In the past, small-business owners seeking public-relations opportunities had two choices: Hire a professional or agency, or act as an ad hoc PR manager amid other entrepreneurial tasks.
Both avenues came at a cost, in the form of time, money, or both. Today, online media tools like Help a Reporter Out have changed the landscape of public relations. Small-business owners can now receive PR opportunities via email daily for free.
Compared with the old-school methods (calling, pitching, faxing, and networking), newer means (social networking, responding to online queries, and emailing) for getting your business mentioned by the media are significantly simpler. Yet working with the media still takes some effort — time and energy that you could be spending on other activities. So, it’s wise to realize that not all opportunities are created equal.
Here are four questions to ask yourself before pursuing any PR opportunity.
- Where will the story appear? If you’re offering yourself up as an expert source via a tool like HARO, note that some journalists specify where the final piece will be published — and others don’t. Sometimes this ambiguity is to protect the integrity and editorial prowess of a major publisher; other times, names are withheld because a blogger or writer for a lesser-known publisher will get more responses by not mentioning the media outlet. If you’re approaching press with the notion that “any press is good press” or striving to build your experience working with the media, where your business gets mentioned may not matter. But if you have a clear marketing strategy, focus your efforts on the type and caliber of media you seek — and forget the rest.
- How does the publication credit sources? When stories appear online (and most do), many media outlets link to their sources’ websites, which can be an effective way to drive traffic to your site and boost your search-engine ranking. However, they’re not obligated to do so — and some don’t. Similarly, not all writers even provide the name of their sources, opting instead to use general IDs, such as “a small-business owner in Tennessee” as opposed to your business’s name. Read a few of the publication’s past articles to determine how it presents its sources. You can also ask the writer if you’ll receive credit before you commit to an interview.
- What is the story’s angle? If the writer has responded to your initial pitch with interest and the nature of the piece is unclear, inquire. Is the article investigative, explanatory (“how-to”), or critical of a practice, trend, or theory? What purpose will your quote serve? When it comes to public relations, you volunteer your business’s name and integrity. Although journalists have an ethical obligation to present source information fairly and accurately, they are not required to depict you in a positive light. Failing to confirm how your information will be used exposes you to the possibility that you’ll be negatively portrayed.
- What value does the article offer your business? You don’t have to arrive at a quantifiable figure to determine the value of public relations, and often you can’t. But consider the value that PR provides relative to your business plan, goals, and strategy. Potential benefits could include exposure to your target market, enhanced credibility, or a boost in search-engine rankings. The value varies, but if you struggle to define exactly what the payoff is, perhaps you could find more fruitful ways to spend your time.