Branding with PR

As I work on public relations (PR) projects for clients, I am constantly reminded how difficult it is to brand effectively using PR.  This is because you have to make your story newsworthy; you need to sell a reporter and editor on the importance of your story; and you have little control over the final product.  If something goes wrong in any part of the process, it can mean that you won’t get coverage or, if you do get coverage, it might not contain your key messages or, worse yet, it could be negative about your company.

In most marketing communications, such as advertising, web sites, brochures, etc. you pay to produce and distribute your message so you control the message.  Unless you are promoting something illegal or your promotion violates regulations, you can pretty much say what you want.  In PR, controlling the message is much more difficult.  Your message has to appeal to a reporter and editor before it can ever appeal to the audience.  And your message is open to the interpretation of the reporter and editor, as well as other experts they may include in the story.

So why bother trying to use PR for branding?  First, it is relatively inexpensive because there is limited out-of-pocket expense in producing and distributing your message.  The major expense is the time required to pitch and secure the PR opportunity; to prepare those who will be interviewed; and to follow up during the writing and editing process to answer any additional questions the reporter has and to offer clarification. The second reason for using PR is the perceived credibility your story receives when it appears in a media outlet because the audience believes the facts have been checked.

Here are some thoughts on using PR as one of your branding tools:

Make your story newsworthy – Reporters and editors are looking for something their competitors are not covering.  You have to give them a unique angle or hook on what your company does.  This often includes tying into an issue in the news or a recent trend.

Make sure it connects to your brand – There is an old saying that any PR is good PR.  I am not sure I agree with it, but positive PR is certainly good.  But positive PR does not always connect to your brand message.  For example, you can get good PR for donating to a local charity, but unless your brand message is “giving back”, it does not advance your brand.

Don’t waste editor’s time – If you don’t have something newsworthy, don’t waste reporters or editors’ time thinking you are going to wear them down.  It will actually have the opposite effect.  They’ll stop talking to you and you won’t be able to get them on the phone when you have a good story.

Anticipate questions – Prepare a list of questions you think you will be asked, including those you don’t want to be asked, so you can prepare concise answers.  If you are surprised by a question and don’t know the answer, say “I don’t know” and offer to get back to the reporter with the information.  Never answer a question with “no comment” because it will raise the reporter’s suspicions.

Prepare your spokesperson – Whoever is going to speak with the press on your company’s behalf needs to be prepared with key speaking points to be communicated.  Emphasizing the key points is important, but be careful you don’t sound like a broken record repeating the same phrase over and over.   If the reporter isn’t getting the idea, find another way to say it.  Doing a mock interview with your spokesperson, especially if he or she is unaccustomed to dealing with the media, can be very helpful.

PR can be a very effective tool for communicating your brand because of the credibility it carries with readers and viewers.  It is difficult to make sure your message gets through because you don’t have total control over the final product, but when it happens it is well worth the effort.



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