PR in a Web 2.0 World: Tips for Small Biz

I have seats on both sides of the aisle as a member of the media and a PR person.    What a fascinating view, seeing firsthand how it works from either direction!  And now that view is bathed in the light of the social web, it’s as if the glow of a computer monitor is spotlighting the many aspects of PR in this evolving age.

From either angle and in this light, I see clearly that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The basic truths for earning coverage have really not altered that much, though the modes of communication and the face (and faces!) of journalism have.

Does “Spray & Pray” Pay?
The ol’ “spray and pray” PR approach hasn’t gone anywhere.  Ten years ago, the ‘spray’ of mass press releases came in the form of unsolicited junk mail.  Today, it comes as email spam.  Either way the ‘spray’ typically does not pay.  It’s rare thing to earn notable coverage from a faceless, graceless mass message.  (Thankfully, deleting emails doesn’t add to landfills, so at least PR2.0 is more environmentally friendly.)

Mind you, this tactic can work a bit like a big direct mail/email campaign; when you send to thousands, even a 1% response rate seems passable.  And if you’re pitching a general interest topic to a media list encompassing journalists of like beat and like audiences, this is not a wholly unacceptable approach.

For example, I’ve done PR for home products for years, and it’s often worked very well to send new product announcements en masse to New Product Editors at shelter publications and home-related media outlets.  I send just what those editors need in these instances when the warm-fuzzies of a targeted pitch is simply not necessary.  They get a new product for one of their new product round-up stories, I get coverage for my client and all is well.

If you must go “mass” with a PR message, consider using a wire service.  Though there’s added costs involved, the mechanism of a wire offers vast distribution without you or your company being invasive.

How to Reach Your Feature Goals
However, if you want to earn feature coverage, you should never rely on a mass message.  With my ‘both-sides-of-aisle’ view, I know this to be true.  As a PR person, I understand how daunting (and time-consuming) it is to try to get into the minds of specific journalists, producers, reporters, bloggers.  Yet pay-off comes only when I’ve taken time to get to know the person to whom I’m pitching.  Now that I’m also a columnist and blogger myself, I can tell you even a little effort to indicate genuine connectivity can make all the difference.  “Delete” is a common response I give to emails I didn’t ask for, from people who don’t know me and vice versa.

New Challenges Reaching the Media to Connect with Readers

These days it’s hard to find the right person to target.  In the past, I worked with journalists within a segment so consistently and for such a long time that I established very valuable relationships, as well as real friendships.  Even if a contact switched jobs, I knew their whereabouts and altered my communications accordingly.  Now many of those contacts have been laid off from their corporate media houses and have started their own blogs or taken on freelance assignments.  What was once a narrow and deep river of media has become a sprinkling of lakes and ponds.

Likewise readership has divested as well, and you’ve got to know where to find the loyal, responsive followers.  These days, PR efforts may be better spent with the top  three bloggers in a category, because those bloggers have devoted readers, rather than on one traditional media outlet. As I write for my blog and column, it’s inspiring to know that my message is being received and read, even if my numbers aren’t near the circulation of traditional media outlets.

It’s Still a Matter of Good News
The quality and newsworthiness of the story conveyed is still the crux of PR success.  As a PR person, I never want to wear out my hard-earned welcome with a media contact with a story I feel is not worth the time or effort.  PR is not a cloak for an advertising message.  And now that I’m receiving pitches from others, it’s interesting to discern what’s really worth pursuing and what’s simply corporate jargon in disguise.  If there is notable, important news to be covered, reporters probably won’t fret too much about how personalized the pitch was; a good story is a good story.  Period.

New Measure of Success
Anyone still measuring PR success solely on total circulation figures or advertising equivalencies is missing the boat.  Big circulation numbers may not translate into responses like the smaller (and often indeterminate) numbers of a topic-specific blog potentially could, and advertising is such a moving target that it’s just too arbitrary to find comfort in assigning PR coverage a specific dollar-value (but that’s always been true!).

For anyone who’s wondered if PR was still viable and necessary in our Web 2.0 market, I assure you it is.  There is still an art to crafting a newsworthy message and conveying that message to the world.  Pitching is still required to earn coverage, and not just anybody can do that.  The skill of defraying impact of negative news and communicating in times of crisis is still essential.  Integration of PR into the core of any marketing communications effort bolsters the strategy and thinking and helps organizations get into the minds and hearts of its constituencies.

For small businesses, PR can be an effective and cost-effective means of getting third-party endorsement, raising awareness and carving a presence with key audiences.  Tried and true, here and now—PR can help small biz go big time!

Thanks!

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