Your strategy and PR plan means nothing unless you can implement it. The good news is that implementation, if you follow some simple rules, should be relatively simple. Think of it as creatively coloring by numbers.
What is in the PR toolbox?
Conceptually speaking it is a box that can be placed on the table, riffled through and the contents evaluated for suitability, effectiveness and ROI. You’re trying to assess all of the possible PR implementation tactics that can be used to then build an integrated campaign.
That’s why having a toolbox is so useful. If you run down the possible tools (listed here, but constantly being developed, so start listing out from your own experiences the tactics you have seen to work) you can quickly build a list of which tools could be used. Then you can play with their weight, frequency and time lines to build a whole campaign.
How to build PR tools
We should be clear that in many cases building tools is unique from implementing them. In other cases the production of the tool is the actual tool.
Lets take a press release. The production of a press release is a ‘back room’ activity. Only when the release is ready and approved can it actually be used as part of the PR mix. Other tools, such as a broadcast interview, while there may be preparation required, are the actual tool.
In the perfect world where we have adequate time and resources to hand we would produce tools before we start implementing the campaign. Of course we don’t live in a perfect world, time lines morph into each other and before you know it you need a degree in Project Management to keep the campaign from hitting time lines and being implemented successfully with creativity and careful follow through. That is the mark of a successful PR professional, team or agency and what sets apart the leaders from the followers. Needless to say, building tools is the foundation that leads to successful campaigns (and less stressful, last minute, late night sessions over junk food).
How to use PR tools
This is the staple diet of the PR world. In fact many people mistakenly believe that PR means press release and not public relations. If you had little to no time or money and represented a small business it might be considered that writing one press release would constitute basic public relations and may even gain some ‘free publicity’.
A press release is a formulaic pre-written few pages meant to be disseminated to mass journalists. It lacks passion, a targeted message and rarely tells a story.
Avoid press releases like the plague.
Yes, that’s right, don’t use them. Stand out from the crowd. Be different. Lead the pack. If you really want to implement killer public relations then move away from press releases.
But for those that just can’t tear themselves away from them, I will admit there is a place for press releases still. There are times when a clarifying statement needs to be put in words and sent to multiple media outlets for accuracy’s sake. And I will admit that many new product launches will benefit from a standard press release that explains often confusing or technically complicated matters.
Within the PR industry, professionals will often interchangeably use the term press release and news release. What can be said is that most press releases are actually news releases, i.e. they should be news worthy – which implies a time line to it.
So lets look at the press release to see how to build them for the times when it makes sense. While the exact formula differs across different professionals and geographies, most can agree on the common elements a press release needs to include.
- The logo of the organization that owns the release. Make it easy for media to quickly identify who owns news they are reading. This is not the agency that might be disseminating the release, but who the release is about.
- Contact points for the media to reach out to. This will most likely be a PR agency (and possibly not who the news is written about). There are two schools of through – that these details should be at the end of the release (which is perhaps more traditional) and that they should be right at the top of the release (because who has time to wait till the end and actually the objective of the release is to engage in conversation the media).
In today’s world the contact details need to include ways that the media can reach a professional 24/7 so phone numbers (ideally mobile) and email are a staple. If you haven’t received a fax in weeks and it was so long since you actually sent a fax that you don’t know which way up to place the paper, then it’s probably not worth adding. Ditto for other unnecessary contact details, like your physical address (when do you think was the last time a journalist received a press release, liked it so much they penned a letter and posted it back to the contact point to get more details?).
There are some times where it is necessary to put multiple contact points on a press release, maybe due to geographical constraints or because it makes sense to direct a media person in different directions (for example to the product person or an investor relations person).
- Date of release. Imagine you are a journalist and you pick up a piece of paper on your desk. It would be kind of nice to think that it would clearly state if this news was from today, last week or last month. Lets face it; news becomes less newsworthy over time, so knowing the release date is important.
- Embargo. Related to the release date it should be clearly visible to the media if this release has an embargo. An embargo is a common understanding that the release is not public knowledge until a certain time/date. Using an embargo allows the PR pro and the media to communicate and get organized, so that a release can have a common release time/date across multiple outlets. The good thing about this is that it can add impact to news if it is covered in multiple locations, and the embargo is key working factor that allows this to happen.
In the 15+ years on the job, apart form the odd honest misunderstanding, I’ve never come across a respectable media outlet that misuses an embargo when clearly stated. That said, some media are increasingly publicizing that they will not respect embargoes, so in today’s marketplace it is important to get an understanding of a media outlets embargo policy before playing the game.
Remember that an embargo needs to include three pieces of information – a date, a time and a time zone. It’s always 12:00 noon somewhere in the world.
- Title. The release should be summed up in 12 words or less. Ideally the company name or brand/product name should be the first word/s. The title should also be compelling enough to grab the attention of the journalists that are going to receive the press release. It is worth noting that you are not actually writing the title for the article if it should be picked up.
- Byline. Not everyone thinks a byline or clarifying bullet points are suitable (it may not be traditional) but right after the title is a good place to simply sell the release to the media. This could be in the form of a three point summary, or it could include some of the more exciting/outrageous/salient facts from the release.
- Now it’s time to get into the main body of the release. Whether the font is Times Roman or Arial, ensure that it is clear and readable (and no you can’t hand write a release, if for whatever reason you were thinking about it). In the old day it was considered professional to ensure the main body was double spaced so journalist could write (back when journalists used real pens!) in-between the lines – apparently in an attempt to write an article from the release. This might not be so important today, but still a lot of releases have 1.5 lines spacing to facilitate ease of reading.
- Starter. The first paragraph normally starts with the date and the location (city, country) where the released is being released from.
- First sentence. This normally grounds the release. It traditionally will start with the company name followed by a positioning statement.
Your positioning statement will very, very rates include anything along the lines of ‘the best’ or ‘the leading’. This is not an advertisement. Far better to be ‘one of the leading’.
- First paragraph. Ideally will include the who, what, where, when and how – a clear and concise summary of the release.
- The second paragraph is usually either further explanation if required, or a quote form the primary spokes person.
- The rest of the release is a great explanation of the news.
- The end of the release needs to be clearly identified – for this is where the release ends and the ‘further information starts’
- Counting words. Some professionals believe that this would be a good place to note how many words are in the release. In today’s world most journalists are receiving releases electronically and all have word count facilities on their computer, so it is probably less important for today’s media.
- Explanations. Once the main release has ended, this is a good place to add any clarifying information. This could be a written paragraph or two, or possibly links to other online related resources.
- Images. It is highly advisable to send images – pictures, photographs, screen grabs, illustrations and artwork – with the release. All media appreciate receiving artwork. Embedding low resolution artwork is appropriate and then pointing to where high resolution images can be found (a contact point or online link to download).
- Video/Multimedia. Today there is a need to use video and other multimedia presentations. This is easily produced and greatly increases the branding and storytelling of your release. Here’s where you add links to such materials.
- Social Media. Whether it is company or product/service specific – links to social media should be included here.
- The company. A paragraph should then be headed with the company name and an overview of that company, culminating with a web URL so the journalist can get more information on the company (not necessarily the same place as where information is found related to this release). Releases may be attributed to two or more organizations, in which case each company should have their own paragraph and this is not the place to demonstrate the relationship between the organizations.
Notes on quotes – To quote a spokes person is the norm. There are of course situations where this is not appropriate, but the PR strategy will give guidance. Our experience is that most organizations are promoting a personal image, and are therefore using spokes people a great deal. Again, from our experience, if while copywriting you have the choice to including information as a quote or not, the text in quotes has a better chance of being picked up word-for-word in the media. Learn from this and only quote the most vital message from a spokesperson – this is not an area where padding should be used.
We constantly teach spokespeople in our media training sessions that if they want to be quotable, they need to be opinionated and interesting. We highly suggest you use the same frame when writing quotes. As you work with each spokes person you’ll get to know their speech pattern, so it is easier to produce something that really sounds like it is something your spokesperson would say.
Notes on using headings bullet points, italics and bold - As far as we are concerned, the idea of a press release is to get across a message in the simplest manner that leaves little room for miscommunication. If the clearest way to communicate your message is to use headings, bullet points, italics and bold within your text them use them. Like a good designer will tell you, don’t over use these formatting tactics and never use multiple fonts within the same piece.
Company / Background information
The press have to know who they are covering. Some organizations are well known, but not many compared to the number that want coverage. Chances are that you need to explain who the organization is, what they do, where they do it, and how long they have been doing it. You may want to explain the client base, the product/service offering and how they got to be in a situation to offer these solutions.
Yes, this is a self-serving circle. Consumers of media want to (largely) read about companies they have knowledge of, so the media to a greater degree cover organizations that are well known, which limits the number of companies that the consumers know about.
Ethically speaking, if the organization is owned or part of a larger group, or in turn owns other organizations, is listed on any public exchange, has major financial backers or has other important ownership details, these should be made apparent to the media.
There is also more information that a good journalist will want to understand to improve their ability to write stories, including but not limited to, number of employees, location of offices and their functions, valuation of the organization in the last financial year, who the leaders in the organization are and future plans of the organization.
While these information sheets may be a bullet point of factual information, we find that time lines tell a useful story. We also have clients that have compelling history and start up stories, so these are often told in anything up to a page of writing to add character and color to the organization and to assist media with their writing.
The best way to introduce a spokesperson to the media is to get them in front of that journalist. But we would never put a journalist in front of client cold – they need to know whom they are going to meet before hand. The biography is ideal for this.
Like the press release, a biography has a simple template behind it:
1 – person’s name and position
2 – what they will do in that position – i.e. their responsibilities and vision for that job and how it will benefit the company
3 – past employment – only the positions and experience that is relevant to the current job, listed in reverse chronological order
4 – education - only if relevant
6 – possibly something fun or quirky about the person (you could just say he likes fishing and has a wife and two kids, but we always prefer something more memorable).
For this last element, if you are clever, you will keep consistent with biagraphies and in line with the company’s style.... So it could be ‘three things you wouldn’t know of Mr X’ or something that is more relevant to the industry such as ‘favorite time on an oil rig’ if the company is in the oil & gas industry, or ‘favorite mobile application’ if the company was a mobile phone company... You’re trying to make something quotable and memorable. Let your mind go wild and get creative.
Case studies and testimonials
There is no better way of communicating how great a company’s product/service is than a comprehensively written case study or testimonial from a successful and happy client. Unlike a product sheet, the case study really helps place the product/service and allows you to demonstrate why the company’s clients have a need for the solution, the benefit it offers and the features it provides.
The standard flow to complete this would be:
- Customer’s problem or requirement
- How the company’s solution fit that need
- If ‘implemented’ then details of that process (on time, on budget)
- How the customer perceived the implementation
- Any training required in the customer’s organization
- The roll-out
- How the features of the solution fits the initial requirement
- How happy the customer is with the solution
Pictures to support this and quotes from both the customer and the solution provider should be used. If partners were part of the sale or implementation, then it often is beneficial to include them too. With a complex solution that had a number of partners, you might find that you are quickly including quotes from five different companies. If this happens be careful that the case study doesn’t become confusing and it is clear who is who and how they are relevant to the case study. If multiple spokespeople are being used ensure that the main company in focus has the highest amount of quote time and ideally have their quote be the first (in the introduction) and the last (in the summary).
The press kit is not an independent written piece, but an accumulation of other written materials. Typically a press kit will be a folder (hopefully branded) which when you open it, has two flaps to hold your materials. Traditionally this will include on the left hand side the three (or so) most recent (relevant) press releases (in reverse chronological order so the latest press release is at the front).
On the right hand side will be other fact sheets, biographies and company backgrounds. Depending upon the use of the press kit (and when it is presented) it might also include specific product/service details, corporate collateral, case studies, testimonials or specification sheets. There is no reason why the press kit would not hold the business card of the press contact point, printed photographs that the press might want to publish and a CD (or similar) of the electronic formats of written copy and images.
There is an increasing trend to go green and not to print this out or place it in a glossy (or environmentally recycled) folder. A number of clients see it advantageous to place all this on a (often branded or otherwise quirky) USB drive. This is certainly easier to transport (and seeing as press kits are often used en masse this is a significant advantage). The disadvantage is that, lets face it, no one really looks through a USB drive, through all the attachments on a CD or otherwise electronic files.
The idea of the Press Kit is that it can be presented to a journalist, opened up in front of them, and each document can be referred to. This way you can have two-way communications with another person, gauge their interest and then redirect your efforts to providing the most appropriate information that the media person can use to the fullest. Remember, the media are always trying to find the right angle for the publication/s they work for – and this is where a printed Press Kit really has the advantage of offering a general overview and then drilling down to what the journalist wants to learn about.
Photography is vitally important for all media work. There is not a medium out there today that doesn’t benefit from visual aids. Even non-visual medium, such as radio, has an online presence and the journalists/hosts are Tweeting (or other social media interaction) to their listeners.
Even in today’s digital SLR sub $1,000 camera market and the mass of easy to use photo editing software, it pays dividends to use a professional photographer. Someone who takes media images for a living and has experience they can showcase. It is worth baring in mind that a good wedding photographer does not make a good PR photographer, and not all photographers who produce great corporate head and shoulder shots can do a still image of a widget. Some still art is very specific, such as food, and specialists should be called in.
When using a professional photographer the best results are obtained when a clear brief can be provided. This should include where and when the shoot should take place, the reason for the shoot background information that sets a scene for the photographer and specific details about what is required.
Most common is the head and shoulder shot of the CEO and spokes people of the organization. These typically are colors shots of the individual showing their head and going down as far as their mid-chest area. While overly branding these images with prominent organizational logo in the background should be avoided, it is always good to have the various head and shoulder images consistent with each other and the general branding of the organization being represented. Often this can be obtained by taking the shots in a reception area, but it is more fun to get creative about locations.
Sidebar – Creative photography locations
We’ve used various creative locations for head and shoulder shots, including:
1 – mid way across a bridge with 10 lanes of screaming traffic in the background at dusk for a company that provided logistical software for fleet departments
2 – five star hotels for that luxury feel (get permission first)
3 – the desert with never ending sand dunes for a company that delivered power from natural resources
4 – well known cultural and national monuments to anchor the subject to a time or location – such as the backdrop of the half completed Bur Al Arab hotel in Dubai for an electronics company
5 – a bank vault with crates of gold bars for a banking client
For products there is a need for two types of shoots. First up, you need a straight up image of the product (in it’s most popular version, color versions and open/closed positions) to use with many magazines. These images need to be with minimal backgrounds so magazines can manipulate them for larger features, or use them as thumbnails.
There is also a need (and also to a greater need) to have lifestyle images – that is an image with people using your product / service. These images are the most complex of shoots. There is a need to use professional models, set up lighting, often arrange locations and thus a longer shoot time, which means a high price tag. That said, these are well worth and will turn a profit with multiple uses from the media. As with other types of shoots, it pays to get creative. It is also worth re-shooting with different ethnical looking users, so the images can be used in different geographies around the world. It’s surprising how recognizable different nationalities are to the people whom come from those nations. For example, French people look very different than Germans even thought their countries boarder each other.
Gone are the days when you need hard copies and slides of images. Working from soft copies is totally acceptable. We recommend putting in place a robust filing system so you can find relevant and current images (and a system that achieves outdated images so they are not used), by file type (JPEG, TIFF and PNG formats of each image) in both high and low resolution, and also at different sizes suitable for magazines to use as well as for smaller online usage.
Audio & Video
Today it’s rare that an organization needs to pre-record audio files, but it does have some use. There are of course notable exceptions for organizations that are targeting radio media, but mostly the talk show format of radio stations do not require pre-recorded audio to be supplied. It might, however, be advantageous to re-record an interview or pull the audio from a notable video recorded interview, but generally speaking this is easily done on demand or by a radio producer in real time so there is little need spending time/resources building this type of a library.
You need b-roll (or broll) to supply broadcast TV as supplemental footage which can be inserted as a cutaway to help tell a media story. B-roll includes the shots that are shown to introduce a segment and/or in between the live or taped interviews. B-roll does not include sound so that the broadcaster can add voice-over or music. Similarly, there should be no captioning or graphics added to the video footage. Today, this needs to be shot in high-definition to be compatible with network TV.
It is necessary to produce a b-roll package for your company if you anticipate a high volume of TV news coverage as this will add consistency across multiple channels and allows you to control some of the storytelling. Having b-roll limits the need for camera crews disrupting the organization’s office/manufacturing or other locations, and producers appreciate the efficiency of having the basic footage available.
A standard company b-roll package is about 5-10 minutes long and is divided into sections that should include:
- CEO/founder and executives working and walking
- Internal shots of employees working
- Manufacturing, R&D or other engineering
- External office shots, preferably with company signage
- Product shots with various angles
- Everyday people using the product in different environments
Even though you can shoot high def on your hand held device, we highly recommend using a professional video production company to direct, film, edit and produce your b-roll. It is also important to update your b-roll so that all parts of it are true, modern and usable. Not only should you check your b-roll for corporate accuracy, but look out for the nuances – such as clothes worn on employees, phones / other technology in the shots and cars in the background. If any of these look dated, they it’s time to refresh.