PR Lessons from the headlines

The diversity of the news headlines struck me today.

The comms team in Downing street probably hoped that “Brexit Good News” would dominate the newsstands this morning, but they could not have known that they would be  competing with Britain “Colder than Moscow”, “The biggest breakthough in brain science for 50 years” (Huntingdon’s Disease) and tributes to the much loved broadcaster Keith Chegwin?

The diversity of these headlines shows certain truths about PR and the media.

Real news is impossible to predict. News is, by its very nature, unpredictable and the  element of surprise is one of the reasons why a story is new and interesting. This is not always good for PR departments, which usually plan their key media announcements quite a long way in advance. Even the best planned PR announcement can get pushed aside by an all-embracing news event such as Britain blanketed in snow and ice.

Today, more than ever, each publication knows its readership extremely well – their viewpoints, pet hates and interests – and their editors are dedicated to keeping their readers informed and entertained, and are careful to select the top stories that their readers care about most. This means that each editor is effectively creating their own version of the day’s news. Creating powerful headlines is an important part of the editors’ art, and editors are influential people because their headlines will be setting the scene for the conversations that many of us are having during the day.

Headlines sell newspapers and magazines and publications of all kinds are vying for our attention. Fewer people buy the same newspaper from the newsstands every day, so a paper with an eye-catching headline is more likely to sell out.

The same principles are true for trade publications and business titles, so we can apply these lessons to our PR stories for the trade and business media. We should remember that each publication has its own unique place in the market and we must never lose sight of the fact that editors can choose whether or not to publish our stories. We will be more successful if we also follow the main stories that the media are reporting day by day and week by week. We need to ensure that what we provide to editors is genuinely worthwhile, interesting, and of importance to their readers. If we can get this right, we will have a very effective and efficient PR operation.

No retainer for PR services?

Why is the traditional PR retainer being replaced by a project fee?

A retainer is a fee paid in advance to secure the first option on a service, and is the traditional fee structure used to employ a public relations consultancy. The agency is effectively on stand-by to assist the client company with work as it arises. If the work relates to news events – or possibly crisis management – the agency’s tasks are driven by external events and could be needed at any time. This means that the service can’t be planned into a calendar in the normal way. In these cases the retainer is probably the most appropriate way to structure the business relationship.

That was the traditional way to hire a PR consultancy, but today many companies are looking for a different kind of PR service which is more often a promotional communications service. It comes under the umbrella of Marketing and is closely allied with Content Marketing and Digital Marketing. For this kind of work, the client company will have a marketing communications plan that’s probably constructed around planned announcements, product launches and trade shows, and possibly a content plan as well. This can all be pre-arranged in detail, so the PR consultant’s work is mostly planned, and the work can be costed fairly accurately.

This is the reason why my own consultancy works on project fees, with no retainers, and why I have always worked this way.

While a freelance PR consultant is valued for the flexible service they offer, it is usually better if there is some continuity to the work. Working on an ad hoc basis, for example issuing a single press release, is not always efficient. There are several reasons for this. A consultant can work more effectively when he or she has a warm relationship with the editors who matter, can gain a deep understanding of the client’s company and  market, and is well acquainted with the senior executives in the client company.

Also, the best PR consultancies usually have ongoing commitments to their regular clients, and may not be willing to take on occasional tasks.

There is another, more subtle reason for preferring an ongoing client/consultancy relationship. This becomes obvious when you begin working with journalists. The relationship with editors and publications is not just a one-way street. We can send them our news material, but they may also contact us with requests when they need information. These requests will be outside your marketing plan, but if you have a regular  arrangement with your PR consultancy, you are likely to benefit from extra opportunities to provide interviews, case studies and images.

 

 

Case studies – ten ways to use them

Here’s a quick article to suggest some more ways to use those valuable customer stories. Ideally you would make a case study for every market sector you sell to. First, collect the details of the story and have it written up as a case study, to make a marketing document that can be used as a sales tool. Then..

Case studies for marketing

  1. Number one on my list has to be Content Marketing because it has become so important. There are a few different ways of doing this, but the principle is simply to display a brief version of the story on your website, and collect the email addresses of the visitors downloading the story.
  2. Use the customer story in a PR campaign. Interesting stories about well-known organisations and forays into new technology are very often suitable for editorial news and features.
  3. Email marketing – refer to the customer story in an email marketing message, and  use a link to track “opens”. Many companies are now using a marketing automation system such as Hubspot to streamline this process.
  4. Share the case study with existing customers. A new case study is a great topic for a company newsletter or a presentation to a user group.
  5. A ground-breaking case study is a brilliant topic for a conference presentation.
  6. Do something different and present the story in other ways – for example it’s no trouble to use a smartphone to make a video for posting and sharing.
  7. I have seen detailed technical case studies being used very successfully for training sales people and distributors overseas.
  8. Why not enter a customer success story for an industry award?
  9. Add case studies to tender submissions to build credibility and strengthen a bid for a major contract.
  10. Finally, this is one to make your internal team feel connected with customers, even if they are not in customer-facing roles. Use glossy pictures of customers using your products to brighten up your offices. It’s also good to have them in reception and meeting rooms. Of course, this only works for certain kinds of products and services!

With so many ways to use a customer case study, I believe it is well worth taking the trouble to put a story together and have it written in the right style and format for your business. The first customer in a new market sector could be an ideal candidate for a case study, as their story will help to gain a foothold and build credibility in the new market area.  Ideally your case study library will contain examples from every sector of your customer base. Depending upon how you plan to use your case study, you may need anything from 500 to 1,500 words of text, but the average length for a business case study is usually between 800 and 1,000 words. That’s long enough to convey a lot of detail, but still short enough to be an easy read.

 

Technology vendors – PR to target SMEs

Targeting PR campaigns to SMEs is not easy, yet this is a market that some of  my technology clients are aiming for. SMEs are the companies that typically have any number of people up to about 200.

Thinking about PR and media for this audience, it is difficult to find a media channel that reaches them all, because they  include so many different kinds of companies. They could be retailers, manufacturers, service providers, professional services, or providers of food, drink or hospitality, and they have very little in common except that they are businesses that fit a certain size bracket.

I believe that to conduct a successful promotion, you need to know your customers better than this. There will be groups of customers in different sectors and some may stand out as being more attractive than others. It’s also likely that the clients in different sectors may use your products or services in varying ways, and for different reasons. So it may be helpful to break that SME sector down into vertical markets which will have their own trade media, exhibitions, newsletters and forums.

It can be a very interesting exercise to conduct a Straw Poll and see what media, magazines and websites the customers actually read, and where they would look for new suppliers. There’s a lifestyle factor too. For example, people who travel a lot by car may listen to radio, and people who travel by air may prefer to use laptops and tablet computers and of course, online news services and discussion groups that go to particular groups are great for reaching particular sectors.

 

 

Trade show catalogue entries and PR messages

Recently, I found myself scanning through a catalogue of about 1,000 exhibitors, looking for companies who supply some particular products I am researching.

Writing catalogue entries is usually treated as a rushed administrative task, but could it affect the outcome you get from a tradeshow?

Many entries state that their company is “leading”. Sadly, this is meaningless corporate vanity. It’s also subjective, and editors usually remove “leading” from any edited, published PR content. Besides that, it doesn’t tell anyone what your company does.

At this particular show, a number of companies wrote that they have been in business for 40 years. Well to me, that makes you sound old fashioned if you are a technology vendor, and implies that you might still be doing things the way you did then. Although the history is interesting, I would add it as a statement at the end of the catalogue entry. I am interested in what you have achieved, and in particular what you have achieved recently – and what you have that is new at this show.

Ideally, the catalogue entry will answer the questions – who are you? what do you do? And what can you do for me? And if what you are selling is really your expertise, why not state the exact areas where you have this expertise? It’s particularly important for a newcomer to the market to get the messaging right.

I think there is often reluctance to be so specific in the description of a company’s service, in case any broader sales opportunities may be closed off. However, for most SME companies and technical companies the key to success is specialising in what you do and delivering a better product or service than the competition.  If you can begin to convey this in your PR, marketing and catalogue entries, then there’s a far more compelling reason to bring people to your show stand.