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The new age of public relations


For small businesses and enterprises alike, public relations (PR) is very important. Ultimately, PR is reputation management -- how a brand is perceived -- which is driven when end-customers read newspapers, magazines, review sites or learn about businesses, products, and services through social media and influential users on the web.

Traditional PR, which is rooted in relationship building through methods such as phone conversations and emails, has only been enhanced with the evolution of the web and mainstream adoption of media usage online.

The new age of public relations

While anyone can technically aim to generate their own editorial coverage, it continues to be a relationship business. That's where a PR agency's role is important. This partner is instrumental in the strategic definition of how a message will be conveyed and distributed to the public, how it's unique, what words will be used, and when it will be pitched. They are also essential in the development of media lists -- often times fueled by fancy media databases full of important media information, an editor's email, interests, pet peeves, and more. These tools support streamlining the development of mass lists, because pinpointing who you are going to target manually across dozens or hundreds of media sources, can be trying. Not to mention the tedious tasks of pitching and following up with these sources. But most importantly, a PR agency is key to leveraging their relationships to secure coverage in relevant outlets that their clients' target audience read.

As previously mentioned, a PR firm or in-house publicist plays a very important role in laying down the foundation for your messages. Everything from your "about us" page, to how you will be conveyed to the public, and deal with crisis management (hopefully planned in advance as no one anticipates a crisis), requires thoughtful messaging.

That said, when the foundation is laid -- and if you have a communications specialist(s) in-house -- social media and the web have afforded us the opportunity to learn about the media to build relationships and work toward securing editorial coverage.

Some PR firms have adopted social media in-house, but what we've seen most successful is pairing digital specialists with PR relationship builders. Digital specialists can leverage social media research and community management to learn more about a media outlet's needs, the specific editor's interest, and personal life, because at the core of everything, is a relationship.

If followed consistently and written effectively with a unique angle, here are four steps to generate authentic editorial coverage for a brand -- online and off.

Identify the most appropriate and relevant writers when pitching an idea

Start an Excel sheet categorizing your target writers. Depending on your coverage goals, you may choose to organize writers locally, regionally and/or nationally -- for example, west coast versus east coast, or lifestyle versus food bloggers. This also depends on where you are trying to secure coverage. Each category should have its own tab to later help you simply select which pitch goes to the most relevant writer(s).

If your social media channels are consistently managed and provide value to the community -- through which you will know based on comments and customer feedback -- consider leveraging your footprint here to start following and engaging with your target media contacts. Avoid pitching them publicly, particularly when you are just starting to follow them. You ideally want to build a relationship first. Keep in mind that if you are looking to pitch media through social, the structure and audience of each of your social channels is very important. For example, if you are a large organization with various channels for each product line carried within your organization, this may not be the best place to publicly engage in dialogue with media. Some brands have created communications channels to voice company news and investors, however, for small businesses this may not be the case. Each brand is different.


Think about what will be of interest to a writer. Get team members together across communications, leadership, R&D, and any other types of groups that are in tune with your brand. What makes your business unique? Why would a media outlet such as a newspaper, magazine, or online news source care to write about your business? What is the angle? If you aspire to be covered in a larger editorial capacity, how can you appeal to a national outlet? This should be conveyed through strong messaging and imagery. There are different types of pitches like product/service features, to small snippets and longer-form editorials.

Write the pitch

It should be quick, to the point, and get the writer's attention. Test it on your friends and family -- an unbiased opinion is ideal. Though you have the ability to email an editor as much as you'd like, you risk getting blacklisted as spam. With that said, treat the pitch as your one time grand-opening impression.

Key tips:

  • Start by making the pitch very specific to the writer. Look up and reference a recent story they published, and provide your thoughts (if it's not obvious, positive points of view only).

  • Check out the writer's social media streams -- did they tweet about a recent vacation? Write about a favorite sports team you're also a fan of? They will appreciate your attention to their recent work.

  • Dive into what you are offering -- why it's unique, and why their readership would enjoy learning about it.

  • Include three interesting bullets (literally, bulleted) calling out compelling statistics and how your product and/or service solves a particular issue.

  • If you have photos, include links to images through Dropbox or a YouSendIt URL that they can open quickly. Do not attach the images. Many writers are very annoyed when large attachments come in. Low-resolution images work, and should they need high-resolution, they will request it.

  • Close with a call-to-action, offering to speak with the founder or a key stakeholder of the organization at the writer's convenience.

  • If you have a press release, include content at the bottom of the email after your signature, referencing the press release in the upper portion of your pitch.

Send the pitch

Timing is everything. Don't send a pitch at midnight, during a huge industry event, or first thing Monday morning when you know people are busiest going through batches of emails from the weekend. Use common sense.

It's all in the follow up. I rarely receive an immediate response to a pitch from someone I don't know. Follow up with the contact a few days later with your initial email below, confirming your email made it in their hands, and calling out again why you think this story would be appealing to their readers. Use calendar alerts when you send the first pitch to make a note to follow up a few days later. This will keep you on the ball. If you have a personal social media account, use this as a supporting tool to follow and interact with the source. Your master Excel sheet (mentioned in step one) should detail your communication with the media. Remember to notate your last communications and if follow up is required.

If you receive interest to send a product sample, wrap it in a bow. Packaging should be beautiful. It should be an experience.

Reputation management: The other side of public relations

Other parts of PR also fall within reputation management. Whether it's a blogger reviewing a brand, or a consumer's point of view on a restaurant or service on Angie's List, Foursquare, Google+, or Yelp, brand reputation often falls into the hands of online reviewers. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine are among other networks that also play a key role in brand reputation when consumers feature or discuss their opinion about products or brands. It's a brand's job to monitor these conversations closely to ensure the positive is acknowledged (and even sometimes leveraged for PR), and the negative is addressed to minimize the crisis.
Organic SEO and SEM play a critical role in this online presence, ensuring messages align with a brand's digital footprint, and show up at the appropriate times during a consumer and media contact's journey across the web.

Public relations and reputation management is not a quick-win. It takes time, consistency, and creativity. Relationships are not built overnight, though if built correctly, they can have long-term value for your organization -- and support the business in various ways, from driving sales revenue to positive word-of-mouth.

If you plan on managing public relations in-house, appoint a communication savvy resource to manage and follow up consistently. If you are partnering with a PR agency, don't be shy about bringing ideas to your partners and seeing if there's a viable story that can be told.

Have additional thoughts or comments on PR and Social Media? Please share and comment below.

Stephanie Shkolnik is director of social media at Digitaria

On Twitter? Follow Shkolnik at @Stephanie00 and iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Business builds a modern website structure with a pen" image via Shutterstock. 

Stephanie Shkolnik, Director of Social Media at Mirum Agency, develops and implements social media strategies that connect brands with the people that matter most to them. ...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: WT "Bill" McKibben

2014, October 17

First, there no restrictions or qualifications required to hang out a "PR Shingle." The leading industry organization allows anyone to become a member and take on it's credentials. They refuse to kick anyone out unless they have been convicted of a felony. Meanwhile every BBB in the country kicks people out for breaking their rules every day. Then there are those who think that PR stands for Press Release.

These and other issues make Ms Shkolnik's piece both important and meaningful. Relating to our (or our client's) publics is what we do; that's what makes reputation management paramount. I'd like to take her thinking a step further, yes our craft is based on reputation management. However, it begins (or should begin) much earlier; protecting it comes first. Our role is to be the canary in the coal mine, to detect the slightest whiff of something that could damage reputation. We should have a place at the tables that allow us to point out potential reputation damaging actions before they are adopted. Crisis prevention is much easier than crisis management.

I cringe every time I see ethics and compliance paired in an organization. Worse when I see ethics in the hands of the legal team. I have great respect for the legal profession and a daughter who is a great attorney. But she and all who go through law school are trained to detect the line between what's legal and what's not. Some (not her) take it to the point of "What we can get away with." One of the most moral clients I have ever worked with headed a large worldwide corporation, he was, however, trained as an attorney. When a major kickback issue arose in his organization he dismissed a score of his people. He did not dismiss the one individual who had orchestrated the scheme, because he did not have enough hard evidence to prove what everyone knew to be true, the individual was guilty of ethical but not legal breaches of company policy.

Ethics is about doing the right thing, that's miles away from what you can get away with. One of my clients referred to me for over a quarter century as their corporate conscience, that's the role we should play. The head of one of the largest integrated communications companies in America says they represent worthy clients. That's something we should all strive for. Unlike the law where everyone is entitled to representation, we do not have to take on the scumbags. There are plenty of scumbags in our craft who will.