Managing public relations and the media

Public relations, commonly known as PR, can raise the profile and credibility of your business. Whether you decide to do it yourself, or use the services of an agency, this guide can help you recognise and take advantage of the opportunities.

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Role of public relations

Public relations is a valuable tool in the promotional mix. Unlike paid marketing programs such as advertising your business, public relations is focused on earned media and can take advantage of unpaid communication channels.

Public relations is about managing perceptions – how people think about your business. It aims to:

  • increase awareness
  • improve business reputation
  • attract customers
  • strengthen relationships.

Public relations can be:

  • proactive – for example, sharing positive news stories to raise your business profile
  • reactive – for example, responding to an event that can have a negative impact on your business's reputation.

Benefits and risks of public relations

Public relations can:

  • shape the attitudes and behaviours of existing and potential customers
  • play an important role if you're marketing on a small budget
  • deliver the credibility that comes with independent sources.

Businesses of all sizes can benefit from well-planned PR initiatives. Some examples are:

  • A plumber operating in his local area can get PR exposure through trade networks and community groups and news items in local media.
  • A national procurement software provider can get PR exposure through specialised publications and industry associations.

PR can be cost-effective compared to paid marketing, but you'll have less control over things like timing and content.

Public relations in 8 steps

Develop an effective public relations campaign by following these 8 steps.

Before starting a public relations program:

The success of a PR activity can be measured by the:

  • amount of media coverage – how many times your business appears in the media and the number of people you reach
  • quality of media coverage – how influential the media channels are and how prominent and positive the coverage about your business is.

You can also track changes in KPIs, for example:

When setting your goals, make sure that you'll be able to both run the PR activities and manage all customer responses.

As with all marketing tactics, you'll need to invest time and possibly some money in your public relations.

Your budget will depend on the proposed initiatives in your marketing action plan. Make sure you budget for all elements, including:

  • media kits (e.g. media releases and samples sent to journalists)
  • promotional items (e.g. branded pens and cups as giveaways)
  • event costs (e.g. venue hire and catering for a product launch)
  • sponsorships (e.g. supporting a community group or sporting club)
  • agency fees (e.g. hourly rate for providing public relations services).

Knowing your ideal customers will help you select the right channels, tools and activities. Refer to the target segments you prioritised in your marketing plan. Think about your ideal customers and consider:

  • how they live their lives
  • where they get their information.

Use this information when designing your public relations activities.

Think about the reputation you want to build for your business. Ask yourself: What do you want to be known for?

Brainstorm the big ideas that will get people talking about your business. These are your best public relations opportunities.

Identify events or happenings at your business that could be newsworthy and ensure you:

  • make this a habit that's part of the way you and your team think
  • choose material that's up to date, interesting and fits your audience.

To support your big ideas, draft the key messages that can be used as part of your PR material. Your key messages should be:

  • accurate and honest
  • no longer than a sentence – be short and sharp.

These messages should explain the who, what, where, when and why of your business, for example:

"ABC Hardware is a family-owned business that has supported DIY enthusiasts in the Hills District with expert advice and quality tools since 1982."

Make sure that your messages match your brand positioning.

Base the selection of your public relations activities on:

  • what you're trying to achieve
  • what appeals to your audience.

To help you decide:

Keeping track of the many aspects of public relations requires good organisation.

Once you have chosen an activity, create and maintain a work in progress document that includes:

  • tasks – what needs to be done
  • timing – when it must be done by
  • talent – who is responsible.

Make sure your public relations initiatives are included in your marketing plan.

Based on your planning, the next stage will be to deliver your public relations activities. This implementation will be based on your ideas, tools and contacts.

For example...

You might have recognised an opportunity to generate publicity for your outdoor adventure store – a staff member has recently won an international rock-climbing competition. To capitalise on this news and reach young outdoor adventurers, you:

  • send a press release to local newspapers and online community groups
  • distribute a media kit with video footage to outdoor adventure journalists
  • provide the staff member with training to be a spokesperson for your business and do media interviews
  • sponsor an 'active youth' project to promote health and fitness
  • run and fund a community event run to raise awareness
  • promote the news across all your channels – websites, social media, newsletters and again at the point of sale.

In some instances, your public relations efforts may be focused on crisis communication in response to a risk to your reputation. To provide a response and clarify the facts, you may need to:

  • write and issue a media release
  • be interviewed by the media.

Remember that public relations is an ongoing creative process that helps to position your business and encourage customers to trust, like and support your business. You should:

  • be persistent and stay positive
  • continue to look for opportunities.

As you're committing time and money to your PR program, you need to know if it's effective. This will help you identify tactics that work and those that don't.

Your definition of effectiveness will depend on the goals you identified during your planning phase. This may, for example, be changes in:

  • awareness of your business
  • attitudes towards your business
  • behaviours of your target group.

Measuring your results

Look at your KPIs and what you were trying to achieve. Keep in mind that you're not just looking for outputs (e.g. quantity of positive media) but also for outcomes (e.g. impact on target audience).

Questions you can ask:

  • Did we reach our target audience? How many times?
  • Which of our key messages were used or reproduced by media outlets?
  • Which of our tools and activities were most successful?

Depending on your target audience and KPIs, you can measure public relations success with:

  • surveys – ask questions to determine changes in awareness, attitudes and behaviours
  • social media – track what customers and journalists are saying about your business
  • website traffic – use website analytics to find out how much traffic was generated by your program
  • media monitoring – use a media monitoring service to track state and national coverage of your business.

Keep a record of your public relations activities and their outcomes. This can help you when planning future activities.

Find support

  • Consider working with a PR consultant or agency to improve and expand your programs. This typically involves a fee for service, based on an hourly rate. Find a PR consultancy.
  • Do an online search for PR support tools that can help you manage and monitor your public relations.

PR tools and activities

To get the most out of your public relations activities, make sure it works well with your:

  • paid media (e.g. print and online advertising)
  • owned media (e.g. websites, blogs, and social media channels).

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the following public relations tools and activities for your business.

Media relations is about managing the way your business is portrayed in media channels.

If you plan to do it yourself, you may want to start small by reaching out to a local community newspaper or website and attempt more ambitious projects as you become more confident and knowledgeable.

Media relations can be done proactively or reactively.

Proactive media management

To actively promote your business and get positive media exposure, you could:

  • pitch media releases, story ideas and fact sheets to media channels
  • offer journalists on-site tours and experiences
  • follow and interact with journalists on social media channels to identify opportunities and attract interest.

Reactive media management

Sometimes you may need to manage a risk to your business.

This could include:

  • addressing issues affecting your business operations
  • responding to bad (and good) online reviews.

Learn how to respond to an incident affecting your business' reputation.

Tips for managing media

Advertorials are advertisements in the form of new stories or reviews, often on television and in print and online publications.

The main benefits of a sponsored advertorial are that:

  • it communicates your story in a natural and interesting way
  • your brand is associated with the credibility of the publication.

Paid advertorials should not be confused with independent coverage. The media publication will let the audience know that the article is sponsored.

Some businesses engage external professionals for TV advertorials. This is a form of advertising and product placement.

Business events enable you to engage with stakeholders in your industry, including customers, partners, suppliers, competitors and media.

You could sponsor or attend events to:

  • get exposure for your business
  • promote new products or services
  • build confidence in your business
  • share information.

To make the most of this investment, make sure you:

Speaking engagements can:

  • build your personal reputation as a trusted expert
  • position your business as a leader and innovator in the field.

You can arrange speaking opportunities by:

  • contacting a local community forum
  • sponsoring an industry event.

Remember that a speaking engagement is not a direct sales pitch. Add value with useful, interesting information and ideas.

If you're considering speaking engagements, ask yourself:

External partnerships are often good for business. The positive brand association with a trusted and respected organisation can create feelings of goodwill and loyalty towards your business.

For example, your business may enter into a sponsorship agreement with:

  • not-for-profit causes
  • social enterprises
  • community groups
  • sporting clubs.

When you explore a potential sponsorship, assess the costs and benefits. This may be based on either:

  • exchange of funds, where your business pays a fee
  • in-kind benefits, where there is no financial transaction.

Community relations is about your connection with key stakeholders. Your community could be your local area or an online community.

By becoming an active member of the community, you can:

  • raise your business profile and level of influence
  • attract more customers through word of mouth
  • ensure your interests are considered when decisions are made
  • identify potential external partnerships.

Start by:

  • identifying influential individuals and groups in your community
  • asking your business advisers for support.

Employee relations should always be a priority. Your staff are the brand ambassadors for your business.

Whatever your business size, improving your business culture will make a meaningful difference. Think about initiatives that will:

  • promote information sharing and team relationships
  • instil a sense of pride in business achievement
  • develop leadership skills
  • represent the brand in a consistent way.

The ongoing benefits of a strong culture and an involved workforce include:

  • better teamwork
  • higher staff retention
  • greater productivity.

Action items

Public relations laws and ethics

Public relations are public communications. This means there are legal and ethical considerations.

Strengthen your credibility and reduce the risk to you reputation by:

  • being clear on your PR principles
  • staying true to your business ethics.

Be professional, honest and consistent. Don't make false or negative comments. Customers can easily spot double standards, misleading information and insincere statements.

Laws on defamation, privacy and copyright apply when you distribute information or express an opinion in the media. Consider these resources:

Top 10 tips for effective public relations

  1. Stay focused on your target audience and your key messages.
  2. Make sure your approach is professional, honest and consistent.
  3. Think about how PR works as part of your complete marketing plan.
  4. Remember that everything you say and do influences opinions.
  5. Continue to look for opportunities to create positive coverage.
  6. Be ready to react and respond to potential issues as they arise.
  7. Select and train key spokespeople – the faces of your business.
  8. Get to know the journalists who cover your industry and location.
  9. Avoid business risks associated with making negative comments.
  10. Ensure your public relations remains compliant with regulations.

Also consider...