When times are tough, you need public relations

f I were down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.” – Bill Gates

public relations, PR
PR is generally less expensive than advertising and confers greater credibility.

There’s never a time when you don’t need good PR, but you especially need good PR when times are bad.

First, when we say PR, we mean “earned media,” not purchased media or advertising. Earned media includes stories in newspapers, magazines, trade pubs and TV and radio news and feature shows. It also includes “buzz” on the internet in the form of blog mentions (others’ blogs – not your own), Web site articles and links in social media.

Frequently you’ll hear it called “free publicity,” but that’s a misnomer on many levels. First, all publicity is, by definition, “free,” so that phrase is redundant. But on a deeper level, publicity isn’t really free. It’s called “earned media” because you have to work for it – you can’t just stroke a check to get your message out.

Save money with PR

But you will save money, even when you hire a PR firm. Great advertising is expensive to create and expensive to buy. Since there is no space or airtime to buy with PR, your money goes much further. The truth is sometimes an ad campaign is the right strategy. Frequently you need both advertising and PR campaigns. But advertising does not confer the level of credibility that PR does. PR connotes a third-party endorsement – even though the media profess (and should deliver) objectivity in its presentation of news and feature stories.

PR is credible

If you land a feature article about your business in your local daily’s business section, readers know that you have been vetted and found worthy of coverage. When a respected blogger mentions you, it’s a vote of confidence. The media are gatekeepers, acting as filters for the mega-doses of information that bombards us everyday. They’re saying, in effect, “Hey, take note of this – it’s important.”

There are many formulas for determining the value of PR vs. paid advertising, ranging in factors of from four to seven times more. This means if you paid $1,000 for a 10” ad in a publication, then a 10” story would be valued at $4,000-7,000. Regardless of the formula, the consensus is clear: PR is more valuable than advertising.

When the economy is rocky, people are looking for that kind of endorsement for their precious dollars. They want to know that they’re getting the most value for every cent. When your product or service shows up in the media, it breaks through their natural resistance to and suspicion of unknown or overhyped brands.

PR establishes you as an expert

PR can establish you as an expert in your niche. The earned media you get may not be in the form of a long feature story about your business, but rather a quote from you about a current event. This kind of publicity is golden, especially when the media turn to you over and over for comment.

You can cultivate this exposure by introducing yourself to the reporters who cover your area of expertise when you aren’t asking them for coverage (important!), and offer to be a resource for them. Find out how you can help them, even if it means referring them to others when they are looking for a resource outside your area of expertise.

The key is to be readily available when they call — even if it means interrupting your plans – and provide useful, concise feedback. Pass along tips about trends in your industry, and don’t be self-serving. It pays off.

Reach your market directly with PR

There are many opportunities for online PR that allows you to take your message straight to you market. Search engine optimization is one form of PR that indicates third-party endorsement in the form of back links from other Web sites or blogs that rewards your Web site in search results for keywords specific to your industry. Techniques such as press release distribution, article writing, white papers, blogging and social media not only help establish you as an expert and increase awareness of your company but also positively affect your Google ranking and are well worth the investment.

If you haven’t discovered the power of public relations, it’s time to develop a plan for your business. PR takes persistence and know-how. If you have the time, you can learn much on your own by attending seminars and reading books. If you’ve got too many other responsibilities, consider hiring either an experienced person for your staff or a consulting firm to handle your public relations program.

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