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PR Media Relations Basics for Clients (Part Two)

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The following continues my listing of media relations basics for client firms; it is based on three-plus decades of working in PR, seeing what reliably succeeds for clients, and seeing what essentially works one time only (based on distinctive or unique circumstances).

To put this list of basics in perspective, I have presented the information as advice to a just-past-startup manufacturing client which has developed a brand-new "alternative" product. This client functions as a wholesaler selling through retail distributors, with consumers as the end-users. If your business model is different, some of these recommendations will have to be adapted—but most apply across a wide range of business modes. After all, the essential nature of "basics" is that they apply reliably to a wide variety of clients and business circumstances.

Basic Number Three:

Direct-pitching the right media targets (i.e., those who directly cover your primary target market) is solid and sound PR, and it can be made to work very effectively—but by its very nature, this approach is limited. There is so much more that you can do to generate favorable coverage, including (but not limited to) the following:
  • Pitch radio talk shows. Yes, I know that you can't "see" the product on the radio, but you will still generate interest—lots of interest. It is also very low in cost to do so. The benefits include:

    • More name recognition. For instance, I got a low-budget Christmas DVD on talk radio in the month before Christmas last year on a truly shoestring budget and reached more than 9 million radio listeners. With the issue/problem you solve, we can do better, and we can keep going back to that well over and over again.

    • When you know in advance, you can send a blast email to your dealers and their customers (hint: you should have email addresses for customers) telling them that you'll be on a given talk show at a certain time—and if the station streams its talk programs online, you can give them a link as well. This builds credibility and supports word-of-mouth referrals.

    • By mentioning your website a minimum of three times in each interview, you'll build traffic to your website, which will also build word of mouth.

    • A streaming-audio copy of each radio interview has useful benefits in your website press room (it shows reporters that you can handle questions) as well as on potential-customer sites.

    • Talk-radio interviews (especially on smaller stations) are useful training for higher-value media interviews, especially if these interviews are "deconstructed" in a media-training format. Note the mistakes you've made, and consider how you could better answer difficult questions.

    • Note: Talk radio is too often overlooked as a useful medium. Except for products that are purely BtoB, talk radio can help directly or indirectly, in a variety of ways, to enhance the overall PR effort.

  • You should create a series of focused-issue press releases on key topics related to your product, the problem you solve, and limitations of the "traditional" solution. These releases are not likely to be picked up by conventional print publications—they have other purposes. To achieve these other purposes, you should then place them on a commercial newswire so they can take on lives of their own on the Internet. From a purely press relations perspective, this is very effective; secondarily, this helps support your reseller-recruiting and direct-to-customer sales efforts. If you think print publications or other media will pick the releases up, email them directly to reporters (rather than counting on the wire service to reach them). Sound media-contact lists can be created at low cost by making use of Contacts on Tap (, an annual subscription service that is an order of magnitude less expensive than buying commercial media-contact lists.

  • Wire-service distribution of press releases is what I call the "breadcrumbs strategy," since these releases "live" online and will be found by reporters Googling your company—and if they find the releases (vs. you giving them the releases), they'll give these news items more credibility.

  • It's a "dirty little secret" of the news media that many online publications run press releases—often unedited—but put a reporter's or editors byline on them instead of running them as press releases. This "borrowing" transforms these fairly low-credibility press releases into high-credibility "third-party validation" articles.

  • If you do it right, the cost of PR-wire placement is relatively nominal, but the impact is strong and powerful—doing this right involves using the smallest available distribution market (i.e., "Florida" instead of "US-1" national distribution). The Internet is global, and since you don't plan on these releases being used directly in publications, there is nothing lost.

  • In addition to putting these releases on the wire, and in addition to direct-emailing them to carefully targeted reporters, editors, and news- and talk-show producers, you should consider shotgunning them out via email to a much wider range of prospective media types—this will generate more coverage (the focus of the release and how well it's written will determine how successful it is) at a negligible additional cost.

  • Target the appropriate specialized vertical-market trade journal reporters as a "media" group—these names won't be as easy to come by as more broadly focused reporters and editors, as they're not "traditional" media, but given time and effort, we can come up with these lists. Note: This can have broad applicability; too often, key "experts" are mistakenly overlooked in PR outreach.

  • Target small brick-and-mortar-oriented business media. Lots of small businesses need your kind of product-created protection, too, and they have problems/issues with the traditional solution as well. Note: This is specific to the client in question; adapt it to apply to secondary markets for your product or service.

  • Target small-contractor construction media. Note: This client has a construction-related product; apply this to the trades that cover your market niches.
Other more marketing-related PR ideas include:
  • You should have a referral-incentive program whereby you can incentivize existing customers to refer new customers. Your dealers should love this since it means (primarily) more local business. Note: This is one of the most overlooked marketing strategies, yet it is easily created and easily supported by PR outreach efforts (e-zines, etc.).

  • You should stage publicity-generating events, such as donating and installing your product at prominent local nonprofit orphanages or hospices or other warm-and-fuzzy/feel-good places…as long as the management there will agree to go on camera and say how wonderful you are. If you split the cost with the local dealer (for instance, you provide materials, they provide installation) and let them in on the local phase of publicity, it should be another win-win. Note: Again, this is client-specific, but the basic strategy of providing goods or services to a popular charity in exchange for a media photo op and endorsement is a sound strategy.

  • You should look at PR efforts aimed at potential dealers. Since you need and want dealers, who are gatekeepers to the bulk of your potential customers, this should be a priority, too. Note: Apply this as appropriate to your distribution channel.

  • As noted above, you should create email contact lists of customers and dealers, prospects, and referral sources (as well as targeted media). Then, each time you know you're going to be on TV or radio, let them know in advance; and every time you get a favorable clip, you can send them a link to the article on your website (ditto for streaming video/audio of broadcast interviews).

  • Consider alternate sales targets (including off-season and out-of-market targets). Each of these alternative business markets has media markets open to product reviews, case studies, etc. You can penetrate those markets off-season to keep your business from being totally seasonal in nature. Note: This is very client-specific, but it is usually important to seek alternate and off-season markets to "level-load" the business.
Bottom line: Some of these are recommendations that can fit into even a low PR budget. (The website press room is a "must"—and blitzing radio talk-show hosts/producers and shotgunning out releases to supplement your more focused media pitches are both strong low-budget recommendations.)

However, other ideas could be made to work in ways that will build any business—but to be successful, you need to set priorities and focus on those things that, within your current budget, can make an impact. That's what PR is all about—making an impact. When done within a rational new-business budget, PR becomes a positive investment creating a strong ROI—that's what this outline focuses on.

About the Author:

Ned Barnett has been in PR/marcom for 35-plus years, focused primarily on high-tech and startup businesses and products, crisis PR, investor relations, issue advocacy, and promoting authors and publishers. He has published nine books on PR and marketing communications, has taught courses at four colleges, and currently writes a monthly column on crisis PR for IABC.

In 1978, Barnett was the youngest-ever person accredited by PRSA, and in 1984, he became the first person named PR and Marketing Fellow by the American Hospital Association. In addition, he is the only person to earn four consecutive MacEachern Awards, and in 2001, he won a PRSA Silver Anvil.

But there's more to Barnett than great PR and marcom. He also writes novels and frequently appears on The History Channel as a mil-tech expert. His wife, also a writer, had a novel released in 2004; together, they have written a screenplay that is currently in development.
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