When people ask me whether they should hire a PR agency or do their own PR in-house, I often want to know what kind of budget they have for hiring. Too often, small businesses only budget for 3-6 months of PR agency support, which can lead to disappointment if you don’t have a plan in place for maintaining your PR program after the contract ends.
While you might think that hiring an agency to do a 3-month blitz is the most effective way to get publicity for your business, the truth is that consistency is the key to seeing increased traffic and sales.
I’d much rather see you send out one pitch a week than blast 100 press releases out in a brief campaign.
Why is this so important?
Here are my top 5 reasons for recommending a slow-and-steady PR program over a one-time blitz.
1. A longer PR campaign is more effective in introducing your work to a new audience.
One of the most important factors for building your reputation is simply showing up with your message, time and time again. You know that old marketing adage that a customer needs to see your business 7 times before they remember you? It’s true.
That’s about how much exposure it takes to encode your business into an individual’s long-term memory. So when you’re building your brand, it’s critical that you aren’t just a flash in the pan.
You need to get in front of your audience again and again.
If you do a one-time PR blitz, you might reach the same person two or three or even five times. But in a longer program, you have multiple chances over a longer time period to reach this individual, through the original placement and as you make a point to repeatedly share your publicity on social media.
2. Repeat exposure to your message and work builds credibility.
Think for a second about some experts and business leaders you trust. Chances are, you’ve seen them in the media or on blogs or podcasts a few times.
The more often you come into contact with an idea, the more credible that idea becomes.
This is how ideas — both good and bad — enter the mainstream. For example, part of the reason so many people still believe in the link between autism, despite the fact that the study it was based on was roundly discredited, is how often the idea and its proponents were cited in the media and on blogs.
On the flip side, repeat exposure to celebrities dumping buckets of ice on their head helped the ALS Association raise $115 million. One viewing of the Ice Bucket Challenge could easily be dismissed as a fluke, but when you look at a timeline of the campaign, you can see how the fundraiser took off after the 6th or 7th public challenge.
It’s hard to manufacture true vitality, but through PR, you can give your ideas more traction.
3. You get more opportunities to pivot.
A lot of business leaders come to B wanting to know what’s newsworthy about their product or business. They’re worried that there’s little to share, but more often than not, we’re working to hone in on the best story angles to pitch. For every new project, we start with 3-5 different pitch angles.
After working for a few months, we’re able to discern what’s most effective — both in terms of getting coverage but also in terms of traffic generation and sales.
A consistent PR program gives you the chance to learn and adapt your strategy and angles to the market, leading to you a lot more success in the long-term.
4. You’ll get better at it.
Just like any other skill that’s new to you, the more you pitch, the better you’ll get at it. You, or your marketing assistant, will start to see more opportunities, develop angles with more finesse, and get them out faster.
When I train small businesses to do their own PR, I tend to recommend that you budget 4 hours a week at the start, with the expectation that your time commitment will go down to 1-2 hours a week for pitching. Following up on press opportunities will take some extra time, of course, but that’s what we all want!
5. A longer program tends to lead to more coverage.
PR can be a numbers game. This means that, generally speaking, the more pitches you send out out, the more coverage will come back. I’ve found a 15-20% success rate to be a good baseline for most small businesses starting out with PR.
But this won’t be the case if you’re spamming press releases to journalists. The success rate goes way down if your pitches aren’t targeted to the contacts you’re reaching out to. That’s why, though it may be counterintuitive, a slow and steady PR program where you only pitch one contact a week will often lead to more placements than a one-time blitz reaching 100 or more media contacts.
Have you thought about launching an in-house PR program? Sign up for my email list to find out about training programs geared to thought leaders and small teams.
Why do companies do PR?
I got this question last week in the course I run with Megan Auman, and I realized that you might be wondering the same thing.
A lot of people have this notion that PR is the next step for their business or that it’s something all established businesses do, without really understanding why.
And it’s no wonder! Public relations can run the gamut from media relations to investor relations to internal communications to crisis management.
What do all of these things have in common?
I tend to think of this question in terms of what PR does best, no matter what your business goals are.
PR helps your business engage your audience at every stage of know, like and trust.
Before anyone buys from you, there are three things you need to establish:
First, your audience has to know about your work. If new people aren’t coming to your website or if business leads have dried up, your business isn’t going anywhere.
Second, they need to like what they see. Whether you offer a physical product that people buy based on taste or a service-based business that sells solutions, it’s important that your work is attractive to your buyer.
And third, they won’t buy from you until they can trust that you deliver. This is especially true for businesses that operate online. If your audience doesn’t trust you, game over.
“All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”
– Bob Burg, the Go-Giver
Most of the marketing advice you find online deals with promotion, or the “know” piece of the equation. Social media, link building, SEO and traffic generation strategies are all solutions to the first problem of helping people find your work in the first place.
This is also where I find that most of my clients and students focus their media relations goals. They measure PR results in terms of how much traffic gets generated.
But did you realize that media coverage also makes your business more likable?
The strongest, most powerful sales engine is a referral. We tend to think of referrals mostly in relation to a friend or colleague giving a direct tip. “Check out this web designer I used. She was great!”
But we’re not only influenced by our friends and colleagues.
A referral from a tastemaker can get you to take a second look at a trend or consider a service that you never thought you needed. Magazine coverage, blogger endorsements and well-timed Tweets can not only lead you to know about a business, but prime you to like that business as well.
Which brings us to trust. The same factors that influence whether you’ll like a company or product also give a leg up in the trust factor.
Your favorite bloggers and magazines aren’t out there covering every business. No, they pick and choose who to include in their round-ups, features and profiles.
On some level, we believe in the bloggers and magazine editors we follow. We trust their recommendations to be thought-out and researched. Or else we wouldn’t seek them out.
Your audience does the same. So when they see your company and work covered in their favorite sources, they’re being primed to trust you as a resource.
When you get a media placement, ideally you’re positioning your work and your message in a venue that your audience already knows, likes and trusts. I had a conversation with best-selling author Chris Guillebeau about his book publicity last year, and he values most the coverage that runs on blogs and media outlets that his audience already interacts with. That’s how he knows he’ll reach more of the right people.
This is a very smart way to think about PR. When a member of your target audience finds you covered or referenced on a website they already like and trust, some of those feelings are passed on to your business or brand.
This is what PR does best. One placement can help you get known, be perceived as more likable and earn the trust of a new audience.
When a media opportunity lands in your inbox, it’s exciting. Your work is getting noticed, and you’re getting the recognition you’ve always wanted.
But every once in a while, one of those PR opportunities turns out to be a trojan horse. Maybe a blogger has reached out to you for a blog tour with lots of strings attached. Or the magazine you love wants to sell you an ad spot. Or, the request seems like it’s not a fit at all, and you’re not even sure how you ended up on their radar.
Requests like these are often a source of stress and anxiety. That’s why vetting PR opportunities is a big part of my role with clients. It’s not personal, and so I’m not attached to the results. In fielding these requests, what I’ve learned is that a lot of the stress you feel disappears when you get really curious about every opportunity that comes your way. When in doubt what an opportunity really entails, ask!
Following are the big 3 questions I answer before moving forward with any incoming media request.
1. Is the media outlet or blog in alignment with your message and audience?
The purpose of public relations is to build trust with your audience. So it follows that alignment is the most consideration in vetting a PR opportunity.
When we get an incoming media request, we always check out the blogger or outlet that’s contacted us. It’s largely unconscious by now, but I’m always looking for fit in the following areas:
Content: is it geared towards the same audience you’re targeting?
Let’s say a blogger reaches out to you with a guest post request. Their main content doesn’t have to be the same as yours, but it should be created with the same audience in mind.
Using my site as an example, I once invited my attorney to write about a legal question related to PR. This isn’t a topic I write about, but it is highly relevant to my audience. In business terms, this demonstrates product-market fit.
Tone: Do you like the site’s voice?
I know some writers that write in an intentionally in-your-face style and others that are incredibly woo in their writing. It’s okay to have personal preferences about these things and decide who you want to align your brand with. The benefit of writing in a distinct style is that it strongly attracts some, while repelling others. It’s also okay to decide that you don’t like a site’s content, even if it might appeal to your audience. It’s your reputation — you should be protecting it.
Aesthetic: If you’re a visual brand, is there an aesthetic match?
For any style influencer or company that puts out a product, aesthetic fit is paramount. If your style is ultra modern, you probably aren’t a good match for a more boho-inclined site. If your products are luxe and feminine, you might want to avoid a blog with a minimalist aesthetic.
2. Are there signs of audience engagement?
While some people might advocate that you look at audience size, engagement is much more important. A small niche blog with a highly engaged audience is often more receptive to checking out new businesses and experts in their space. Not to say that it’s not worthwhile being on larger sites and media, but I am often having to convince clients to give smaller spaces a chance!
There are two main things that I recommend you look at:
Frequency / posting schedule.
Active comments or social media community.
Not every site encourages or gets comments, so social media can be a good proxy for an engaged community. Facebook and Instagram are the easiest to check out.
You can also check how often a site is getting pinned to Pinterest using https://www.pinterest.com/source/siteurl. We once found out that one client is getting crazy a huge amount of Pinterest shares this way, and adjusted her social media strategy accordingly.
What you’re looking for are indicators that people are showing up and engaging with the content, so you can be sure they’ll check out yours. That said, I’m not always a stickler for this. If you’re interested in rising in search rankings or really looking to become known as an expert, say yes to as many PR opportunities as you can handle.
3. Is the opportunity free or pay-for-play?
The lines between PR and advertising and sponsorship are more blurred than ever, which can be incredibly confusing for business owners. Often a blogger will approach you with something that looks like a great PR opportunity, only to reveal that it’s pay-for-play (not free) once you’re on the hook.
I like to assume that all PR is free until told otherwise, and I’ll never ask up front if something is really a paid sponsorship. It’s on the media outlet or blogger to ask for money. I’m not going to volunteer it!
But once the money conversation comes up, you need to apply an extra set of criteria on your decision making process.
Can the blogger or media outlet demonstrate results?
The first thing I want to know (even if a client doesn’t have a set budget for paid content) is what results can this blogger or ad rep get me. Even when it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to move forward, I always ask the contact to share click-through rates and sales referrals from past partnerships.
I’m not doing this disingenuously — I’m open to being surprised and taking a great opportunity to my clients. If a site passes your alignment test, ask for the numbers.
If a blogger or ad rep won’t even give you click-through rates, do not pass go!
Say thanks but no thanks and delete their emails.
Does the blog or media outlet disclose paid opportunities?
This can be a tough one to find out through sleuthing, so I’m inclined to ask. It’s important to know how they mark paid content, because as their partner, you’re also on the hook if the FCC gets involved.
I want to be clear on this: I’m not a lawyer but there have been highly publicized cases of businesses and bloggers and social media influencers getting fines for violating FCC guidelines. Please protect yourself by refusing to work with anyone that doesn’t disclose.
If you’re intrigued by the opportunity, open negotiations.
In a sponsored or paid situation, you have a lot of power to negotiate. What would you like to have happen? One blog post + a few social media updates? An email that goes out to the blogger’s subscribers? Ask and ye shall receive!
For a more traditional media request, the next thing to do is to email back and ask for their deadline. Being fast and responsive to media can lead to more opportunities down the line.
I want to add that I put those blog tours that require social media posting and emails in this category. If they’re asking for something in return for covering you, that’s a partnership. You should be asking what kind of results you can expect and be willing to negotiation. The only thing that might not apply is the sponsorship requirements, as no payment or product is being exchanged.
As you can see, vetting an incoming PR request isn’t a perfect science. But using these criteria, you should feel much more confident moving forward, whether you ultimately jump on the opportunity or take a pass.