Editors note: The following is a guest post, contributed by Isabelle Kåge. Isabelle is a Swedish-American living in Stockholm. After growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, she moved back to Sweden at the age of 19. She has a bachelor’s degree in media and communications sciences from Uppsala University and is currently working as a PR-consultant at Rita Platzer Public Relations.
One of the biggest misconceptions about public relations is that it’s a type of advertising. It’s not. The most essential difference between the two is that, with advertising, you pay for some sort of space in the media, which you then get to fill with whatever it is you want to say. With PR you don’t pay for the space, you earn it. In PR the goal is not to say good things about yourself (anyone can do that), but instead to get other people (aka a third party) to say those things. See where the whole relationspart comes in? So in order to get other people to say good things about you, without getting paid to do so, it’s important to play on feelings, backed up by facts. Not the other way around.
In order to get other people to say good things about you, without getting paid to do so, it’s important to play on feelings, backed up by facts. Not the other way around.
Don’t talk about what you do. Talk about why you do it.
This is important for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a lot more interesting and engaging to hear about the reason why someone decided to start up their new company, the event that sparked their great idea, or their passion for making everyday life run more smoothly (or whatever it is that your company offers), compared to hearing about what that product actually is or the details of how it works.
The second reason is that this will keep you from only speaking to a tech audience. As long as your company or product isn’t something that is exclusively meaningful or useful for a select few (hey, good luck with that one), you should be speaking to everyone.
If you have 11 minutes to spare, I highly recomment checking out Simon Sinek’s TEDtalk about this very idea.
Context is key
Great, so now you’ve established why you do what you do. That’s your content. In order to create a concept that will speak to the media, influencers, or engage people in social media, you need to place that content in the framework of a relevant context.
Content + Context = Concept
I’m going to go ahead and give you an example right off the bat: About a month ago, Swedish tech firm iZettle decided to show what their product could do instead of talking about it. Imagine being a journalist and getting presented with the following two scenarios:
- A Swedish tech firm has developed a small device that, when attached to a smartphone, allows credit and debit card payments.
- Swedish magazine Situation Stockholm can now be purchased by credit or debit card through street vendor’s smartphones, making it the first of its kind to adapt to Sweden’s increasingly cashless society.
The second one sure sounds like a more exciting story to me. And what’s more, it makes the public wonder what it is that allows such a thing to happen. It’s a lot easier getting a journalist to pick up a story when your company just happens to be a very integral part of an interesting, thought provoking and relevant development.
Things to consider when looking for your context:
- What problem does your company solve?
- Can your idea be of value in an unexpected situation?
- Who benefits from your idea? What does that entail in the long run?
- What situation in the past, that we previously read about in the media, pertains to or sparked your idea?
- Why is this unique and/ or special? Are you doing something no one else has ever done? Are you and your partners genius 15year olds? Did you just say no to a top position at some highprofile company in order to follow your dreams?
- Why is this information of current interest? Why should they write about this now and not later (Psst! Later means never.) Try to give your news angle an expiration date.
- Is your product, idea, or company a sign of times to come?
Tailor your message
Sure, the why you do what you do should always be emphasized, but your message should also be composed according to who you’re talking to. A wide range of media outlets could be relevant, depending on the context or contexts in which you’ve placed your idea.
If you’re talking to a business magazine, highlight your goals and successes (given that these are interesting points, obviously). If the magazine is geared specifically towards small businesses, talk about how they can be inspired by or learn from your experiences.
If you’re talking to a magazine that focuses on travel (if your idea for example happens to pertain to that segment), make sure to lead with an introduction that highlights the value your product or service offers the readers of that magazine.
Journalists shouldn’t have to figure out if, how, or why the information you’re presenting could be of interest to their readers in particular. When you’re done telling them about your idea, there should be no doubt.
Respect media lead times
Try to get a good idea of the particular magazine or newspaper’s lead time before you contact them. How often do they come out with new issues? Don’t contact a paper with something that will already be old news by the time their next issue hits the stands. Also, don’t contact a daily newspaper with something that will be happening in several months unless it’s a major happening. (Plenty of time for them to forget about you.)
When contacting the media, it’s important to be mindful of external elements which could affect the news value of your message. Summertime, for example, is a notorious dry season in terms of news. Depending on the situation, you can make this work to your advantage. Journalists aren’t drowning in press releases and newstips in the summertime, making your information more likely to be picked up.
It also pays off to be somewhat aware of current events in terms of the sorts of issues that could be of interest to a particular newspaper/ magazine/ blogger. If you’re reaching out to the tech media, you might not want to contact them about your startup on the same day Apple reveals their newest iPhone unless you can somehow piggyback on that information. But you’d be wise to take a step back and wait until the dust settles.
You might not want to contact them about your startup on the same day Apple reveals their newest iPhone unless you can somehow piggyback on that information
When doing a blogger outreach, it’s important to remember that bloggers aren’t journalists. Bloggers didn’t start a blog to report the news (so don’t send them a press release). When information is presented to a blogger, it should be packaged as a gift to them. Bloggers don’t write about companies or products because they love that company. They do it because they love their readers. If you can give them something that is not only of value to them, but that is also valuable for their readers, a gift they can pass along, you’ve significantly increased your chances.
I highly recommend taking a look at Jerry Silfwer’s model for blogger outreach. A blogger himself, he advocates a quality over-quantity approach, encouraging relationship building and keeping in mind that collaborations with bloggers should be built on mutually rewarding goals.
According to Silfwer, an effective blogger outreach should ideally go along the following lines:
- Gift status: What does this blogger gain from passing your information along to their readers? What’s in it for them?
- Mapping: Map out which bloggers would be relevant to collaborate with. Make sure you know what they write about, how they write, a little bit about who they are and what types of collaborations they’ve previously done. Basically, take the time to read their blog. This might sound like a big time investment, but it’s worth it. It’s better to effectively reach out to 2 or 3 blogs, than to spam 30 blogs and just have the blog community irritated at you. Quality over quantity.
- Honeymooning: Don’t pitch your idea the very first time you contact a blogger. Instead, introduce yourself, let them know why you’ve contacted them, and ask if they would be interested in potentially collaborating over something that pertains to their interests and which could result in increased traffic to their blog. It’s just like real life. You wouldn’t jump right into a pitch with someone you just met without first getting to know each other and establishing a relationship. This strategy also gives you the chance to identify bloggers who aren’t interested in collaborating by giving them a perfectly polite opportunity to say “thanks, but no thanks”. No harm done.
- Outreach: If the blogger said yes, you’ve got the green light to go ahead and pitch your idea. When drafting the premises of the collaboration, remember to continuously step into their shoes and look at it from their point of view. Is this something you would go for if you were them?
- Follow-up: Don’t forget to follow up the collaboration after it’s been carried out. Let the blogger know how pleased everyone was with the results, and make sure they feel the same way. Once again, it’s just like real life. Don’t forget about them after you got what you wanted.
A good rule of thumb in social media is to imagine you’re at a cocktail party. Keep the discussion pleasant, sprinkled with interesting information and memorable comments. And don’t assume all the people at the party are tech people.
I highly recommend the book Gillaboken (unfortunately it’s only available in Swedish) by Brit Stakston, media strategist at JMW. The book is geared primarily towards nonprofit organizations, but the information is applicable to all types of companies and organizations looking to increase their social media savviness. It provides a thorough howto guide to using social media to spread your company’s message and to, most importantly, engaging others in your cause.
PR in social media is all about mobilizing the discussions that are already going on, and encouraging and enabling the continuation and development of conversations surrounding certain topics or issues.
Identify existing ambassadors. Make it easy to engage people by giving them the tools to spread the word. Establish hashtags, keep your own social media channels active with lots of shareable and retweetable information.
Even if your social media-literacy is high, you’ll learn something from Gillaboken. If you’ve grown up with social media, you’ve got a natural feeling and understanding for its usage and potential.
But that’s actually all the more reason to “relearn” how to use it, now with the correct terminology, backed up by examples and analysis. I promise you’ll have an aha-moment or two.
Public relations and people skills
One of the easiest things you can do to increase your public relations potential is to be an allaround likeable person. When you contact journalists, bloggers or other influencers, be respectful, pleasant and genuine. It matters more than you think.
“If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.” - Bill Gates