How to Use PR to Grow Your Business
Around the globe, public relations (PR) is a $100 billion industry, projected to eclipse $133 billion by 2027. That growth may come as no surprise. As successful companies know, PR is a powerful tool to build brand awareness, strengthen credibility, and establish a positive reputation and loyalty among target audiences.
Whether you’re new to PR or you’ve tried it before, there is an art and a science to executing it well. Gleaned from our Bolt PR team’s decades of experience partnering with companies of all sizes and across a variety of industries, here’s how you can employ PR successfully to grow your business.
Find a true PR partner
Successful PR is built on relationships, starting with your PR agency. Pay attention to the questions the agency team asks. Do they think strategically? Do they connect the data points to understand your business and how their work contributes to success? Are they passionate about your work? Trust your intuition. If you don’t make a connection or see a fit from the start, respect everyone’s time and move on.
If you are interested enough to review a proposal, your goal should be to understand how the agency team thinks and the results they have achieved for similar clients or campaigns. Unless you’re paying for a proposal, you should not expect a complete strategy and creative ideas, but you should expect more than a cookie-cutter solution that could fit any of your competitors. Is it clear that they listened to you and your goals? Additionally, seek to understand what a partnership with the agency looks like. Will they bring you creative ideas or will they expect you to provide them? How frequently will they communicate updates? How will they measure success?
Once you’ve selected your PR partner, treat the relationship as a true partnership. Focus on transparency and provide feedback. Share data and learnings. A successful partnership requires commitment from both parties, so be ready to put in the work. Your agency team will need access to unique perspectives and insights from your executive team, timely feedback and approvals, and availability for interview opportunities.
Dedicate time to building your brand narrative
As you kick off your PR partnership, invest time to build your brand narrative. Every brand has a story and your PR partner can help you uncover yours. Your brand narrative should answer several questions for your audience:
- What problem are you solving?
- Why should your audience care about solving that problem right now?
- How does your product or service differ from your competitors?
- Where does your solution fit in the larger ecosystem?
Once you develop your brand narrative, field test it and seek feedback. Listen to the questions you receive from customers, business partners, investors and journalists. How do your customers respond on social media? What questions do journalists ask? Developing your brand narrative is not a one-and-done activity; it should evolve, especially as you update your product or service and incorporate audience feedback.
Do your research and trust the process
Building upon the brand narrative, a smart PR agency should develop a variety of storylines to pitch to the media. That entails thinking about your different audiences and creating newsworthy storylines that speak to your solution from their perspectives. In parallel, the agency team should review the media outlets that reach those target audiences and understand what types of stories they are telling, identify the right journalist at each outlet and determine how to engage them, whether pitching a particular story angle, offering expert commentary or providing access to your products or services for review.
The success of your PR program hinges on this step. The key to this approach is one-on-one, meaningful media engagement. If you get any inkling that your PR agency is using the “spray and pray” approach, where they pitch the exact same story to hundreds of journalists, run. Additionally, while it’s tempting to ask your PR team who they know at a particular outlet, the truth is that it doesn’t matter. If the story is not compelling or a good fit, even best friends won’t put their jobs on the line to write it. Rather than “spray and pray” or “who do you know” tactics, it’s important to do the research, find the right contacts and tailor the pitch to each individual – or better yet, ask your PR agency about their approach to media outreach before you hire them. Look for their ability to tell a great story, and to forge and nurture relationships with media, not exclusively who they know.
While research is the most important part, now comes the hard part: trusting the process. And it takes time. You may get that viral story or land the big TV interview, but it takes time to educate about your solution, build brand awareness and strengthen credibility. Lasting success comes from consistent coverage. It starts with one interview or product review, and the momentum builds from there. While it may take time to build up to the big stories, your PR team should actively engage journalists. Expect to hear feedback from those conversations, questions from journalists, and new story ideas from your PR team to continue building momentum.
The benefit, and the risk, of editorial coverage is that you’re asking someone else to tell your story. If you want to control every word, stick to newswires and advertising. If you want the value of editorial coverage – third-party credibility on a trusted and elevated platform – then you have to grant space for questions and conversations and let journalists share their honest feedback.
Integrate PR, content and digital marketing
Editorial coverage is a key component of your PR strategy, but it should be integrated across your entire marketing program. While PR can insert your brand into the right conversational spaces, an integrated approach allows you to create those spaces.
Raising awareness for your brand, building credibility, and educating and reaching new audiences requires multiple touch points across earned and owned platforms. Think about where your audiences go for their information, including media outlets, influencers and social media, and then consider how to build awareness across those platforms. Here are just a few examples:
- Share editorial coverage on social media and your website to amplify the third-party credibility.
- Generate thought leadership content, positioning your executives as industry leaders with unique perspectives and insights. Create educational content, such as blogs and LinkedIn posts, white papers, webinars and case studies, to share across your owned platforms.
- Use thought leadership insights to fuel the media relations program through unique storylines, or repurpose content into bylined contributed articles in media outlets that reach your target audiences.
- Execute search ads to capture interest from people who are actively searching for your solution, and lead them to landing pages where they can find additional relevant content.
While there are many additional ways to integrate your PR, content and digital marketing programs, the goal is to create opportunities to engage your audiences in meaningful ways. Through an integrated program, with a consistent brand voice and messaging across all channels, you can build trust and credibility and amplify the reach across your marketing campaigns.
Measure results and make data-driven decisions
As the adage goes, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. While measuring PR impact is not always straightforward, it’s crucial to your success. By analyzing data across channels, you gain a more thorough understanding of how your target audiences engage with your brand and their behavior along the customer journey. Here are some best practices:
- Start with your business goals and what you can impact through PR efforts. Are you aiming for double-digit revenue growth? Improving AUV across franchise locations? Increasing technology adoption or subscriptions?
- Identify metrics that support those goals. Key measures may include website traffic and referral sources, user behavior on your website, online audience growth and engagement, your brand’s share of voice among key competitors, key message pull-through and sentiment of media coverage, and more.
- Establish benchmarks to help you measure how your program compares to industry standards, while also setting expectations about what success looks like.
- Analyze the data regularly and be ready to pivot when the data tells you something isn’t working. Look for trends, patterns or other insights that can help you optimize your strategies.
- Communicate results to internal stakeholders, and ask for their input. Is your sales team observing any trends? What feedback is your customer service team receiving?
In your search for the right PR partner, ask how they measure and report results, including what tools they employ to stay on top of industry trends and competitor movements. Then seek to understand how they use those results to inform strategies and identify opportunities.
Business is built on relationships, and PR is no different. Start with a great relationship with your PR partner and work together to build the strategy, with transparent communication and integration across your marketing program. When executed thoughtfully, PR is a powerful tool to give your brand the recognition it deserves.
Written by Adrienne Wojtaszek.
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