Public relations and media relations 

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Public relations — and in particular, media relations — are an excellent way to reach customers, potential clients, investors and the general public. It's all about saying the right thing, in the right place, to the right people.

Narrow down your audience

The first step to any successful public relations effort is to ask yourself one key question: who am I trying to reach?

Are you hoping to spread the word to existing customers or generate new relationships? Are you trying to connect with government agencies? Solicit donors or volunteers?

Decide who you want to speak to, why they're an important audience for you and what you hope to gain by reaching them.

Get to know the people you want to reach

You need to know your audience inside and out, if you're going to reach them effectively through public or media relations.

What do they read? Major daily newspapers? A certain section of the local paper? Industry-specific trade publications, websites or blogs? Do they attend trade shows or are they members of a certain organization (like a group for financial executives, etc.)?

From searching the Internet to browsing the magazine rack, you need to build a clear list of publications and/or media that your audience turns to for information. And then you've got to insert yourself in those media.

Decide what you need to say

Once you've established who your most important audiences are, it's time to decide what you're going to say - and plan to say it well.

Whether you're trying to communicate a new product or service offering to potential customers, or build credibility by sharing a strong point of view on a certain topic, you must clearly identify your key messages before you talk them up.

Decide what story you want to tell. Then plan out the top three or five key messages that feed that story. Think of a newspaper. Most articles are structured in the inverted pyramid style — most important information right off the top, and supporting points to follow.

Once you know what story you're trying to tell and who you need to share it with, you've got to determine the best way to communicate.

  • Online marketing

    Online marketing techniques like social networking, emailing and blogging are useful and involve little to no direct costs.

Position yourself as an expert

Whatever story it is you want to tell, remember one thing: you already know the beginning, middle and end.

You are a specialist in your own field and you have valuable information to share. Taking out an advertisement in a major newspaper can create some buzz. But nothing compares to the third-party credibility you gain when a trusted trade publication positions you as a specialist in front of the very people you're trying to reach.

You know who you want to speak to, you know what you want to say and you know where they're going to hear you. So start networking.

Make lists of journalists who cover your topic and specifically reach out to them to pitch your story ideas. You need to make sure you're picking the right people for your story and that your pitch stands out from the crowd. Make sure you have a clear idea, point of view and reasons why this matters to the readership. Share your story.

Contact editors of the publications that matter to you most and build relationships. Offer to contribute articles on your key area, or opinion pieces on issues that matter to your industry or sector. Get your name in print on pages where your audience will see you - even if it means a simple Letter to the Editor. Share your story.

Join organizations where your audience circulates and begin attending their networking events. Simply making a connection and exchanging a business card at an event is a step in the right direction. Share your story.

Look for events that your audience will attend, and broach the organizers with ideas for content you could present or lectures you could give. Prepare extensively and share your story.

The last word

Building your profile takes time, creativity and an in-depth knowledge of the people you want to reach and the messages you want to share. If an audience continues to hear your name and associates you with strong information, you'll be top-of-mind when they're in a decision-making position. Here are some tips that could help you to make the most of your public relations efforts:

  • Be focused — make sure you are contacting the right people instead of cold calling as many people as you can. Improve the chances of getting your message heard rather than having it thought of as spam.
  • Be interesting — you are fighting for time and space, and the competition is fierce. Be punchy, bold and intelligent.
  • Be prepared — even the most seasoned executives still warm up before an interview, plan their speech before they deliver it, and make notes on who they’re meeting at an event. Be ready to make the most of every opportunity that comes along. The better prepared you are, the more interest you will generate, and the more visible you will become.
  • Be confident — You need to believe in your abilities and in your offerings, and project that in your communications. By doing so, others will also have confidence in you.
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