Posted by Sarah Whitman on Thursday, March 17, 2016 - 05:00
If your creative firm’s public relations plan is nonexistent or dead in the water, don’t despair. Here, four pros share their best PR tips for generating positive media coverage for your company.
It seems lately that business article after business article has boldly declared that “the press release is dead.” But many creative agencies and public relations professionals continue to rely on this time-honored PR tool. Companies still need a vehicle for announcing their news — whether it’s landing a big client, winning an award, unveiling new research or simply offering expert advice.
I’ll admit that during my 16 years as an editor for a design magazine, I suffered from press release fatigue. I was overwhelmed by the number of pitches I received, many of which were long-winded, irrelevant or both. But some successfully cut through the clutter and delivered exactly what I was looking for: a catchy headline, a succinct summary and a strong story idea that would resonate with readers.
I’m going to buck the trend and declare that, from my vantage point, the press release is alive and well. It’s just that, as with everything else in our information-overloaded industry, we need to be smarter about the way we use this form of communication — and add some promotional tactics to the mix. To help you inject new life into your PR plan, I turned to industry pros and creative agencies with enviable promotional results and asked them for their best PR tips:
Target your content
While some PR professionals take the “spray and pray” approach, it’s better to customize pitches. Just as you would adapt your resume for each prospective employer, you should target your pitch to the unique editorial needs of each outlet or reporter.
“While you may send the same press release to everyone, your pitch must offer insights and techniques that a particular publication’s readers can potentially apply to their job or business,” says Len Stein, president of Visibility Public Relations, which specializes in PR and marketing for the creative industry. Say you’re pitching three publications: a major design blog, a local business journal and a trade publication that covers your client’s industry. You’ll need to offer a different point of view for each outlet or there’s a good chance your message will be overlooked.
Mark W. McClennan, 2016 Public Relations Society of America national chair and SVP of MSLGROUP, agrees: “While a news release may be written for a broad audience, the emails or tweet sharing the news release should explain why it matters to the editor and his or her readers,” McClennan says. “I’m a big fan of holding a few stats or snackable graphics out of a release and sharing that with specific editors. It gives them something everyone else doesn’t have and shows you are thinking of giving something with added relevance.”
Delivering value goes hand in hand with tailoring your pitch. Never send a press release without considering why anyone else would care about the news. Editors and bloggers publish stories that inspire or inform readers. Simply stating that you landed a client or won an award doesn’t fulfill either of those goals. “Share the information that is most important for your customers and key audiences, not what is most important to you,” McClennan says.
Amy Graver, creative director/owner of 15-year-old design agency Elements LLC in Branford, CT, suggests testing your idea to ensure it isn’t just interesting to you or your inner circle, but a topic that will resonate with a larger audience. “Measure what you are saying against someone completely unrelated, or who isn’t sure what you do, to check its newsworthiness,” she advises. “I always run my story ideas by a friend who was an editor at a publication house geared towards designers.”
Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger, cofounders of Motto, a 10-year-old branding agency in Dallas, TX, have written articles and had their firm’s branding insights featured in multiple publications. They take the same approach when seeking out such opportunities. Says Bonnell: “We ask ourselves, ‘What can we share that the audience can learn from and start applying right now?’ It’s all about showing someone the way.”
When it comes to PR tips, this one is critical to remember: You don’t have to send everything to everybody. It’s better to think about which publication’s audience would be most appropriate for what you have to offer. Or, if you have a goal such as “publish a thought leadership piece on a creative industry blog,” or “get coverage from a national news outlet,” concentrate your efforts on making that happen. Graver attributes much of the coverage Elements has received from outlets such as HOW, Communication Arts, Felt+Wire and Against the Grain to this philosophy.
“Gone are the days of blanketing everyone with your news or content,” Graver says. “You need to be extremely targeted. We send out less but are highly selective to whom and where we send or distribute our news and content.”
Her PR tips include figuring out who the best contact is at your top choice and pitching them your idea first. But before you do, take the time to read the publication or request a copy of the editorial calendar to make sure your idea is a good fit. “If you wish to write about a design trend, match that idea to the editorial calendar,” Graver advises. “Is there an upcoming issue where this topic would make the most sense? Use that in your pitch.”
Hiring a PR professional? Check out The Creative Group Salary Guide for average starting salary ranges.
Offer an exclusive
When I would receive an intriguing story idea back in my editor days, my first thought was, “Who else did they send this to, and has it already been covered by one of our competitors?” Therefore, it was always helpful when firms offered me first dibs or an exclusive on their news or ideas. “Design firms rarely have big news, and when editors see ‘News Release,’ they assume it’s been sent to a long list of publications,” Stein says. “The result: little interest. It’s better to offer an exclusive if you think you have a real story.”
PR isn’t about bombarding people with information. It’s about taking the time to make strategic connections and grow relationships with editors, reporters and influential bloggers so they recognize you, your firm and the value you can offer their audience.
There are many ways you can go about forging these relationships: Send an eye-catching get-to-know-us package to the office, then follow up by requesting a 10- or 15-minute call to find out how you might help meet their editorial needs. Offer to buy coffee if they’re local or if there’s a conference you’re both attending. Add them to your e-newsletter list. Connect with them on social media, especially LinkedIn. Above all, remember that, like you, they’re busy people and the more genuine and helpful you are, the better chance you have of making a good impression and long-term connection.
Graver says the relationships her firm has built over the years with editors, writers and journalists are the most important assets in Elements’ PR arsenal. From my own experience, editors pay more attention to messages from people they know and who they trust not to waste their time. Graver says she also follows up every press release with calls until she reaches someone, and she sends at least one follow-up email.
Support your pitch with visuals
I was always dumbfounded by the number of press releases I received highlighting a completed creative project without accompanying images — from creative professionals. For a design publication!
Whether it’s an innovative brochure, a slick website redesign or an infographic, if a relevant image is available, editors want to see it. And they don’t want to have to ask you for it.
Graver adds that it’s important for visuals to be high quality, even if it means hiring a professional photographer or designer. “It’s worth the expense and wait even if it holds up releasing your article or news,” she says. “Publications love great art to go with a story, and you will have a better chance to get published and better placement.” That advice holds true for all types of outlets, not just creative industry ones.
Capitalize on content marketing
Content marketing is the practice of using interesting content as a way to attract and engage with clients and prospects. You might deliver that content in the form of blog posts, thought leadership or even videos published on your own site or in the media. And you may need to hire a professional copywriter to do it.
Stein believes content marketing should take the lead in every agency’s PR or marketing plan. “Every creative shop and agency leader should harness their insights to educate clients, prospects and the design community,” he advises. For his clients, Stein develops 250-word abstracts on topical issues, offers them to the media and then fulfills requests for exclusive long-form columns. “This provides my clients complete control over the message, which is published as a bylined column,” he says.
Elements has a fairly detailed content marketing plan that Graver hopes to continue to grow. The firm is particularly focused on its blog and e-newsletter, which it sends to a targeted group of clients and prospects. “It takes planning and teamwork to get — and stay — top-of-mind.”
Motto’s Bonnell says she and Hansberger are, first and foremost, writers who love to express their ideas and opinions about branding through articles, teaching and public speaking. In addition to regular blogging on Motto’s blog, the duo writes for business- and entrepreneurship-focused publications such as Forbes, YEC, Inc. and Business Collective, and many of their articles have been picked up by major outlets like the Chicago Tribune, Success, Huffington Post and Entrepreneur.
Additionally, it’s OK to share others’ stories on your own site. It still puts the spotlight on your firm and can demonstrate your savvy for spotting great ideas or seeking out good advice. “One thing we’ve started recently is a monthly series called ‘Brand Crush’ where we focus on a brand that we have a crush on,” Bonnell says. “We interview the founder or founders and get insights into their culture and the how, what, and why that drives their brand. It’s an exciting and fun series that offers tremendous value to our readers. We’ve featured brands like Jeni’s Ice Cream, Pirch, and Hiut Denim, with many more intriguing brands to come.”
Stick to the plan, but don’t be afraid to evolve
It’s smart to continually reflect on and revise your PR plan, just as you do with your business plan. Your point of view and goals may change, and your PR efforts need to evolve to support your business.
Early on, Motto attracted attention because of its backstory: Two young women met in their teens in a snowball fight, then started a branding agency in their early 20s with $250 to their names. It grabbed hearts and it’s relatable. Today, the firm uses its point of view on leadership and story-driven branding to build its platform.
Says Bonnell: “In essence, our approach to PR is pretty simple. People don’t necessarily care that you’ve won a few wars. What they want is to see the scars and know how you do it. If you tell your story and share your ideas with passion and realness, it’s far more interesting.”
Looking to hire creatives with stellar PR skills? The Creative Group can help you find the right professionals with PR or content development and management expertise.