It’s always the right time to review public relations basics. While tools and technologies change constantly, the basic skills stay the same. They’re the foundation. They give you the ability to leap from a press release to Instagram in a single bound.
A strong foundation makes you agile, a trait that is increasingly sought after in businesses and organizations worldwide. Jody Greenstone Miller, co-founder and CEO of Business Talent Group, a global marketplace for independent contractors, lists agility as one of the top five traits desired in the workplace in 2015.
In PR, capability translates to using whichever tools and tech will successfully grow brand recognition, media coverage and engagement. Sometimes, that means Instagram or an up-and-comer like Meerkat. Other times, the method might be a press release, augmented by photos or video and social. Often, it’s a mix of platforms. The results speak for themselves: attention and interest increase, producing more press, leads, sales and loyalty.
What are the PR basics in the digital age? We’ve broken them into six areas: press releases, media and influencer lists, pitching, community engagement, digital newsrooms and measurement.
How to write a press release
Press releases are still relevant in the digital age. Jayson DeMers, Forbes contributor, lists a handful of benefits:
Seeing those benefits requires a laser-like focus on the story, the headline, subheading, introductory paragraph, body copy, conclusion and contact information. In addition, photos, videos and other dynamic content are vital. They increase the odds of your release being viewed and used.
Always start by asking if the story is newsworthy. Janet Murray, media consultant and contributor at The Guardian, advises:
“Above all, don’t navel gaze. You may be excited about your new product range or securing a juicy new contract, but will anyone else be? If in doubt, wait until you’ve got a better story.”
Headlines are the first things people see, so take time to craft the best possible one. Google also crawls them, but usually only the first 70 characters. Make them count.
Google may or may not index the subheading, but that doesn’t mean it’s wasted space. Use it to add context to your title with important keywords and phrases.
Start with the lead. Don’t bury it! Successful press releases present exciting information immediately rather than holding it back. Focus on answering who, what, when, where, why and how.
The body builds on the introduction. Add details and quotes from key spokespeople. Don’t give away everything here; there isn’t room or time. Plus, the goal of a press release is to incite curiosity and motivate reporters, journalists and others to ask for an interview.
The conclusion can be thought of as an “about” section. Share information about who your brand is and what it does. Wrap up with a restatement of why people should care about your news.
Contact information—name, email, telephone number, website address and social media handles—should always be up to date and easy to find. Typical press releases feature the information above the release itself. Press release distribution services sometimes place the details in a sidebar. Regardless of the location, make sure the press can find you by filling out contact information in full.
Visuals, video and other content.
This is your chance to stand out from the crowd. Use photos and videos to tell a story. Include other content as needed, such as product descriptions and infographics.
How to create and maintain media and influencer lists
For press releases and other content to have the most effect, they should be shared with targeted media outlets and influencers. Identify the people who can broadcast your message and put them on your media and influencer lists.
Finding journalists and influencers takes some work but less than it did even just a few years ago. Today, media databases, website analytics and audience demographics make it easier to find the right contacts for your message.
Use a database.
Media databases, like the one provided by Cision, are a way to work smarter, not harder. Use databases to look for media outlets and their representatives. Research those people so that you have a better idea of who they are, what they cover and how, and where they’re active online.
Study your audience.
Need to find the top influencers for your audience? Study who your audience listens to. Who do they retweet regularly? What sites do they frequent? What content do they share?
Use the answers to build a list of influencers. As with reporters and journalists, do additional research to understand who they are, what topics interest them and where they’re active on social.
Keep contact information up to date.
Influencers come and go, as do journalists and reporters. Their topics of interest, beats and outlets change, too. Keep their information up to date so you can reach out to the people most likely to share your story.
How to pitch reporters, journalists and influencers
Pitching is an art, and what works for reporters and journalists may not always work for influencers. In fact, what works for one reporter may not work for the next one.
According to Cision’s 2015 Social Journalism Study, 83 percent of reporters and journalists prefer to receive pitches via email. Use social to get to know reporters and journalists, but turn to email to make the pitch, at least for now.
Twitter’s changes to Direct Messages could change the story. Twitter has removed the 140-character limit on direct messages, allowing you to share more information via the channel. Plus, more journalists are accepting pitches via social media (23 percent), a five-point increase over 2013. It’s still a small percentage, so err on the side of email unless you know otherwise.
Because influencers are more of a mixed bag, ask them how they prefer to be pitched. Also remember that they’re gatekeepers of a community, much more so than reporters. If you want to win their affection and attention, focus on how your story benefits their community.
Social is the place for small talk. Find out what you have in common with reporters and influencers. Share their articles and congratulate them when they receive an award or other good news. Let them know when you hear news that’s relevant to them. Make yourself a trusted, essential resource before pitching a story.
Use well-structured pitches.
Press release principles apply to your email pitches. Use a clear headline and keep the email copy to a minimum. If you’ve done your work well enough with the media lists and on social, the reporter or influencer will already be interested in the story. Accompany the copy with links rather than attachments; files are often blocked by the recipient’s firewall.
Track your efforts.
Always track whom you’ve pitched and what was submitted. Also track who accepted the story and who didn’t. If your first pitch doesn’t succeed, try again with a different angle on the story. Monitor the results and refine media lists and pitches accordingly.
How to engage your community
If media relations is one arm of public relations, community management is another. You can have all the publicity in the world, but it travels little without brand advocates. They’re the ones who hear it and spread the word.
Social media has become a way to not only find breaking news stories and trends but also gauge audience reception and develop a loyal, engaged following. The community will let you know what they want. Listen and adjust strategies and tactics accordingly.
Find your fans and build a community around them.
Communities are organic, which means people will rarely come to a social network they don’t already use. Their time is precious. They use networks and apps that fit seamlessly into their lives. Figure out where fans spend their time and develop a community around them. Why try to herd cats when they’re already gathered in one place?
Focus more on intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivators.
Contests build initial momentum and rejuvenate interest, but they aren’t long-term solutions. People stay in communities because they enjoy the experience and feel they belong. Focus on those two things, and people will stay, engage and evangelize.
Keep the message simple.
Think of this as an elevator pitch for the brand’s community. Why should people join? What’s in it for them? Keep the answer simple so that fans will share it with their personal networks and grow the community.
Share informative as well as fun content.
The content you share depends on your brand and its goals. However, you should mix fun and information. That doesn’t mean your brand has to turn into a comedian. Find interesting ways to share even the seemingly driest content.
Repurpose content for each channel.
While every piece of content should cohere to a larger narrative, the experience should be different on each channel. Messaging shouldn’t be copied from Facebook to Snapchat to LinkedIn to Instagram.
Learn the ins and outs of the channels, and use that information to guide how and what you share. You’ll see likes, comments and word-of-mouth grow.
Ask people to share their stories.
Community is about “us.” Get people involved by asking for stories and feedback. Use contests at times. Also look for organic conversations already happening. People who love your product or service likely are already talking about you. Find the common hashtag and join the chatter.
Thank people for their involvement.
For being such a small act, a “thank you” goes a long way. Gratitude makes people feel appreciated and creates a sense of camaraderie. People who feel appreciated will gladly shout your name from the rooftops.
Track your efforts.
Social media efforts produce scads of data. You can track almost anything! Determine your objectives first; then monitor social initiatives. What’s working and what isn’t? Social media metrics hold the answer. Change direction as the data dictates.
And remember, social media is evolving. Keep an eye on rising networks and be ready to move to them if it makes sense for your brand.
How to build a digital newsroom
“Digital newsroom” is a term volleyed about the Internet. But what does it mean?
According to Rebecca Lieb, a digital marketing expert formerly with Altimeter Group, there’s no consensus. She says, “‘Real’ newsrooms aside (a la ‘New York Times,’ ‘Wall Street Journal,’ and other news outlets), the term ‘newsroom,’ like so many digital marketing terms, means many things to many people.”
A digital newsroom, also known as an online newsroom, can involve creating and publishing news, media relations, branded content, social media, advertising, brand journalism and more. It’s a bit overwhelming, but don’t be afraid. As Rebecca puts it:
“Unless you’re an actual news organization, the purpose—even the reason for being—of a newsroom is governed by one principle only: content strategy.”
The goal of a digital newsroom is to make content easy to find, access and use. It’s the hub to send reporters and influencers to when pitching them. And it’s where they will come when seeking information about your brand.
Perform a comprehensive needs analysis.
Analysis leads to identifying needs, and needs lead to content. Don’t skip this step; it’s the secret to staying sane. You can post all sorts of things in a digital newsroom, but what content is essential to reaching objectives? Start there and add content as needed.
Ask the media what they want.
A needs analysis is helpful, but it should be paired with audience research. Talk with the reporters and journalists you’ve built relationships with. Ask them what they’d like to see in a digital newsroom. Build your newsroom on data and demand, and you’ll see success, i.e., more awareness, interest, engagement and coverage.
Make the newsroom easy to find and navigate.
Mark Shapiro, PR and marketing consultant at SRS Tech Media Relations, says it’s essential to make the pressroom easy to find. He says:
“Don’t hide your press page or pressroom four or five clicks away from your homepage. If possible, put a link to it from the front page and label it as News, Press, or even Press Room.”
Media people are like everybody else. If they don’t find the information they want right away, they bounce.
Similarly, make content easy to navigate. Involve the design or development team to ensure a good user experience.
Provide static and dynamic content.
Static content can include news releases, press clips and awards announcements as well as blogs, white papers and other owned content. Dynamic content refers to rich media, things like photo galleries, videos, graphics and audio.
List contact information.
Contact information should be readily available for your PR spokesperson. Also consider creating a directory of company experts and key figures—people the media will want to interview.
Remember to keep information up to date. Reporters won’t endlessly pursue a company contact if they hit one too many roadblocks.
Showcase past and upcoming events.
Events are another way to establish your brand as a credible and authoritative voice in the marketplace. Plus, a detailed calendar can be the deciding factor in whether a reporter will give media coverage or seek you out at an event in question.
Promote the newsroom via email and social.
People won’t just come to the newsroom. Extend an invitation to media contacts via email and mention it on social. Build buzz to get people to visit.
Analyze your efforts.
Ask the media for feedback. What’s working and what isn’t? What do your analytics say? How are people interacting with content? Are they finding what they want? Digging deeper?
Use personal feedback and analytics to improve the newsroom experience.
How to measure your work
Almost all the previous “basics” mentioned tracking or analyzing efforts, making this final point an obvious one: measure your work. Measurement is critical, and there’s really no excuse not to. Data is plentiful and ready to be harvested.
Measurement only works if you know what you’re trying to measure. What are the outcomes? What quantifiable data proves they’re being met?
Once you’ve determined both elements, write them down and share them with the team. Measurement works best when everyone’s involved and aimed toward the same target.
Monitor results along the way.
The quantifiable data points mentioned above are internal benchmarks. Augment them with competitive analysis. Keep an eye on your numbers in comparison to both. They’ll let you know if what you’re doing is having an impact.
Analyze and refine.
What outcomes were met? How did the campaign affect other departments? Study the data, come up with some hypotheses, and refine efforts.
A PR pro’s job is never done. Objectives change as the company matures or branches into other markets. New initiatives start. When they do, keep the principles of measurement in mind. They’ll keep you on course and make sure you hit the bulls-eye.
The basics of PR are constant. They may look different as new technologies come and go, but they are always and forever the basics. Stay true to them, and you’ll win the attention of the press and the affection of the community. And that will translate into everything you and your stakeholders have ever wanted: increased awareness, engagement, leads, sales and loyalty.