The Art of Self Promotion

Part One

HVAF Web Editor Mike Caddy with the low-down on PR - what it is, and why it matters.

What is PR, or publicity?

Public relations (PR) is a whole subject to itself.

For the purposes of this review, let’s think about one aspect of this - publicity.

The objective is to get newspapers, magazines, trade publications, radio and TV stations, online news and events sites to publish information that promotes us, and our work.

We’d like these sorts of media to cover what we’re doing, to give it their stamp of authority and credibility, for no real money. A tall order?

Why is PR different from advertising?

Advertising is a straightforward transaction – we book and pay for a space in a paper or on a website, and send in an advert that carries our message.

Of course there are some rules – we can’t defame our competitors, we can’t make claims that aren’t supported in fact, and we can’t suggest that drink products make us sexier!

PR is usually not paid for – the editor or journalist writes about us because they think it will be interesting or useful to their readers.

The art of the professional publicist is knowing what will get the attention of the editor, what they will see as relevant to their audience, and making it all come together at the right time.

Why do we do PR?

PR is valuable for two main reasons.

One – it doesn’t cost nearly as much as advertising. A page in the Times can cost you about £20000. Getting your new product reviewed favourably costs you little except effort and skill.

Two – it’s credible – an editor prints what they believe is true, and worth reading about. In one sense, they’re vetting the information and presenting the reader with what they think is worth reading about. So we’re all inclined to believe what we read much more.

When we see an advert, we know someone is trying to sell us something, or change our minds, or get us to stop doing something. Naturally we tune out a lot of advertising, while we still read the editorial content avidly.

So how do we get publicity?

The details of how the really good publicists get publicity for their clients or organisations are valuable trade secrets and I’m not going to share too many here!

Often a really good story that is of interest to the media’ audience will carry itself.

In the form of a news release written to provide the information and minimise the work a sub-editor has to do is one method – suitable for many purposes.

Sometimes a video clip or audio recording is appropriate.

Writing a press release is a skill and takes experience, an economy with words, and an understanding of what makes an editor tick.

The most effective techniques rely on a planned campaign – getting the editor to trust the person or their organisation, ensuring that nothing irrelevant or dull gets sent out, being very clear about what the value to the editor is in everything written and building up the profile of the organisation and how it serves the audiences the editor or journalist serves.

Can’t we just send in a load of press releases?

We can. And most of them will go in the bin.

Being selective is vital, as is being targeted – send information that is highly relevant to the audience the paper, magazine, website or radio programme serves.

We must never send weak stories, articles of questionable truthfulness or containing wild claims, and we must satisfy the question – does what I’m sending matter to the people who we want to read it?

Can we control what they write about us?

In a word, no. We hope they’ll use what we send, but we have to accept that if we’re not paying for an advert, we don’t control what’s written.

Editors try and do good information justice, but sometimes they get it wrong, or they don’t see the value in what we’ve sent, or they’re just too pushed for time.

If they don’t use the whole piece, or it gets a different slant to the one we hoped for, or they get your name wrong – live with it and move on. Phoning an editor to remonstrate will lose you any future coverage, at the very least!

They didn’t use what I wrote – why?

Maybe it just wasn’t very interesting!

Did it provide some information that others would think is as interesting or essential as you do? No? That’s why!

Maybe it was going to be used and something bigger cropped up.

‘Cat gets stuck up a tree’ is always going to get spiked when ‘prime minister tries break-dancing and falls on his bottom’ comes along.

If the story has real value, maybe it will get used later. But don’t count on it.

In February's HVAF e-Newsletter: The Art of Self Promotion Part 2

Why editors want news stories from us? Can editors change my image? Summing up what makes a good story?