake many people make is thinking that PR is free. Yes, it’s true that you do not pay for a placement like you would pay for an ad. However, PR—like any other worthwhile endeavor—requires an investment of time, energy, and, typically, money.
For example, you might need to hire a PR firm to get the right exposure with the right people. You might need to allot funds for hosting media events at trade shows or giving product samples to journalists. Even creating a solid media kit, with high quality photos that can be used for multiple purposes, will be something that costs money.
What’s the return on this investment?
“There is no single greater value to a company than having people talk about it and validate its importance,” says Hepp.
Engaging media platforms to tell your story does more than get you noticed. It also assists with company perception and business development goals, such as improving reputation and credentialing expertise.
Hire an Expert
Many businesses choose to outsource the PR function, even if they have a solid communications team in house. Hepp says that’s because PR is a niche discipline requiring a unique skill set and personal relationships with editors, producers and writers.
“PR professionals must have strong rhetorical and strategic thinking skills as well as real knowledge about how the media operates,” she explains. “You need to be able to identify and articulate a company’s relevance and contribution to the ‘bigger picture.’”
Another skill: the ability to put stories together based on the interest of both clients and media.
“Look for someone who is immersed in your industry, someone who speaks your language,” advises Hepp.
“You’ll see the best results from a firm or individual who has already has relationships built with media in your industry and geographic market(s).”
Set Realistic Expectations
It’s unrealistic to think that you can send out one press release or pitch one story and reporters will be knocking on your door after the introduction.
“PR is generated through layering conversations and snow ball effect,” notes Hepp. “A good PR strategy will include a multi-tiered process with different ways to create a conversation, secure media coverage and reach target audiences.”
Keep in mind that a PR campaign can be successful only if the company is engaged. When your PR team generates an opportunity, your team needs to be respond—appropriately and quickly. That means being available for interviews or media events, providing input on press releases and other materials, and having your talking points nailed.
“PR is a like a marathon, in that you’ve got to put in the time day in and day out,” says Hepp.
“Yet when a reporter calls and wants to do a story right away, it’s very much like a sprint. You’ve got to be able to mobilize quickly all the way to the finish line.”
Keep Talking…or Be Forgotten
Hepp reminds businesses that they shouldn’t hire a PR firm for a few months thinking that a swift and short push is enough for long term success.
“Even if you land a cover story article in the New York Times, that doesn’t mean you should pull the plug on PR. If you stop talking, then you will be forgotten.”