Clients sometimes think that once they have signed on the dotted line with a PR agency, they need never think about press and publicity again. In reality the best results are obtained when you work actively with your public relations consultant as a team.
No one knows your business quite like you do – we are the experts in taking stories to the press and knowing what journalists are looking for, but you are the expert in your line of work, and the more you are willing and able to share that knowledge with us, the more we will ultimately be able to do for you.
So to help us to help you, we have put together our top tips on how to cultivate the best working relationship with a PR company.
Be available – companies sometimes engage a PR company because they find it difficult to respond to journalists’ requests in a timely fashion, or they find the volume too demanding. A good PR agency will take much of the load, and will be able to deal with many of the simple requests – such as product photographs, samples or company background information – without bothering you at all. On other occasions, however, they will need your expert input – a comment on a news story, an interview or a contribution for an opinion piece for example – and it will need to be done in a hurry. Journalists are always under time pressure (and surprisingly this can be just as true of the monthly magazine that’s writing its Christmas issue in July as it is for a daily newspaper). As a result, journalists will often put in more requests than they actually have room for and will use the first responses to hit their desk. If your PR agency can’t get hold of you, or you can’t fit in the request until a week next Tuesday, the opportunity will be lost forever, and the journalist may well think twice about asking again.
Be proactive – of course, your PR agency will be constantly looking out for ways to promote your business, but you know far more about what’s going on in your company, and in your industry, than they do. Sometimes stories can come from surprising angles – editors are always on the look-out for good news stories, so if someone in your company has raised a lot of money for charity, or you’ve had to park up a company van because a robin has nested in the engine, think news! If you’re grumbling in the staff room about how a particular piece of legislation, or the political situation, or the economy is affecting your business, the odds are that a journalist somewhere is writing about it, so think about whether you could give a comment that will increase awareness of your business as a serious force in your industry. And don’t forget the local opportunities – you’re best placed to think about sponsorship deals or local press adverts to tie in with events in your town that your PR company is unlikely to be aware of.
Provide resources – as well as being available for comment, providing your PR agency with a good selection of resources is vitally important. Good quality images of what you are promoting are essential – journalists need professionally taken pictures, available in ultra-high resolution for print magazines and low-res for online publications. (And answering every photo request with a 900MB zip file of every photo in your library in giant TIF format will not win you any media friends). Less obviously, perhaps, they will also want head and shoulders shots of people who provide comments, so if you don’t want to be chased by a PR consultant with an iPhone and end up looking like something from Most Wanted, then take the time to get some professional portraits shot as well. In addition, providing your PR agency with a company history and biographies of senior staff at the outset will save time later.
Take advice – you are the expert on your subject, and likely to be enthusiastic about everything your company does. The problem is; what you might be excited about doesn’t always translate into a good news story. Journalists need a reason to mention your business – news is, by definition, something new, and beyond that, it must also be something that would interest their readers. When you pay for an advert, you can say more or less what you like, but when you are interested in editorial coverage, then there needs to be something newsworthy for journalists to latch on to. A good PR agency won’t just take your money to try to promote something that will never make it on to an editorial page, they will give you good advice. Here at Building Relations, one of our core values is being open and honest with our clients. This means that if we don’t think something will work, we will advise you against pursuing it – developing ideas that we know will not produce the desired outcome is, we feel, a waste of everyone’s time and resources and will only result in disappointment.
Be realistic – as well as not insisting on pursuing an unworkable idea, being realistic about what can be achieved is vital. Every PR consultant wants to do the very best for their client, and will work their socks off to get there, but at the end of the day it is the editors who make the final decisions, based on the quality of the story and how it fits in with whatever else they are doing in that issue. Yes of course you want it in The Times, or World of Interiors, or the Huffington Post, but the reality is that those publications may not be in the market for that particular story for that particular issue – but a host of other news outlets will be. Sometimes being in a niche publication with a smaller circulation can get you a better end result than being ignored by 99% of the readers of a flagship title. Local and regional newspapers, specialist websites and even social media engagement can produce the desired results, so forget about snobbery and embrace the whole amazing world of modern media.