My first job out of college was writing for the Fort Carson Mountaineer newspaper, getting hit in the face with hot shells while interviewing soldiers as they conducted live-fire training. I loved the adrenalin rush and telling the stories of those who serve in the military.
After that I was a reporter (and, later, associate editor) for the Colorado Springs Business Journal, learning to take financial jargon and put it in plain English for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Now I’m on the opposite side of journalism, working at an advertising agency, helping CEOs of multi-million-dollar companies and small business owners tell their stories so journalists will write about them. I’ve come full circle.
First, let’s establish the difference between public relations and advertising. Advertisements are paid for. Whether it’s a billboard, TV or radio commercial, a print or online ad, you can say (bearing in mind the truth-in-advertising laws) or imply whatever you want.
“Driving this car will make you popular.” Or, “Wearing this watch will keep you trendy.” And you have the power to use exactly the words you want.
Here’s the PR caveat: You don’t get to control the message.
On the other hand, public relations is technically “free.” If a reporter interviews you and writes about your company, or you’re featured on the evening news, you don’t pay the reporter or the news station. (You might have paid a PR agency to pitch story ideas to reporters to garner that coverage for you.)
But here’s the PR caveat: You don’t get to control the message. There could be a mix of good and less-than-positive things about you and your company. So why risk it?
Consumers realize that reporters are supposed to show both sides of a story. Unless you have something to hide, you will still benefit by having that exposure.
In addition, an article written about you (a third-party endorsement) will carry more credibility and influence than an ad you pay for. And 67 percent of consumers say they trust editorial content from newspapers, radio and television stations. People are more likely to believe your company, services or products are great when someone else says so.
So that’s an important point to remember: If you’re lucky enough to have an article written about you or your company, or you’re interviewed on TV, it won’t necessarily be all about your success.
USING THE INTERNET
Traditionally, PR was slow and you had only one opportunity to shine — when your story was published in print. And that can be a distinct disadvantage when bigger news comes along (fires or floods) and upstages your 15 minutes of fame.
Things move rapidly on the internet, which means reporters are on tighter deadlines and a businessperson who receives a call for an interview without responding immediately may lose the opportunity.
Once you do receive coverage, however, you can promote yourself and the reporter by re-posting the article or video on social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, etc.) and tagging the reporter and the media outlet — because they actually will notice.
Social media also gives you the opportunity in real time to address issues that your customers or the general public bring up. You can acknowledge if there’s an issue, and tell them you’re willing to work with them offline to resolve it.
Attend your local Business Journal’s monthly or quarterly events and introduce yourself to the reporters and editors. Get to know them, and tell them what you do. Offer to be a subject matter expert. Also, send announcements of hiring, board appointments, awards, certifications and trade-industry recognitions to your local daily and business weekly newspapers, with a high-resolution headshot photo.
If your company does something innovative, reach out to a reporter and describe what your company is up to. When pitching an idea, keep in mind the human-interest angle — how your product or service is different, and how it affects people and communities.
When reporters call you, be responsive to their inquiries. Find out the topic for the story and the timeframe. Then gather your thoughts, find statistics, write notes, do research if you need to and get back to them promptly. Reporters get nervous waiting for that phone call, as they have to put the story together before their deadline. And remember, deadlines are hard-and-fast — getting back late could mean getting left out.
With some creativity and persistent public relations tactics, you may attract great media coverage for your organization or business.
Just remember, when you land that TV interview or print story — leverage it via social media to make your moment in the limelight last even longer.
Becca Tonn is the director of public relations for Blakely + Company, a local advertising agency. She has more than 10 years of experience in the industry, having worked for both communications firms and local media. Prior to joining Blakely, she was associate editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.