NutraIngredients-USA interviewed press relations professionals to get a feel for the ways in which companies can best make use of this resource. And the conversations gave a glimpse into the ways in which companies drop the ball and fail to get full value for their PR dollars.
Have clear goals
Having a set of goals for PR and a plan for how to attain those goals would seem to be a no-brainer. But it is surprising how many companies treat the PR exercise in the same way they would hiring a crew to erect a billboard. It’s taking a transactional view of the function, rather that looking at it as an ongoing process, and potentially as essential to your day-to-day business as making sure the electricity bill gets paid.
Take the distribution of press releases, for example. Experts say too many companies view this exercise as a one-and-done situation, a purchase of a product similar to buying a new piece of machinery for the factory floor. But PR professionals emphasize the production of a press release is the start of process, and shouldn’t represent the simple delivery of a finished good.
“The press release is really a starting point, a way to organize the company’s message,” Mike Danielson, director of the health & nutrition division for Minneapolis-based Media Relations told NutraIngredients-USA. “The company’s job is really to serve the media and the media’s audience and then themselves.”
Suzanne Shelton, principal in the Chicago-based firm Shelton Group PR, said that executives at some companies view the distribution of the press release as an end result, and have a hard time understanding why editors want to contact the company for more information. They already said everything they wanted to say in the release, the thinking seems to go.
Shelton urged executives to be, “available to respond to interview opportunities or requests for more information. This doesn’t happen with my clients, but editors have told me that sometimes getting more information or original quotes after they get a news release is surprisingly difficult.”
Narrowing the market helps inform the PR
Danielson said that developing a basic understanding of marketing principles can help inform the public relations process. He said it’s something not all companies feel as if they have time to do, but it’s a key part of the ultimate success.
“The tough thing about the promotional part of marketing is that companies want to do all of the exciting, sizzling stuff but they don’t want to do the basics. No player would assume they can just show up on game day without preparation. It’s kind of boring, almost academic stuff,” Danielson said.
Among the blocking-and-tacking type exercises that should be done before engaging the media via a press release is a detailed market analysis. Exactly who is the product meant for, and why should those people care about it? It goes back to the old four-Ps of marketing, Danielson said: product, price, place and promotion.
“Companies need to think carefully about who does this product most successfully serve and in what markets does it have the most potential. Too many times I see companies that have products for, say, everybody who suffers from arthritis. Or everybody who is concerned about cognitive issues. Your real market is always going to be a subgroup of those,” he said.
Once a company has honed in on its real target market, the messaging around the product can then be crafted to best reach those people. And Danielson said its best to keep the audiences of the various media outlets in mind. In a sense, those are the ‘markets’ for the individual journalists, and PR that connects to those audiences will get the most attention.
“You need to understand who they are, what they write about, who is their reader,” Danielson said.
Make PR part of the team
Shelton emphasized that PR works best when the PR professional is integrated into the company’s communication team. Looping the PR provider in early and often will create the best communication plans.
“It’s important to use procedures to evaluate and take advantage of opportunities, while keeping your messages consistent. Having your media relations person be the designated contact is the most efficient process, in my experience,” Shelton said.
“Communicate with your communications professional. They want to know if there is something you'd like them to do differently. They also want to know what's happening with the marketing and communications side that they may not involved in, so they can support those efforts via the work they’re doing on your behalf,” she said.
Shelton also said that companies should take care to be more nimble in responding to inquiries. All too often, companies list a grab bag-type e-mail address, an account that might be monitored only periodically and might collect e-mails of all sorts. Having a more focused contact strategy helps convince media professionals that you really are interested in talking to them.
“Put media relations contact information on your website. Those email inquiries that go to firstname.lastname@example.org may not immediately get to the right person, and deadlines are often missed on opportunities you would want to take advantage of had you known in time. If you have a solid, longstanding relationship with your agency, list that contact information, otherwise designate someone internal who can be relied upon to see that email right away and immediately route it to the right person,” she said.