Do you ever feel as if there is so much to keep pace with – the latest social media, the newest buzz words, up to the minute technology, let alone your competitors – that you don’t have time to stop and think about how you promote your business through PR, despite it being more cost effective than advertising? Taking time out to consider PR as an option is never easy, but finding a few hours to plan could make a huge difference. Public relations allows you to connect with your audiences, and now with digital channels, and whilst it takes time and some know-how, PR is still less expensive than advertising. With public relations you do have to earn the right to be on a website or in print, so your story has to be of interest to the readers. But once there, it’s more valuable than any advert, because it’s been put there on its own merits, not because you paid for the space. Readers are discerning, and trust what others say –whether that’s other customers or journalists – more than they trust your advertising.  Furthermore, your publicity will outlive any advert thanks to the internet, and will support your efforts to be found through search engines.

The down side of course is that the editorial control belongs to the media you submit your information to, and in the main you don’t get the chance to approve the copy. However unless you have a controversial story, chances are your news will be covered in a way that will enhance your business and make it more widely known, positioning you in the field with or above your competitors. And even if there is a difficult subject to be covered, it’s usually better to be open and honest and in a dialogue with your customers than hiding away behind a ‘no comment’. Here’s how to make PR your friend:

1. Take a look at yourself. What sums you up and makes you different? Getting this down, as simple as it sounds, will help with all your pitching to media.  You should also work out what you want publicity to achieve for you. Often, this is ‘to generate sales’ but sometimes it’s more around getting a particular point across, for example your CSR work or a safety message. Your objectives will help you to..

2. Clarify your targets. You probably know what your typical customer/audience looks like and how they behave, but has this been written down and shared with the team? More’s the point, do you..

3. Know their media and how they behave? Where is your target audience hanging out? There is little point focusing on a social media campaign if your audience are print media fans, although it’s still worth considering a range of media, as they increasingly feed each other. Consider bloggers seriously – some that are now so well established they rival or have become fully fledged websites can and should be treated as you would a journalist (more on that shortly), but many are posting blogs in their spare time so you need to work out when best to get hold of them. Their influence can be extensive though, so look into creating a blogger outreach strategy and think about what you could offer their readers. If you are a B2C business, social media gives you direct access to your customers. Invest some time in learning how to use it well – you can bet your competitors are. Increasingly, B2B can get a lot out of social media too – Twitter and Google+ for example allow you to segment content so you can target certain groups. Print, particularly trade media, is still of great value too – find out if they are planning features (forward features) that look at your industry, and offer to help with a contribution. Don’t forget radio and TV for news, either.

4. Work out what you will offer the media. It can be really hard to define your story, even if you have a new product and it seems like news, plain and simple. To a media outlet, that’s just out and out promotion. What’s in it for their readers? Why will this product or information make a difference to the industry or the market? Does it push technology forwards, or involve new techniques? Is it a first (be honest)? Are there a variety of angles – technology, local, various industries it could apply to? Or, look within the company for stories that are sitting there waiting to be told. Do you carry out great work in the region to support charities? Have you beaten your sustainability targets? Are you creating jobs? Or, is there a story in the media already that you can comment on or have something relevant to add to – call up the places that have covered it and offer to contribute. This often helps broadcast media who need a commentator and quickly!

5. Now sell it in. Once you have your story, you need to tell it – and get to the point quickly. Don’t tell the story in chronological order, flag up the key part straight away and why it’s of interest to their readers/listeners/viewers. Offer a picture or opportunity to film, eg: a visit to your premises. Increasingly, pictures and videos are how we are consuming our news, so make sure you’ve thought about how you will illustrate your story, or suggest ways that the media can.

6. Be available. Don’t disappear as soon as you’ve put an announcement out. If anyone does return to you with further questions you or your key spokesperson need to be available. Most PR people follow up their pitches with a call to see if the pitch was of interest, but increasingly journalists are short of time and don’t welcome this. If you write your initial pitch well enough, and put the point near the start, they will pick it up if it’s of interest.

7. Don’t give up. Your first attempt may not feel as though it’s yielded much success, but every time your name appears in front of a journalist is a marker – you are building profile and recognition with them so that when the time comes and the story fits, they may well pay more attention than if you were entirely unknown. Keep going!

If you’d like to find out more about creating great PR stories for your business, you can come to a free evening PR workshop on 6th November in London with theblueballroom and Ed Watson, award-winning Director of PR at Debenhams. Register for ‘thefuturestory: stand out from the crowd’ online now.