Ten steps to achieving your online PR goals

Knowing where to start a PR campaign can be challenging for a young business, particularly when it comes to gaining exposure in the growing online space. Business Editor Nicola Smith outlines the ten steps to success.

PR, or Public Relations, is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s about managing your company’s relations with the wider public. It is an art that encompasses a broad range of activities, from promoting your products or services to specific audiences, to positioning your company or spokesperson as an authority on a particular subject area or industry; from managing negative news in a positive way to aligning your offering with people, places, events or trends that help reinforce your company’s values. Regardless of the objectives of your PR campaign, achieving any of the aforementioned goals relies on you getting your message out there, and online and social media are increasingly playing a bigger role in the mix.

The growth of this area has presented companies with an unprecedented opportunity to achieve exposure that helps to position or promote their business, often to a more targeted audience than has ever been possible before. It has also transformed communication from ‘push’ messaging into a dialogue, requiring organisations to, not just talk, but to listen and react – whether commenting on an individual’s feedback on a social platform, or responding to readers’ comments on an online article.

Here we look at some of the best ways to ensure that you make the most of this brave new world…

1) Identify your key messages and objectives
Every company has two things: 1.) its core brand values, such as great customer service, value for money, always offering the most competitive deals, etc, and 2.) a Unique Selling Point (USP), such as producing sustainable products, market knowledge of a particular region, or having the patent on the latest technology. These messages should underpin any PR activity, giving a clear sense of what your company stands for and why your customers should choose you. These should be reflected in what you say and how you say it.

2) Find out where your target audience hangs out
There is an ever-increasing number of online newspapers, magazines and information portals in existence. Start by identifying which sites are visited by your target audience(s), which ones attract the greatest volume of traffic, and which best reflect your own brand values. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Start with a handful of targeted destinations where you want your brand to be seen and gradually add to this number. Read the ‘media packs’ available to advertisers to get a better idea of the site’s demographics and whether this fits with your own market.

3) Get to know each site
Online newspapers, magazines and websites can vary hugely, even if they are dealing with the same sector. For example, some may be largely centred on news stories, while others may feature lengthier guest interviews, opinion pieces and case studies. Get to know each one well and identify possible opportunities to get involved.

4) Tailor your ideas
If a site regularly features industry spokespeople on particular subjects, for example, or always includes best practice case studies, think about what your company has to offer here and contact the editor, suggesting exactly which area of the site you feel your idea will fit. Don’t send news releases to websites that don’t feature news, or case studies to websites that are news-led. It won’t endear you to an editor if they feel you haven’t taken the time to get to know their product.

“Start by identifying which sites are visited by your target audience(s), which ones attract the greatest volume of traffic, and which best reflect your own brand values.”

5) Build a sustainable campaign
In the same way that you need to be clear about the objectives of a piece of PR activity (whether to position yourself as an industry authority, for example, or to increase sales by raising the profile of a new product). It’s also advisable to establish a plan. Schedule a piece of activity every week or month, whether this means issuing a news release, placing an opinion piece or commenting on topical trends or news. This will build momentum towards your ultimate goal and will often achieve more impact than a one-off piece of publicity.

6) Don’t underestimate the importance of visual appeal
Imagery has always been an important part of magazines and newspapers, and online media is no different. Make sure you supply high-resolution images to accompany any relevant content. For example, news releases can be published on the strength of a strong, fun or creative accompanying photo, so try to think outside the box where possible. Think about where video content might also work more effectively than text and imagery, or where it can support other material.

7) Build relationships with editors/journalists
Relationships are key. Understand what each editor or writer wants and what sort of stories or angles they tend to feature before contacting them. Ask them how they like to receive ideas or content (some editors never open attachments; others despise a pitch longer than two lines). Keep on top of their publications and show that you understand what they need.

8) Use social media to develop relationships
LinkedIn and Twitter in particular can be effective tools for businesses. Make a list of key people that you want to engage with – from influential editors and journalists to dream clients, stakeholders and key influencers in your sector – and track with them using these platforms. Once you feel you understand exactly what makes them tick, strike up a dialogue with them. 

9) Monitor social platforms and online magazines
The nature of online publications means that communication is no longer one way. If you are interviewed for an online magazine, or a news story about your company is published on a website, readers can comment or disseminate links to your story via social media. Try and monitor any feedback and ensure that you respond to comments, engaging in dialogue, thanking people for their interest and demonstrating that you are listening to your audience.

10) Use social media to amplify positive press
Once you achieve coverage online, don’t waste it! Use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to post links to any positive exposure about your company, ensuring they reach the right people far and wide.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK