It's great when you’ve got a client who’s a leader in their market or whose product or service is a headline-grabber or springboard for social sharing. But what do you do with a smaller client who’s not a natural newsmaker and for whom PR may be at best, foreign and at worst, a distasteful chore?
“It is a big challenge that requires a lot of time researching ideas and trends and requires more creativity,” said Paola Iuspa-Abbott, president of Top of Mind PR. “It also requires more time managing the client's expectations.”
But there’s also an opportunity: “Generally, large companies are more risk-adverse and, therefore, have stricter legal and communications protocols in place versus smaller entrepreneurial firms which are instinctively aggressive,” said Tadd Schwartz, president of Schwartz Media Strategies.
And it’s true that every brand has a story to tell—the trick is surfacing those stories. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Remember your audience. That audience? Journalists! It may seem obvious, but understanding the news cycle, deadlines and offering a story that fits the media being pitched is key.
“I try and put myself in the journalists’ shoes,” said Melissa Brown, technology vice president at Weber Shandwick. “What would the journalist want to write about? What is a unique and different story that would get a journalist excited?”
Thought leadership pieces are a core component of most media relations campaigns, and if they can be tied to a news peg, journalists are more likely to take notice. This could be “positioning an anti-trust attorney to shed light on the AT&T/Time-Warner deal [or] arranging for a commercial real estate broker to analyze a major transaction,” said Schwartz. “In each case, our goal is to raise the profile of our client within their specific audiences, giving them added credibility and aligning their business with what’s driving the news."
When Samsung had its massive recall for its exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones, Brooks Wallace, West Coast lead at the Hollywood Agency, saw an opportunity for an electronic component client. “I was able to insert my client’s POV into a Reuters article that got syndicated globally. That wasn’t our news at all, but when breaking news happens and journalists look to smart sources, you can occasionally insert a client if you move quickly enough.”
Keep an eye on social. Leveraging trends can give many smaller or mid-size clients a leg up into a story. And the best place to spot them is on social media.
Look for ways to align with popular hashtags and social campaigns, and keep an eye on influencers.
Patrick Gevas, vice president of GreenRoom, recalled a time when his firm handled a very niche product that presented unique challenges for media promotion. “A member of the team happened to see a celebrity make a relevant comment on social media and quickly turned it into a pitch. Within 48 hours, we had secured Men’s Health and two broadcast opportunities. It was a major win for the brand and went a long way in building trust and excitement with the client.”
Build trust. It can be difficult to get CEOs and company founders who may be reticent about speaking to the press to reveal information that can be used as a pitch. “This is when being a true client partner is very important," Brown said. “If they trust you, it makes your job easier. It’s also important to show the value of doing story-mining exercises. Share examples of how you’ve successfully placed these types of stories for clients before and how it impacted their business. Showing impact is critical.”
And, said Schwartz, “we find that even the most apprehensive clients become more comfortable once they understand that our approach to building and executing campaigns is thorough and thoughtful.”
Dig deep. It’s important not to rely solely on the client to display their differentiators. “That process begins with learning our clients’ business, the people they need to reach and what’s unique about their company or organization,” Schwartz said. “From there, we become immersed in their industry by learning the media landscape, studying the trends and issues driving the sector and staying on top of breaking news.”
“It requires doing a lot of research on our part and to understand that client's industry pretty well,” agreed Iuspa-Abbott. “We have a client who is very busy and has no time to give us much information about his business. So we identified some of his sweet spots and developed an expert source pitch based on an article we read. As a result of our proactive approach, we got him in The Wall Street Journal and secured columns for local and national publications.”
Keep them talking. Once you’ve built trust with the client and have a deep knowledge of the industry, keeping avenues of dialogue open is critical. “The more we’re able to talk with them and ask questions, the more they’ll inevitably say something that’s unique that we can drill down on to craft a pitch,” said Gevas, adding that his firm has also developed a tailored questionnaire to unearth PR gold.
“I advise executives to take off a PR hat and pretend they’re talking to someone on the sidewalk,” said Wallace. “How would you describe your company or product to a stranger? Why should she or he care about what you do?”
For Iuspa-Abbott, it means coming up with questions “such as what is keeping you busy these days, what is your sweet spot or what areas of your business you want to grow. By having him talk of the 'big picture,' [it] will allow a PR person start focusing on the small picture and from there figure out what the client will feel comfortable discussing with reporters. We always go from the big picture to the small picture to figure out information that can be used in pitches.”
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