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Commentary: Start a conversation with public relations

🕐 5 min read

Public relations gets you noticed. PR (the abbreviated name) helps a company or organization BECOME the news instead of advertising next to or within the news.

PR allows you to become the source of the content. It can also transition into an advertising campaign that further extends the life of the launch.

Two fairly recent examples are both from the food industry:

• Popeyes was an afterthought in the chicken sandwich wars until its marketing team devised a brilliant PR strategy last August. By generating a scarcity and claiming the overwhelming response caught them by surprise (it didn’t!), the brand became a viral sensation, receiving an estimated $24 million in free publicity. Their follow-up advertising campaign has continued to drive sales, resulting in a whopping 34% increase in the fourth quarter of last year.

• iHOP created a stir by announcing though social media and news releases that it was changing its name to iHOB and invited people to guess what the “B” would become. Could it be: Breakfast, Bacon or even Burritos? The answer: Burgers! The new temporary name (no signs were ever changed) led to a quadrupling of burger sales while also driving incremental evening sales of the entire menu.

Several years ago, my client, Curly’s Frozen Custard, wanted to create buzz for its introduction of coffee and doughnuts. I asked the managing partner, Bourke Harvey, to secure a cowboy on a horse, who we sent to the drive-through window. We placed the photo of the cowboy, on horseback, being served a doughnut while sipping on a cup of coffee, on social media.

In addition, the Fort Worth Business Press ran the photo in its digital edition. The photo received so much attention that the Business Press placed it on the front cover the following week.

Dalworth Restoration created a “Restoring Kindness” campaign and its employees fulfilled acts of kindness such as paying for people’s admission to the Fort Worth Zoo and providing bottles of ice-cold water for firemen.

I located a home with a faded patriotic mural along its elevated street-side concrete retaining wall. Dalworth sent 10 employees to repaint the mural and the story ran in four different media outlets.

Here are the eight key secrets to improving your news story’s chance of running in your targeted media:

1.) Know the focus of each specific medium you are sending to. Most print publications have an editorial calendar that schedules their emphasis for individual editions, so try to time your story to that calendar. TV reporters have areas of interest posted on their website, so either pitch directly to that reporter or to the assignment desk and ask if it would be an ideal story for that reporter. Radio stations concentrate on timely news topics, as well. Feel free to reach out to these personalities on social media as well as email.

2.) Tie to a current event with your local angle. Perhaps that media outlet carried a story yesterday about a national or international story and you can provide local insight with an authority or similar story with local names and faces.

3.) Make your story newsworthy. Ask yourself if that publication’s or that broadcast media’s audience would find your story interesting. If not, then your story is not likely to run.

4.) Provide compelling visuals. TV and print thrive on colorful and detailed photos or video that tells a story. Recently, rather than shoot a wide video of a symphony orchestra for the James L. West Center’s concert for dementia and Alzheimer’s families, I started close-in on the harpist during her solo (I had asked in advance when she might have a featured part) and then pulled back slowly to reveal the entire orchestra. Fox 4 News ran the story with the harpist video.

5.) Prepare for a shortage of resources. On many occasions, that media outlet is interested in your story but does not have the personnel to send. Shooting your own video and photos and providing a 25-second clip to the media (I post my video clips on YouTube) could result in news coverage. Be sure to compose a very brief narrative to the story so the station can produce the story with the least amount of effort.

6.) Respect the media’s deadlines. If you want to run on the 10 p.m. newscast, don’t send the story just one hour earlier. Send it hours in advance of the newscast. If the publication’s deadline is Wednesday, send on Monday or Tuesday. Being early helps you become part of the planned content.

7.) Call to follow up on your news release. Call your reporter or the assignment desk to confirm they received your release. In your pitch, list the reasons why this is a timely story and give the compelling visual elements.

8.) Whether or not the media runs your story, be courteous. They don’t have to run your story and you want to establish relationships that can help you well into the future.

Each media newsroom receives HUNDREDS of news releases throughout the day, so remember that timing is everything.

On a normal evening, a 35-minute 10 p.m. newscast is likely to include 16 minutes of news (local, national and international), four minutes of weather and traffic, three minutes of sports and 12 minutes of commercials.

Public relations can be a very effective way to tell your story. It requires strategic planning, creativity and diligence to earn the media’s attention.

John Fletcher is the CEO of Fletcher Consulting, a local marketing and public relations firm.

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