Searching for the Holy Grail

Formerly of Drapers, Figleaves and Moss Bros PR head, Diana Whitehead shares her top PR tips. She is our lead PR associate and helps our clients to achieve high impact and innovative tactics and campaigns.

Over the last 15 years, as a journalist turned PR professional, I’ve seen PR from both sides of the fence. Many entrepreneurial business owners have frequently asked me how they can maximise their PR spend, with the price of PR being what it is and budgets being squeezed. My aim is to provide you with a more intelligent approach to your PR strategy when considering buying in PR services or measuring the performance from your in-house professional. Here are some of my insights…

• Be clear what you want in your PR activity. Do you want to drive sales or build profile? In the short to medium-term one might not necessarily lead to the other. When it comes to choosing an agency ask yourself – are they great at tactical activity or are their strengths in taking a strategic approach and changing the profile of a brand in the eyes of the consumer?

• Be strategic in your approach – The strongest PR initiatives are those that work across your marketing campaigns and social media. PR used in silo mode will not carry the same clout or conviction. It’s a far stronger sell-in to the media if PR activity melds into an integrated campaign. This is where key messaging and activity works across all areas of the business and where I’ve made the most impact, particularly on sales and the bottom line. But be aware that there’s still a place for tactical PR, and your agency or in-house capability should be proactive enough to jump on an unforeseen opportunity.

• Don’t go to a PR with unrealistic expectations. Listen to their ideas. It’s not helpful to rock up with a wish list of titles you want to get your brand into. It’s far more important that you get a loud message across to the right type of audience. A good PR will be able to tell you how you can get your ideas across and identify the sections/pages (platforms in PR speak) that your story would be most suited to appear in. Don’t go in with any preconceptions. Making a PR pitch an idea/story that won’t fit into the format of a title on your ‘wish-list’ is like flogging a dead horse.

The project above gained coverage in respected and appropriate titles for our specialist client. Find out more here.

• Think quality not quantity. Clients sometimes get hooked on their PR sending lots of press releases. Mass emails just end up in a journalist’s trash can. Strategic PRs run smaller, well-pitched propositions, pitching one-to-one with tailored emails. It’s about buying in someone who can get you into that key space. A few well-placed pieces are better than taking a scattergun approach and appearing in the wrong kinds of titles.

• Beware of large agencies promising great coverage and more ‘firepower’. The reality is that you’re likely to be a low priority small fish in a very big pond. If you have the budget, it may be wiser to go with a smaller, hungrier agency who can give your account more attention. Make sure you agree on a weekly report format, set monthly targets and be prepared that managing an agency will be time-consuming. Weigh up the value of the price of an agency vs. a quality in-house professional. I worked in-house for many years and used agencies on a project basis to supplement the in-house team. It’s a great way of measuring their effectiveness on a short-term basis. Rather than paying a monthly retainer, it gives you the flexibility and ability at market niching down into specialists and buying in better expertise.

• Think page appeal – I know it’s sexist, but if you have a story, particularly for the news/business pages, a picture with a female will have more chance of making the edit. One current editor has told me many times: ‘Diana, I can sell this story to the picture editor much better if we can get a good looking woman in the photo’. Having a bank of quality images (marketing collateral) which are PR-able will add more fuel to your PR firepower.

• Consider spending more on news-led survey stories. This mechanism can be a great way of maximising your PR coverage. It takes your brand out of simple product-led coverage to news-led coverage in both print and digital media, which can have more value. This allows PRs to ring the changes and gives flexibility in the kind of promo your brand can achieve. Be prepared to part with around £2500 for the survey campaign. It goes without saying that you obviously need a great and topical idea for the survey, which a specialist agency can help you with.

• Competitions can be another good mechanism. But beware, you need to have a clear and original idea or it’ll be batted straight over to the promotions department instead of getting editorial attention. I once did a simple product launch but used a quirky idea, which resulted in the product garnering over £230,000 in ad rate equivalent (PR speak for equating the amount of free coverage with the rate if placed as advertising). And before anyone screams that ad rate equivalent doesn’t equate to sales – the brand also became a bestseller and the business the top UK stockist for it. Always ask yourself how will a specific activity make a difference to the bottom line? It should be front of mind but not the be all and end all when undertaking PR activity.

• Make sure you as a business owner understand the value of social media to your business. It is becoming a key driver of footfall to stores and websites. In my opinion, Burberry, thanks to Christopher Bailey’s foresight, is a leading player in this field. For example, the brand’s Art of the Trench campaign beautifully demonstrated a true understanding of social media and how to engage an audience. Check out your agency’s record for social media activity. Have a PR who’s on top of it and understands the value. They should be tweeting to key journalists, stylists, bloggers and relevant TV personalities, should know who the key freelancers are, and then build up a network on Twitter for you, creating engaging content and being persistent on your behalf. Once, I targeted a TV presenter who, with a little flattery and relevant, engaging Tweets, offered up his email and then coverage in his monthly column in a relevant key title. It’s an instant way of networking and gaining lucrative contacts.

Here’s a great video from Burberry that explains their approach:

and I’ve more…

• Build a PR calendar of events. Make sure that your agency plans a calendar of events that will drive momentum. Getting a one-off piece of PR isn’t going to get your business the results you want. Sustainability and structure is key. Expect to get a PR calendar, which outlines your brand’s key events and activities, and then build in topical stories and the different media being targeted.

• Finally, be realistic with your expectations. Be prepared to listen to and accept different ideas and experiment. You need to set the boundaries I outlined at the beginning, i.e. being clear in what you want to achieve and asking yourself what would success look like? Instant sales uplift or brand building? That is a really clear brief for a PR. Brand building PR doesn’t get the instantaneous results, as it’s not necessarily tangible at the outset. But in the medium and long-term it will help to build a sustainable PR-able brand and that surely, for any business, is the Holy Grail.

1 Comment

  • Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and
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