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Using PR to Develop Business

There are numerous ways companies can use public relations techniques to complement their investment in advertising and direct mail. In my 14 years in a newsroom and two decades providing public relations services, I've seen how publicity can help a firm develop business. The trick is to be "media savvy" enough to earn valuable coverage in publications your customers and prospects rely on for useful news and perspectives. Journalists get more than 100 story pitches a day—and use only a few. How can your story make the cut?

Business executives and professionals are excellent candidates for using low-cost public relations strategies and tactics to project their marketing messages. More than anything else, reporters and editors need high-quality information from reliable sources about complex subjects.

Most professionals and senior executives are experts in some field. So you already qualify as a news source. And you don't need a costly PR agency to generate your publicity. Here are a half-dozen ways you can get publicity.

1. Visualize your publicity. Study the trade and business publications or broadcasts that cover firms in your industry. Ask some questions: What are your competitors saying in those articles? How are those articles structured? Can you perform as well as the competition in the media? Would you benefit from the coverage they are getting?

2. Be a news source first. Before you start "selling stories" to key writers and editors, contact them and offer to be a news source for navigating the complex pathways in your industry. Suggest topics that may or may not feature your company. All journalists need reliable sources.

3. Turn every speaking opportunity into a news event. If you speak before audiences (even small ones), then you have probably put thought into something interesting to say. Kick it up a notch and say something that could be newsworthy. Then send it to relevant journalists on the day you speak. And donÕt forget to name the influential group that provided a forum for you.

4. Offer advice columns. If you know enough to earn a living doing what you do, then you probably can offer useful advice to people that helps establish your competence or leadership in your industry. Create a news release or article based on your talk, and send it to a well-researched media list of publications your customers and prospects respect.

5. React. When news breaks into your area of expertise—sound off. You can write a letter to the editor or make a comment in reaction to a newspaper or magazine article, comment on a blog or call a local broadcast producer. Demonstrate your expertise.

6. Send good art. Editors appreciate good photography, charts, graphs, and illustrations that help them understand your pitch and their readers visualize your story. Invest in good feature photography showing you, your products and services, and your customers in interesting situations.
Fortunately for you, most of your competitors are too insecure or inexperienced to publicly air their views. They don't know how to engage media attention. Or how to create a story. If you are willing to devote a little time to gaining publicity, you will reap rewards that can help you sell your services or products far more cost-effectively than by investing heavily in more traditional marketing practices. And people tend to view articles as more believable than many other promotional tools.

Henry Eason, former Cox Newspapers Washington correspondent, Nation's Business senior editor, and U.S. Chamber media relations director, is managing partner of San Francisco-based Eason Communications LLC, a firm that provides communications and PR training services. For more information, go to www.easoncom.com.