So here it is, the middle of August, and you’ve made a tremendous push perfecting your catalogs, operations, and staff for the greatest financial impact in the fourth quarter. But do you have a strategic plan to reap a fourth-quarter public relations bonanza? Good news: Even if you haven’t planned a PR campaign, there’s still time — but you have to get moving.
An effective PR campaign should raise awareness, generate inquiries and sales, influence consumers, and create word-of-mouth buzz, all of which can lead to a more profitable bottom line. A good campaign can also boost employee morale, thus increasing productivity.
So how do you launch a campaign in time to benefit this holiday season?
Step 1: Plan, plan, plan
Start by planning who will be responsible for crafting and implementing the PR campaign. You also have to plan your budget and set up a streamlined approval process for any concepts or creative. You will have to consider normal business expenses such as telephone, postage, and shipping, as well as product samples if they are part of your campaign. Additional expenses will be determined by the campaign you construct and whether you are using inhouse staff or hiring a PR counselor.
Step 2: Set campaign goals
Define the goal or goals you want to achieve with your PR campaign — and be specific. Is your aim to increase inquiries or reach a specific financial sales target? And what mechanisms will be in place to measure the campaign’s impact? Without measurement tools, how will you determine the campaign’s success?
Step 3: Create the message
Before embarking on a campaign, you must determine what about your products, service, or company is important enough to warrant an implied endorsement by the news media. An important tool is key message or talking points — simple phrases or statements that convey the essence of what you want to communicate. For example, when I was with the Direct Marketing Association, we used the words “easy,” “convenient,” and “reliable” to create the catalog shopping story.When used consistently, message points ensure that the company’s position is clear to the public.
Limit yourself to three statements — with supporting statistics, examples, and statements — that clearly convey the important points everyone should know about your product or company. What is your unique selling proposition? What is so fantastic about the merchandise and services you offer that everyone should know about? How do you substantiate the claim that you are the leader in your product category?
Step 4: Control the message
Consistently use your message points; otherwise your story may not look like the one you envisioned. One reason for a failed campaign is the inconsistent or nonuse of key messages. Spend time developing these talking points, with supporting facts, examples, and statements.
Step 5: Select your media outlets
For starters, determine which markets you want to reach. Then determine who is best suited to respond to your story pitch within each news outlet. Which reporters or media have covered your company or competition in the past? And of course, you should understand various outlets like to operate and how to position your story quickly and succinctly with each reporter.
Consider which media category (see “The Message and the Medium,” below) is best suited for your story, the amount of advance time needed to make contact and place a story, and the publication or air date possibilities. Remember that print drives broadcast — TV and radio reporters often pick up stories after reading them in print — so focus on print media first.
Step 6: Make your pitch
When contacting media for the first time, you’ll have 30 seconds or less to introduce the company, so keep it brief. If sending a press release or a pitch letter, be sure the copy sells the essence of the story. When speaking with media, offer digital images (JPEG is the best format), and promise immediate turnaround of any request the reporter makes.
If you plan to mail or e-mail materials to the media first, provide images with captions that include some of your key message points, product name, and consumer contact information (order number and Web address). Be sure to conduct an aggressive follow-up campaign. Speed counts: Often the first company to respond with good information will get the lion’s share of the article, so move fast when responding to media inquiries.
Finally, be sure to alert your employees — especially in customer service — to the PR campaign efforts. Provide copies of the press materials so that they can listen for elements in callers’ comments. It is also wise to establish a company policy regarding handling calls from the news media.
With proper planning, goal setting, and strategy, you can create an effective PR campaign that will generate additional sales, greater visibility, new names to the database, and stronger ties to key reporters — in short, a successful fourth quarter.
Lisa C. Hahn is president/CEO of Glen Rock, NJ-based Caugherty Hahn Communications, a public relations agency specializing in direct marketing accounts.
The Message and the Medium
Here is a quick synopsis of media options:
- DAILY NEWSPAPERS
There are dozens of editorial “beats” or departments to consider among the nation’s more than 1,600 daily newspapers. Localizing the story can be mandatory for some outlets. Nationally read publications such as USA Today and The New York Times are more interested in trend stories. With space limited in the lifestyle section, look for ways to air your story through other editorial departments.
- WEEKLY NEWSPAPERS
Suburban weeklies, of which there are more than 9,000, typically offer small circulations but are well read and anxiously gobble up well-presented stories. Many, if not most, weeklies use prepared releases — as long as they aren’t blatantly self-serving. Include an image with a caption to gain more space.
Monthly magazines typically work with long lead times, anywhere from three to six months out from the publication date, so at this point your options for placement before holiday 2004 may be slim. Nonetheless it may be worth formatting a pitch to a weekly magazine.
- NEWS SYNDICATES
The individual newspaper editor generally decides whether to offer a story to a national syndicate such as Gannett or Scripps Howard. You can also pursue reporters from Associated Press and Reuters. All states have AP bureaus in the capital city; you can also contact AP headquarters in New York for phone numbers.
Working with TV reporters and producers can be fun and nerve-wracking, and usually very rewarding. Pitch news assignment editors with a well-packaged visual story via fax or e-mail, and then immediately follow up by phone. You must have visuals to sell the story. Note the variety of visuals in your pitch to the editor. Offer a third-party speaker, such as a consumer or expert, to build the story. It is important that the company spokesperson be trained to effectively deliver the key message points.
Pitch drive-time programs and all-news stations first. With a lot of airtime to fill, they are more likely to book an interview. Start locally, then branch out regionally. Always bring or ship product to the host — especially food — for on-air discussions and taste tests.