Former Sunday Times reporter, best-selling author and founder of Iredale Communications, Will Iredale explains how best to harness the power of media and PR to promote your product or innovation.
All publicity is good publicity, right?
The media – whether print, broadcast, online or social – is the most effective medium for raising the awareness of a business or brand.
And using the oxygen of publicity through PR media coverage is one of the smartest ways to do this.
But for your brand to truly engage with its customers, you need to have a powerful narrative. You need to tell a story. It’s crucial you know how to communicate that story in the first place. If you don’t, someone will tell it for you – and it may not be in the way you want. Indeed, get it wrong, and it can be catastrophic.
What is ‘PR’?
In a nutshell, public relations coverage is ‘earned media’ – in other words, content that appears in print, online or in the broadcast media, which is there because an editor or journalist believes it is of genuine interest to their audience.
It has earned its place to be there.
It has what journalists call a ‘news hook’ – whether that is a new ground-breaking product, some interesting research, or perhaps a powerful human interest story involving a new treatment.
Done in the right way, it may have the ability to create a visible and instant impact; however more often, PR is about building the credibility of a brand over the long-term to solidify your company legend and create a lasting legacy of trust.
PR versus advertising
PR is very different to advertising, which is ‘paid for’ media – where a brand or company pays a handsome premium to directly buy space in which they have total control over its content. They can more or less say anything they want to, because they’re paying for it. It doesn’t need a hook.
“That sounds great!” you might think. But here’s the rub: by law, an advert or advertorial (a paid for article) has to be clearly marked as such. It carries very little editorial credibility because it hasn’t earned its place. It’s simply a puff for a company or product.
It’s also about visibility. Can you remember the last advert you saw in a magazine or newspaper? Probably not. But I bet you can remember what article you last read – whether you agreed with it or not. And I certainly imagine you’ve bought something, or bought into something – an idea or a way of thinking – after you read about it in the media.
And that’s the point. Genuine stories, pitched by a pubic relations team and written in a balanced way by a journalist, carry more authority and clout with their audience.
This is especially true in the health arena, where impartiality is paramount. The name of the game is to create editorial credibility because, unlike adverts, a positive story in a newspaper gives the impression to the reader that the newspaper is endorsing it.
One quick illustration to support this position: three years ago, I was hired by a health brand called Salcura, to help it raise the profile of a child eczema treatment. Working closely with the company, we developed a newsworthy story with a strong news hook and pitched this to the health editor of the Daily Mail online. Thanks to the coverage, that weekend the company sold the equivalent of two months stock in just two days.
And whilst you’ll have to expect to devote a decent budget for public relations with clout, you’ll also find there is a significant difference in the price tag between this and advertising.
Does that mean advertising should be dismissed? Of course not – in the right place it can have a huge impact, especially if it’s part of a wider overall marketing strategy along with social media and PR.
But when it comes to paid-for content in the media, for many companies – especially those with limited budgets – it’s likely you will get more bang for your buck with earned and genuine editorial media coverage.
The right fit
So how do you approach PR and decide on the best strategy?
Firstly, you need to ask yourself why you need PR coverage. What are your objectives? Do you want to attract new consumers to drive sales? Maybe you are looking for investment and you need more visibility in the business media? Or perhaps you’re simply looking to raise the credibility and ‘talkability’ of your company? After all, the perception of a thriving, innovative brand being talked about in a positive way can create an infectious energy and a buzz that in turn drives growth.
Secondly, you’ll need to decide what sort of engagement you’ll require with a PR company. And for how long? A retainer lasting a year or a one-off campaign? Or would you perhaps be better to get a PR specialist ‘in house’?
Thirdly, you’ll need to establish what your budget is. Be prepared to invest a decent amount in a good PR Agency. How well your money is spent will depend on ensuring you have clear objectives, a strong strategy and the right PR team.
Finally, and crucially, you need to ask if now is the right time. Do you have genuinely have something to say? Can you sustain this? Is your brand ready to face the spotlight of public scrutiny? These are big questions, which require careful thinking at a senior level.
The PR Agency
If you are going to use a PR Agency, there are so many out there. How do you pick the right one? Well, chemistry is extremely important – you’re trusting them with your brand after all, so you need to get on with them. But here are some other key points to bear in mind:
- Don’t be seduced by glitzy websites or awards. Instead, look for clear indications of what results they’ve achieved for their clients
- Ask for examples of case studies. What were the objectives and how did they fulfil them? If they have none on their website, ask to see some
- Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to some of their current or former clients for testimonials
- Be wary of those who set their fees against the amount of coverage. While it’s important to agree a fair set of ideal targets, nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to placing editorial stories. PR agencies who do this will over-promise and under-deliver
- Be clear about who you’ll be working with. Many larger agencies will seduce potential new clients with senior staff, only to pass them onto juniors if they win the account. Who will you be talking to on a day-to-day basis?
- Ask what journalistic background they have. How do they pitch to journalists? Do they specialise in certain areas?
If you are not going to use a PR Agency but are going to go it alone or in-house, there are some crucial points you need to adhere to:
- Be clear about your story and your objectives
- Write a simple, one-page press brief with a clear headline and the story encapsulated in the first paragraph
- Make sure you have a strong news hook
- Consider your target market and research your target media. Is it relevant to the publication you’re pitching to?
- Identify the right journalist and the right part of the media organisation
- Know when to pitch. Don’t pitch to a Sunday newspaper on a Friday afternoon. Or to a daily newspaper at 3 o’clock in the afternoon
- Ensure you have images and case studies
- Be ready to answer tricky questions if required!
Putting the power of media and PR into practice: Here’s how Will worked with NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellow, Asma Khalil, to help raise the profile of her innovation, HaMpton.
Will Iredale is a former staff reporter at The Sunday Times, a best-selling author and founder of Iredale Communications (www.iredalecommunications.com) a London-based PR firm which advises brands on how to tell their stories more effectively in the mainstream media to lift their profile, create lasting credibility and drive growth. He has particularly strong experience in advising small and medium businesses on how to use the media positively to enhance brand awareness to attract investment (at all stages), or achieve a successful exit through an acquisition, especially in the health and tech sectors.