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5 Steps Mid-Size Companies Can Take to Maximize Press Relations

Mid-size companies, working around unique business plans or technologies, are often too cash-strapped to advertise their products.

Written By: Mitchell Goozé

Mid-size companies, working around unique business plans or technologies, are often too cash-strapped to advertise their products. They need sales to stay in business and grow, but can't afford the means to generate customer interest and sales. Advertising costs too much, and public relations firms require large monthly retainers. There are alternatives. This paper looks at five low cost ways mid-size companies can achieve their goals without having to drain their cash reserves.

1. Create Your Own Public Relations Agency In House

When you can't afford to hire an outside PR firm, use the best resources you have a knowledgeable employee with at least a modest skill in communication. When you bring an agency aboard, bringing the agency up to speed takes time, both for the agency and for your people who have to train it. And the agency charges you for the time required to bring its people up to speed. That's a waste of resources for mid-sized companies. Rather than train an agency in your business, train one of your people in the public relations business.

Public relations firms need to know a great deal about all forms of media and all kinds of reporters, editors, and feature writers. Your designated hitter doesn't. He or she only needs to know about that portion of the media that covers the kinds of products and services that your company delivers. You can afford to specialize your public relations efforts. That's a whole lot easier.

Select, as public relations agent, one of your people who knows your product line, your company organization, and your business plan. Then have a professional train the person in the specialized skills of communications and press relations for your industry.

Customer Manufacturing Group can tailor a focused training program that can get your "agency" started immediately for not much more than the cost of the first press release an agency would write for you. That program trains your in-house PR agent to recognize news opportunities, identify publications and media outlets, establish press relations, pitch stories to editors, write press releases, and track PR effectiveness. And follow-up training or assistance can also be arranged as your "agency" needs it without an on-going retainer.

2. Make Your Publicity Easy To Use

Justifiably, company executives invest ego in their babies. When you've conceived an idea, built a business plan, found financing, and ignited the energy it takes to make a company go, you are proud of it. But when it comes to publicity, that pride can get in the way of an editor selecting your story as the one he or she will run. The reason is usually simple. Your publicity tells your story the way you want to tell it rather than the way an editor wants to tell people about you. There are ways to make your publicity releases, news stories, and features easy for an editor to select.

In the case of news releases, realize what editors face. Everyday the mail system dumps as may as 200 news releases on an editor's desk. Editors are no different from you. They don't want to read all of that stuff. At even one minute per release, an editor will spend the entire morning just reading news releases.

The fact is that few editors do read all of them. Every editor develops his or her shortcut path through the mail thicket. And they begin just as you do, by asking themselves: "Does this apply to me?" If the release doesn't immediately reveal its relevance, it goes in the waste basket. Unlike evidence in a trial, (which mail sorting is) news releases do not start out innocent. They are guilty of irrelevance until they prove otherwise.

The first proof of relevance has to occur in the first thing the editor sees - the words "News Release" and the company it's from at the top of the stationery. Seems simple, but a lot of companies put news on ordinary letterhead. Don't.

The next and most important thing is the headline. It takes more work to write a good headline for a news release than to write all the rest of the release. That headline probably won't end up as the headline if your story runs, but its effect on getting an editor to pick your news release is impossible to overestimate.

Most executives want their company mentioned in the headline. That's a mistake. The name of your company is not news. What your company has introduced, sold, bought, or done is news. So far as an editor is concerned, however, it is news only when what you've introduced, sold, bought, or done affects the readers or audiences that the editor addresses every day/week/month. Make your headline relevant to the people the editor tries to reach.

Finally, an editor will not read more than one paragraph of your news release (or your pitch letter) before deciding whether it goes in the stack for future consideration, or goes into the waste basket. Make sure that paragraph (which can mention your company's name) makes the relevance of your news clear - what, when, where, who, how and why - for the readers of the editor's publication. Make it crisp, readable, active and packed with the answers to those six questions every journalist asks.

3. Know Your Targets Before You Shoot At Them

Every executive we ever worked with knows when the press has slighted him or her. When their companies have been left out of a round-up story, or a competitor has been credited with something that they also do or invented, executives go ballistic.

But few busy executives ever put on an editor's eyeshade and wonder how that could have happened. Ask yourself if you know the editorial schedule of the chief publications that cover the industry in which you compete.

Collect editorial schedules the way sourdoughs collect nuggets. Know not just what editorial materials are scheduled. Know what the deadlines for those materials are.

In monthly publications, for instance, the deadlines are frequently three months ahead of the publication date. If you have material you hope to have included, it better be in the editor's hands before the deadline. Incidentally, the material had better be relevant to the story the editor proposed. If you wish the topic were different, the time to work on that is when the editorial schedule is set, and we can cover that somewhere else. For now, deal with what the editor has said the publication will deal with. and do it on time.

Make sure that what you send an editor is what the editor uses. There's no substitute for reading your target publications or watching your target shows on television. If the leading magazine in your industry uses color photographs and you send black and white, don't expect to see your pictures in print. If the publication uses horizontal photos and you send vertical ones, same thing. Know what the magazine uses and send that. Don't try to get them to do it your way, do it theirs. Their way is both easier and more effective.

If the medium uses short news articles, don't send long ones. If it uses product features, don't send personnel stories. In short, know your target and then shoot things at it that have the best chance of hitting the editor's notion of a bull's-eye. Because bull's-eyes make the editor's job easier, you have a much better chance of getting into print or on the air, and editors will come to regard you as a helpful resource when they need news in a hurry. You can get publicity you never expected as a result.

4. Prepare For Interviews Specifically

When a reporter or editor requests an interview and you have every reason to expect that review to be favorable, rather than being over, your work has just begun.

Get ready for interviews by knowing as exactly as possible what the editor wants to cover. If the subject is technical, have someone from the technical staff stand by. If financial performance will come up, you may want the CFO in the room. If the editor or reporter plans to bring a photographer, dress for the photograph. (Don't hesitate to get help selecting the clothes, if you aren't sure what to wear; don't wing a golden opportunity. We once had the CEO of a major company show up in the oddest collection of stripes and checks the photographer had ever seen. The CEO's photo went on the cover of a business publication and his peers never again quite saw him as a serious player.)

Assemble the materials for the interview and review them before hand. Decide which ones you want to refer to, and which ones shouldn't go into the interview room. Also decide what materials you are willing to let the reporter or editor take from the interview, because you can bet you will be asked for copies of anything you refer to.

Decide what you want to say as well as what the editor wants to hear. Make arrangements for anything you want kept off the record before you say it. Editors regard anything you say before establishing that condition as fair game.

In fact, it is a good practice never to say anything that you don't want to see in print or on the air. Good editors will not let confidentiality get in the way of a good story; there are always means to get enough of the story somewhere else once the editor knows what's up.

As an executive you are decisive. Remember that in interviews. Answer questions crisply. Make comments succinctly and decisively. After all, it is your performance as an executive that attracted the interview. Perform for the editor or reporter. Many executives behave in interviews as if they were an employee of the editor waiting for the editor to write notes or review questions. Take charge and move the interview along. If the editor falls behind he or she will ask you to wait; editors are not shy. Neither are you. Be the person the editor came to write about.

5. Use Your Business Plan As A PR Plan

Most companies know that they need publicity because not enough potential customers know about their products and services. However, few mid-size companies have thoughtfully considered just what kind of publicity they need. And fewer still have planned for a steady stream of publicity to which any single news item becomes a natural addition- both in their own minds and in the minds of the reporters and editors.

All businesses have a business plan, either written or intuitive. Use it as the basis for your publicity. Make it do double duty. After all, a business plan is the road map you follow toward what you intended to be a successful enterprise. Like any road map, your plan has milestones that, recognized or not, are news events.

For example, when you get financing to start up, that's a news event. You can probably interest an editor in:

- what your company will do,

- who will use your product or service,

- the fact that someone - venture capitalist, bank, private investor or whatever - has sufficient faith in you to back your enterprise.

All of that is news. A few weeks, months, or years later, you will have a product or service ready for the world. As you've no doubt saw with Windows 95, you can string that fact into news endlessly if you are skillful and creative. Do it.

Every scrap of publicity conditions a market to accept your product/service when it becomes available. You may even want to publicize the need for customers to test your product. Editors, and particularly columnists, are often very receptive to stories asking for the public's help.

Your first hundred thousand dollar year, or month, or week becomes news when you have conditioned reporters and editors to follow your progress. They can come to have a vested interest in your performance if they have shared in its milestones along the way. Bring them in early and give them picnics along the paths and meadows of your business plan.

Final Thoughts

Customer Manufacturing Group specializes in helping you convert your marketing and sales activities into a System to Manufacture Customers. The value to you is two-fold. First, you get experienced and knowledgeable people helping you work on your business while you continue to work in your business. Second, we become your customers' strongest advocate inside your company. We always begin . . . and end . . . with your customers' needs, expectations, and perceptions.

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