PR and You

I wrote this piece a while ago and it was originally going to published elsewhere but, i’ve brought it to life here. To be honest, i’d almost forgotten i’d written it and i thought it might be good to whack up for all to enjoy.

Hopefully if you’re looking into PR but don’t know whether you’re ready or if you have enough budget, this might be of some use to you.

So please, make sure you’ve got a tea/coffee and biscuit or two as this will be a long one.

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It’s always good to get something for free and with cash a little short to hand at the moment, hopefully what’s below will help a few people out.

What I wanted to do here is try to help people who are unsure if they need PR right now and offer some advice about what they can perhaps do on their own and what PR can do for them.

Who am I to be giving advice? Well that’s a good question. My name is Neil Robertson and i’m the other key consultant at IF Communications. We’re a small London-based agency, specialising in mobile and venture capital. A few of the mobile companies we work with are Flirtomatic, Fjord, Mobango and Sharpcards; all awesome companies doing very cool things….even if they weren’t my clients, I’d still say that, which is exactly why I enjoy working with them every day. We also worked with Trutap, which by the way, is STILL winning awards (The Graham Bell Award for Best Communication Solution at the SPIFFY awards in February) and signing up around 400 new users a day.

What can PR do for me?

PR may not be for everyone and there are companies out there doing a fantastic job without it. There’s a lot you can do yourself within your own industry, after all it’s fairly easy to preach to the converted, but what about the rest of the world out there? How do you go about reaching the important people who don’t really run in the same circles?

Along with good branding and marketing, PR can help to dramatically increase the value of a company. It’s not rocket science, but it does take certain skills to do it successfully and make no mistake, good PR really can make a difference. Trutap’s initial funding for example, came through from an article in The Economist….no joke.

Some might argue that in difficult times, PR is often one of the first things to be cut, however it’s perhaps the one thing that can really make a difference. In a downturn it becomes even more important to make sure your company is being talked about in a positive way. If you cut the PR and stop reaching out, people tend to have short memories and you may get forgotten about, at a time when you need the right level of visibility to get funding, find strategic partners, get sign ups or find a potential exit.

Anyway, as promised here are few tips for those considering PR.

Focus on you

Messaging – It might sound a little wanky, but have you done a messaging session yet? If you’re not sure what that means, no worries. It’s just getting down to some core statements that really sum up what your product or service does….without the BS.

What audiences are you trying to reach? Joe Public, VC’s, corporates, mobile network operators – it doesn’t matter, the main point is to keep things simple and clear. You need to make sure you cut out all the jargon, which might not be as easy as you think, especially if you’re used to explaining your business to your industry peers. A basic test you can do is to explain your company or service as if you were talking to your grandmother. It’s even better if you actually have a grandmother to practice on.

Think about the language you’re using. You might think that your audience will have a grasp on certain terms, but you could actually be giving them too much credit.

Before you call in the PR however, start doing it yourself. Get some friends in to the office and run it past them to see what they think. I’m sure the lure of a couple of free beers will have them banging at the door.

One thing you don’t want to be doing is confusing people. Confused people will do one of either two things:

1)   Make the effort to clear things up by delving deeper and asking tricky questions

2)   Not waste any more of their time trying to figure you out and move on to something else.

Standing out

You need to take a look at those around you. What makes you different? Why should someone pick you over a rival?

Whether we like it or not, the human species is relatively lazy. If we can use science and technology to make life easier, you can be damn sure we’ll find a way to do it. Just look at how we get from A to B now. How many people still carry an A-Z of London on them anymore?

How does your product/service really make someone’s life EASIER?

If there’s really no one else doing what you’re doing, then you’re either lucky enough to have spotted a lucrative niche, or you haven’t done your research properly and realised the reason you might be the only one in your field.

At the end of the day it’s your product or service that should be doing most of the talking. If you find yourself sitting there, trying to explain it to people, showing them how to use it time and time again, it needs more work.

Listening

It’s vital to keep your finger on the pulse and find out what people in the industry are talking about, what’s being discussed and what’s hot.

It’s an obvious point, but a serious one. If you’re not up to speed on what people are talking about and don’t have much to say about it yourself, you may find important conversations short lived. It’s not just your immediate industry though, what about issues outside that could have a knock on effect to your business and industry?  How can you expect to get coverage outside the industry if you don’t see the bigger picture? Have you got the time to do all this?

Talking

The power of one-to-one conversations should never be underestimated. Companies and CEOs today should be striving for this type of contact. Of course this is a two way thing right? The other person has to agree to a one-on-one conversation. This is where it pays to know who’s been reading and writing what and how best to get their attention.

One-to-many conversations may feel like your hitting a lot of targets in one swoop, but it’s a matter of quality over quantity. It’s important to acknowledge everyone, no matter how big or small.

Imagine it like speed dating…stay with me on this.

By just turning up and shouting information about yourself to a room full of people and then leaving, if you’re lucky might get you a few results, but seeing as there are other people in the room to talk to and lets face it, you were a little one sided, you could easily be forgotten. Taking the time to sit down with people is a whole new ball game. Sure, you still do that spiel you practiced in the mirror before you came out, but with every person you meet and the different questions you’re asked, the conversation evolves each time. You’re tailoring each conversation in order to be relevant to each person. It’s not anything complicated or new, but putting in the time to get to know these people, will give you a shot at that second date.

Press releases are, if done properly, a good way of getting across information, but so is a personal email. If you want to get information or news about your company in industry blogs or news sites, it’s important to know how the people your contacting prefer to hear about news and to give them a unique perspective if you can.

What makes a story?

You have something that you think is newsworthy…but you’re not sure. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash, right? So how can you tell?

There might be some research you’ve been part of, which has seen some interesting trends that you can discuss with people. News on funding will always get the industry’s attention, as will partnerships deals but to a lesser extent. Numbers are something that will always help to make a story, but how can you gauge what’s big and what’s small? It all depends on the context of your audience. For instance, in terms of the web and something like social networking, a couple of million users is perhaps an every day occurrence. Not a big deal. If you’re applying that to mobile though, a couple of million users is a massive number.

Similar stuff applies if you’re doing something new and untested. No one is really sure of what’s going to be popular or big, so if you’re pioneering something, a couple of hundred/a thousand is definitely something to shout about. Make sure the numbers are there though; don’t go shouting about it when you’re just rolling it out. It could come back to haunt you if whatever you’re trialing flops. It’s an absolute must to be honest and upfront about numbers from the beginning. It’s much better to be honest from the start than be caught out in the end.

Just given your website a bit of a refresh? Sorry, but depending on what you’ve actually changed, you’re probably not going to set the world alight with that one. It might be nice to point a few people towards it in conversation to get some general feedback, but unlikely to warrant a news release. In which case, sure by all means blog/Tweet about it, but don’t expect anyone to take much notice.

Participate

Listening is only half the battle. It’s all simple stuff but if you want to start getting your name out there, you need to start joining in the discussion. It doesn’t need to be anything Earth-shattering, but it’s important to participate. I don’t just mean online conversations on forums, Twitter (you’re on Twitter right??), LinkedIn, Facebook and the rest. get along to Mobile Monday, Chinwag, Mobile Geeks of London, Open SoHo, local Tweetups, Tuttle Club, TechCrunch talks and MIR Mixers. Get in front of people and make sure they know your face. These are all fairly easy things to do. You’re more than likely to be familiar with at least one or two of these events, not to mention the people who attend them.

There are shitloads of conferences and events around the world that you could be looking at, thinking “well, it sounds kinda relevant to us”. Unless you’ve got the time do the research and make it worthwhile by entering awards, pitching to be on a panel or for a speaking slot, organising meet-ups with the media or potential investors, you could spend your entire year trying to find out and then realise you don’t have any money left at the end of it.

Keeping up appearances

There are a lot of companies out there who are either looking for funding, looking for partnerships or looking for exits. Use PR to your advantage and remember to keep a steady flow going. Not just news, but opinion pieces, profiles, features, awards etc. That’s one of the keys – keep the dialogue going. Don’t waste time, money and effort on the wrong activity or a bad agency.

A good PR agency should, among other things:

  • Truly understand your industry and the trends – few do because they spread themselves over too many sectors
  • Have the contacts to add value to your business, more than just your own immediate industry – media, VC’s, potential partners etc
  • Get you coverage that matters – quality over quantity
  • Free up your time so you can focus on your business.

Good luck!

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~ by Neil on August 24, 2009.

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