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How to Prepare Your Business for a PR Campaign

Getting amazing press for your company is an invaluable way to improve your brand awareness, increase sales and drive traffic. But before you embark on a PR campaign, you need to make sure your business is ready.

If you’re a Shark Tank fan, you’ve probably visited the site of a featured company the night the show aired, only to be completely unable to access it. The Red Dress Boutique is one company that experienced this incredibly stressful situation - 18 hours of their site being down on their first Shark Tank appearance. Of course, this is an extreme example, but it reminds us all of what’s at stake if we aren’t ready for a press hit when it happens.

As a PR consultant to small businesses and startups, getting their business in shape for press hits is often part of my job, before I ever start media outreach. You often only get one shot at a publication, so you don’t want to waste it. Thinking about starting a PR campaign? Here are a few ways to get your business prepared for media coverage.

Prepare yourself for PR to work
What do you want readers, listeners or viewers to do when they’re exposed to your brand? For most companies, driving traffic to a website or into a retail location is the #1 goal. But you’d be surprised at how many companies don’t think through what will happen when they get some good press.

Make sure that your location or site is prepared to handle whatever increased traffic will result from a media hit.If you’re promoting a grand opening or event at a brick and mortar, be sure you’re staffed sufficiently. Driving traffic online? Make sure your site is working well, loading fast and that there aren’t any broken links or missing contact information. If you’re promoting a particular product, make sure you have the stock to meet increased demand. The amount of prep you’ll need to do depends on the size of the hit, but always be prepared.

Set up a way to capture prospects
If you’re driving people to your website, you’ll want to ensure there’s a way to capture their information if they don’t buy right away. A pop-up with a discount offer or incentive to join your mailing list is a great way to achieve this. If you’re bringing people in-store, you’ll still want to get them on your list so having an incentive for them to leave their information is a great idea.

Be ready to nurture prospects and new customers
If you’ve been considering an email nurturing campaign, now’s the time to implement it. The only thing worse with getting twice-daily spammy emails from a company is signing up for their list and never hearing from them again. Have a plan in place to nurture any new customers, clients or prospects that come your way, whether that’s with an informational email series, discount offer or other regular communications. This is a captive crowd and it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce them to your brand.

Plan additional media outreach or targeted advertising
Have you ever noticed that you’ll hear about a company, and suddenly they’re EVERYWHERE? It’s not by accident. Don’t just rely on a single media hit. Create a campaign. Continue your media outreach to garner additional hits in complementary outlets. Target a Facebook ad campaign linking to your media hits by geography. Perhaps plan a mailer or other ad spend to follow up on your PR campaign, if budget allows.

Leverage your media hits
Include the logos and links to any hits on your website as social proof - what someone else says about you is much more valuable than anything you say about yourself, and when that info comes from a trusted media source, more the better. Be sure to be ready to add these hits to your site and share and promote on social media or printed collateral to get even more mileage out of them.

Whether you’re doing proactive media outreach or just luck out with media interest in your company and brand, being prepared to leverage and capitalize on earned media is essential. Media hits provide an invaluable opportunity to promote your brand, but it’s up to you to take the right steps to make it happen.

How to Give a Great Phone Interview

When clients hire us for PR, their main goal is to get coverage of themselves or their brand in target outlets. For a lot of people, they think our job is to reach out to media and get a placement. True. But there's one step that typically comes between our pitch and the coverage: the interview. And that's something that we can't (usually) do for the client, so our job is to do the next best thing and prepare them to give an interview that gets their brand across, gives the reporter information so that they have an interesting story to pursue and include the client in the story, and feel good about the piece that results.

While we put together a custom media prep for most major interviews that our clients do, there are a lot of tips that can help you do a great interview. Today, we're starting with the most common interview you'll have to do: a phone interview with a reporter, which can range from a quick 15-minute chat to an hour or more of in-depth profiling. Next, we'll talk about TV interviews, which have a slightly different strategy. Here are our top tips for acing your next phone interview with a reporter:

Do Your Research

Your first step should be to check out what the writer or reporter has written in the past. Read his or her past few articles and scan through for any that take a similar angle to what you've pitched for yourself. Simply by doing this, you can get a sense of what the writer is most interested in or his or her style when interviewing. You can quickly sense whether the writer is more surface or in-depth. Check out how long the pieces are and how much space is given to quotes; this will help you understand how to-the-point you need to be with your answers. Fewer quotes, shorter story = make sure every word you say counts. If a little longer and more in-depth, you can get a bit more personal with your answers.

Create Talking Points... and Write Them Down

Prior to the interview, jot down a few talking points that you want to be sure you're covering in the interview. You're talking about something you're familiar with, so a note or two should suffice. The purpose of writing it down is to have something to reference if you're at a loss or the interview is winding down and you want to be sure you've gotten everything in.

... But Just a Few

Three or four talking points will do ya. Don't overdo it - the point of talking points is to give yourself a short, simple message to get across. This is also a great exercise in honing in on your message and what's most important to communicate. If you're working with a PR pro, they'll help you distill these.

Don't Be Afraid to Not Give an Answer

Don't give an answer if you're not sure of it. If you expect the interview will have lots of facts and figures, memorize those or have them available to you to ensure accuracy. If you're asked something you don't know, it's OK to tell the reporter you'll follow up with the right answer. (Just be sure to get their deadline so you get them the info on time!) 

If there's a question you simply don't want to answer at all, you have two options. First, you can pivot if the question is tangentially related to something else you'd like to discuss. Common phrases you'll hear in a pivot are things like, "That's an interesting question, and it brings up..." or "A lot of people focus on that, but in fact, the important thing is..."

The second option is to be straightforward and tell the reporter that's not a question you're comfortable answering or at liberty to discuss. For example, if someone were to ask you a question about personal income as a business owner, a good answer might be, "I don't share my personal financial information. I can tell you the company has experienced year over year growth of 20%."

Understand What "Off the Record" Means

A lot of inexperienced interviewers aren't sure what "off the record" really means. So they'll say, "This is off the record, but..." There are a few things to remember about "off the record." The first is, essentially, it means nothing. Ethically, if a journalist agrees to it, then they shouldn't publish what you said. Practically and technically, the only thing stopping them is their relationship with you and their not wanting to burn a bridge, so you need to remember that when deciding what to share in any way.

I always remind clients that if you'd be mortified to see it in print, DON'T SAY IT. Ever. Unethical behavior aside, mistakes and miscommunications happen all the time.

The second reminder is that the reporter has to agree to go off the record with you. The proper way to do this is to ask, "Can we go off the record for a moment here?" When the reporter says, "Sure," then you can go ahead and continue.

Follow Up After the Interview

As a PR pro, it's our job to follow up post-interview. This is usually a time when we remind the reporter of the client's website or other brand information, send a few additional stats or talking points if they weren't shared in the interview and provide any other follow up info, as well as find out when the story will run.

If you've been interviewed, you should perform the same follow up to ensure the reporter has everything they need. If you promised them anything during the interview, like a photo, be sure to get that to them before their deadline.

Don't Bait & Switch - Be a Good Interview

If your pitch has opened the door to an interview, then make it a good one. Don't bait the reporter with a promise of a juicy story and then try to turn into a commercial for your brand once you get on the phone. Understand that the job of a reporter is to get a good story-not to promote your brand-and the more that you can help them do so, the better your relationship with the reporter will be going forward.

The Art & Science of Timing a Pitch

In a meeting with a potential client a few weeks ago, the topic of an article that your company should have been in--but wasn't--came up. This is a cringe-worthy moment that has happened to pretty much every PR person. The fact is, no matter how much we try to work our contacts and pitch our clients, there are lots of reporters working on lots of stories--unbeknownst to us.

However, there's a special art and science we combine to increase our chances of getting featured in a relevant story, and this special combination is the reason that many companies hire a PR person, when it comes down to it. 

The science piece is in consistency. This means coming up with relevant, creative angles to consistently pitch to the right reporters, writers and producers working at outlets that serve your target demographic. While targets will not pick up on every pitch, by virtue of being in touch with them regularly with good ideas, we're keeping your company top of mind and helping to cement the brand and its messaging so when a relevant story does come up, we have a better chance of being part of it.

The art piece is the way we identify reporters and producers that are relevant to the client, and how we time our pitches. We look for people who, as we call it, are covering around the subject, but haven't covered the topic yet. If someone's already covered your topic, they're likely not doing another story on it anytime soon, if ever (with the exception of breaking or developing news that is covered excessively). Here, our job is to get you in front of the reporter with how you can fit into future stories--pitching other relevant angels and introducing your brand so you're not left out again.

But the magic really comes when we can find someone who's writing around a pitch topic we're working - someone who'd clearly be interested in it, but hasn't covered it yet. That's what we, as PR people, spend our days figuring out and it's the reason most people outsource their PR work. That timing - coming in with a fresh idea just as a writer is thinking about a topic - isn't an accident. It's the result of studying and following the right people to get in touch at just the right time.

The tricky part of PR is the inability to guarantee results. Those of us who have been doing this awhile can pretty quickly get a sense of a good story, of something that's going to fly with the media versus something that won't - we can guess. But the real work comes in tracking down, identifying and timing these pitches. If you're DIY'ing your PR efforts, we suggest you spend extra time tracking the outlets and writers who are most interesting to you and ensuring that you're keeping on top of what they're working on and when an opportunity might open up.