• Julia Loughlin

What exactly is PR and how do you 'do' it?

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

I recently had the privilege of travelling the country to present to the finalists of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards. The topic? How to use PR to leverage such an incredible achievement.

I got to meet some extraordinary business women during this process, which has led to many coffees, conversations and inspiration since. I’ve been struck by how helpful this presentation was to so many women who have already achieved so much in business.

All this insight isn’t doing much good for anyone gathering dust on my desktop. So this post is for anyone achieving great things, or wants to. I hope these tips help you on your path to success. 

What is PR?

PR is often understood as synonymous with media coverage – a media article, a TV interview, for example.

But media consumption habits are changing, with more people going online, and the media landscape is shrinking as a result, so it’s safer to talk about what it is at its core, which is the art of influencing people.

PR influences people to either think, feel or do something, and it uses a couple of the key principles of influence to do this.

The first principle of influence that PR uses is social proof – people are influenced by the behaviours of others. If they see customers using and enjoying your business’ product or service, they are more likely to give it a go too. On a personal level, if their friends regard you highly, they’re more likely to as well.

The second principle of influence that PR harnesses is authority – people tend to respect authority figures. Any piece of content featuring a doctor, like a billboard ad, a book cover or a TV show, will show them in a white coat. Because it’s cognitive shorthand for credibility. 

PR influences people to either think, feel or do something, and it uses a couple of the key principles of influence to do this.

Harnessing your influence.

As a successful business woman, you can be an authority in your respective field. By demonstrating your expertise, you will build trust with your audience, ultimately leading to influencing attitude or behaviour, such as attracting more clients or customers, or opening the door for more professional opportunities.

This can be achieved to a certain extent on your owned channels, like on your LinkedIn profile or on a company blog. But for maximum effect, it’s best to have a mix of owned and earned media.

That’s because those factors of influence – social proof and authority- are inherent in a third-party carrying the message for you. The implicit understanding is that if you appear on TV or in an article, that you must have passed some kind of test, you must be reliable, to be written about or interviewed.

Maximising PR opportunities.

I have three key pieces of advice for maximizing PR opportunities that come to you:

1.Be available - Often print and online will make a story out of the materials we give them, but sometimes they like an interview, and it’s of course necessary for radio and TV, so you need to be available. We’re often not given a lot of notice, perhaps even only an hour or two, so be prepared from the outset. And be ready to pounce on an opportunity when it comes in. If you don’t, someone else will.

2.Be clear and confident with your story- You need to know what makes you different and why people should care. Before an interview, write down your 3 key messages. If you are keen to raise the profile of your business to ultimately attract more customers, your key messages should encapsulate:

  • What your business does

  • How it is different from the competitors and

  • How it makes people’s lives better.

If you are building your personal brand to appeal to potential employers, clients and the world at large, they should articulate:

  • Who you are

  • What you stand for

  • What value you offer. 

Even for print, because even they are looking for easily digestible quotes to drop into their article. An effective interview only goes for about 5, maybe 10 minutes. If your interview is going longer than that, you might be waffling and the journalist is probably finding it difficult to get what he or she needs, and if that’s the case, they might just drop the story. If you find that happening, pause, and go back to your key messages.

For more tips about this, read the blog post "How to prepare for a media interview".

To make the most of a media opportunity: be available, be prepared and be concise. 

Creating your own news.

In trying to secure news, it’s key to understand the fundamentals of what makes news. Chief among them, not surprisingly, is that the material is ‘new’. It’s a story that can’t have been told before.

Next, it needs to have relevance for your audience, so think about whether your story is suited to a business audience or your local community, the whole state, or even country.

Lastly, it should be surprising and of interest to your audience so their reaction is ‘I didn’t know that’.

There’s an old adage in media that ‘dog bites man’ isn’t news, but ‘man bites dog’ is a great headline because it is unexpected.

Announcements that are inherently newsworthy are few and far between. Things like expanding a business overseas or winning a huge new contract that affects a lot of people. When this happens, by all means send out a press release to the relevant media. But in the meantime, we can create news.

Draw on data

You can do this by drawing on data, to identify trends. For instance, if you run a coffee company and you can be considered an authority in the space, because you have a large market share, you could draw on your data to find insights about changing consumer coffee habits.

Maybe you’ve seen coffee orders with almond milk grow by 300% in the past year. If you can make that a good photo – maybe with the business owners swimming in a pit of coffee beans and almonds - you might have a good story for your local paper.

Tap into people

If you don’t have data to draw on, maybe you have people you can tap into. Surveys are very common in PR because they’re a relatively straight forward way of creating news. If you’re in IT services company, you could survey your customer database about their greatest fears, challenges, mistakes they’re making with IT and use those insights to frame your solutions with business media.

To determine whether you have something worth pitching, ask yourself whether you can imagine reading it in the paper or seeing it on TV. 

Thought leadership

If you don’t really have a lot of ‘ownable’ news, thought leadership is a very good option as well, particularly for personal brand building.

First, identify your area of expertise and match it with relevant outlets. You then want to determine what you can say that’s going to be of value to their audience and position yourself as the expert.

In addition to pro-active pitching, it’s worth keeping an ear to the ground for re-active opportunities, essentially when journalists are putting out a call-out for contributions.

Sourcebottle is a great free tool for this- http://www.sourcebottle.com/.

The thing to remember is to aim to be good talent: be available, and speak concisely.

The point you want to get in your PR journey, is when the media are contacting you for comment. 
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