As we noted in the Public Relations Tutorial, the challenges faced in doing PR will lead many marketers to hire professionals to handle these activities. Whether marketers do their own PR or seek outside help, it is important they be familiar with the tools available for public relations. The types of key tools available to carryout the public relations function include:
Historically, the core of public relations has been media relations, which includes efforts to gain the attention of members of the press (e.g., TV, online news websites, radio, newspaper, magazine) and other influential voices (e.g., specialty websites, bloggers, podcasters). In particular, PR professionals attempt to have information associated with an organization (e.g., new product introduction) appear in the media outlet’s content. This is done by developing engaging and relevant story angles, or other content ideas that are pitched to the media. It is necessary to understand that media placements only come when content ideas are of interest to the media and that no direct payment is made to the media for placements. In fact, in order to maintain the highest level of credibility, many news organizations bar reporters and writers from accepting even the smallest gifts (e.g., free pencils with product logo) from organizations.
For marketers, it is essential to know that many content items mentioning an organization or its products that appear in a media outlet often start with a suggestion from a PR person. This may occur through various media building techniques or through direct conversations with the content creators (e.g., journalists). If things work out, a content creator will, at best, produce a positive content item with the organization/product as a key feature or, at a minimum, include the organization or product name somewhere within a wider industry-focused piece.
In addition to reaching out to journalists, PR professional also target segments of the media market that are not part of an established news organization including independent bloggers, influential YouTube personalities, and important podcasters. Within some markets, these voices have attracted a large and loyal following. Public relations campaigns targeting these groups are rapidly gaining favor and, for many organizations, represent a media outlet that carries significant influence within a target market.
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Techniques for Building Media Relations
While the objective of media relations is to obtain favorable mentions for an organization or product without direct payment to a media outlet, the process for accomplishing this is by no means free. Public relations professionals “pitch” stories to reporters, news editors, and other media members with the assistance of a variety of techniques that are often expensive to produce. These techniques include:
1. News Releases
One of the most frequently undertaken tasks of public relations professionals is the preparation of a news release (a.k.a., press release). A news release is a prepared message (e.g., print, video, audio) intended to highlight one or more issues facing an organization. Organizations can distribute news releases on their own (e.g., post on website, send out by email, provide link on social media), or by using a paid news distribution service.
2. Social Media
It can be argued the evolution of social media has affected public relations more than any other marketing area. With the advantage of being both a broadcast communication platform and an interactive one-on-one platform, many in PR now view social media as the best method for engaging media outlets. However, it should be understood, the effectiveness of social media will depend on whether media outlets actually follow an organization’s communications. In fact, as more organizations direct more of their PR efforts to social media, the task of getting media outlets to follow their messages is likely to become more challenging.
3. Press Kits
This is the name given to prepared materials, such as organization background, biography of a firm’s spokesperson and other supporting materials (e.g., product videos), that provide information useful to media outlets. Such kits can be sent to media outlets via package delivery services or accessible on an organization’s website.
4. Matte Release
Some media outlets, especially small local newspapers, may accept articles written by an organization as filler material when their publications lack sufficient content. PR professionals submit a matte release (a.k.a., mat releases) through syndicated news services (i.e., services that supply content to many media outlets) or directly to targeted media via email.
5. Industry Articles
Many industry websites and print publications allow companies to submit articles authored by company personnel, such as a CEO or Marketing Manager. Depending on the media outlet, the articles can cover specific happenings at a company or may be written with the intention of addressing a business issue. In either case, PR professionals may have significant input into the creation of the article even though they are not identified as the author.
6. Online Press Room
Finally, to address the needs of media outlets, the public relations staff often manage an online “press room” section within the organization’s website. This area caters to needs of media outlets including providing easy access to news releases, digital press kits, list of company contacts, links to various organizational social media platforms, information request forms, and more.
Some new products can be successfully publicized when launched with a media tour. On a media tour a company spokesperson travels to selected cities to introduce a new product. This is often done by having the spokesperson booked on TV and radio talk shows, conducting interviews with print and internet news reporters, or discussing the product with others that may impact the target market (e.g., bloggers, podcasters, social media influencers). The spokesperson can be a company employee or someone hired by the company, perhaps a celebrity or “expert” who has credibility with the target audience. A media tour may include other kinds of personal appearances in conjunction with special events, such as public appearances, speaking engagements, live online video interview, or autograph signing opportunities.
Marketers, who have captured names and addresses of customers and potential customers, can use detailed content in the form of newsletters or informational email as a way to build stronger relations. Marketers using newsletters and information email are effective when they strive to provide content of interest to their targeted audience. For instance, a bookstore may include reviews of new books, information on book author speaking engagements, and details on in-store or online promotions. A food manufacturer may include seasonal recipes, descriptions of new products, and coupons. Online newsletters and email also offer the opportunity to include clickable links to retail outlets carrying the marketer’s product and to videos offering additional product information.
These run the gamut from receptions to elegant dinners to stunts to special appearances. Special events can be designed to reach a narrow audience, such as a dinner with a guest speaker targeted to individuals interested in college savings plans, or aimed at a large group, such as a strawberry festival designed to promote state tourism and targeted to a large geographic area.
Stunts, such as building the world’s largest ice cream sundae during National Ice Cream month, capture the attention of an audience in the immediate area. Stunts can also attract the attention of mass media, such as TV news, newspapers, and social media.
Finally, special appearances of a recognizable symbol of an organization can draw the interest of the target market and media outlets. For instance, in the U.S., the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is a classic example, providing a recognizable icon that travels the country garnering attention
Speaking before industry conventions, trade association meetings, and other groups provides an opportunity for an organization’s experts to demonstrate their expertise to potential customers and business partners. Typically, these opportunities are not explicitly used to promote an organization or its products. Rather, speaking engagements are a chance to talk on a topic that appeals to an interested group and serve to highlight the speaker’s expertise in a field. Often the only mention of the organization or its products is in the speaker biography. Nevertheless, the right speaking engagement, in front of an appropriate target audience, offers opportunities for generating customer interest.
For many companies, communicating regularly with employees is essential for keeping them informed of developments, such as new products, sales incentives, personnel issues, and other changes. Companies use a variety of means to communicate with employees, including email, newsletters, and social media. In larger firms, an in-house PR department often works in conjunction with the Human Resources Department to develop employee communications.
Community Relations and Philanthropy
Organizations often realize positive results by fostering strong relations with important and potentially influential audiences, such as members of their regional community. Programs that are supportive of the community include: sponsoring local organizations and institutions (e.g., arts organizations, community activities, parks); conducting educational workshops (e.g., for teachers and parents); and donating product or money in support of community events.
Effective community relations can help a company weather bad publicity or a crisis situation that can unexpectedly arise due to such issues as problems with a product, perceived service shortcomings, unethical behavior by management, and false rumor. Some companies also make an effort to contribute to charitable groups, especially organizations that have some relationship to the company’s mission or to a person at the company.