"’Suits make a corporate comeback,’ says the New York Times. Why does this sound familiar? Maybe because the suit was also back in February, September 2004, June 2004, March 2004, September 2003, November 2002, April 2002, and February 2002. Why do the media keep running stories saying suits are back? Because PR firms tell them to.” – The Submarine
Public relations, PR for short, is the science of getting a message out to the public through offline and online media. Public relations are used to maintain a good image of the company, to build brand awareness or to cover up the wrong doings of a company. All of the brands you know do public relations, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and even the US government.
How Does PR Work?
Each publication has writers and journalists. Those journalists specialize in topical niches like the economy, the Internet, technology and so forth. Many writers in large publications like the NY Times, USA Today and others are overloaded with work or are plain lazy, with short deadlines and little time for research. They are also on the lookout for the “hot” story that will help their career. That’s where PR firms come in.
Public relations firms package a story for the client and pitch it to journalists in different publications, by phone or email. Good public relation firms are well connected with journalists across the media space, so they accomplish much more than anyone could without those connections.
Journalists are well aware that good PR firms value their connections as their lifeline, so they usually trust them. When they should be hunting for stories, journalists sit and wait for the stories to roll in through email. Of course, there’s a down side to this. Here’s how the article “The Submarine” put it:
"A good flatterer doesn’t lie, but tells his victim selective truths (what a nice color your eyes are). Good PR firms use the same strategy: they give reporters stories that are true, but whose truth favors their clients."
So to simplify the public relations flow for you:
A company needs advertising, but has a tight budget, so it turns to PR.
A PR firm writes a story. For example: "In the small town of Caliburco, an entrepreneur with a big dream…. Blah blah blah”
The PR firm pitches that story to journalists.
If the story is compelling enough, it gets mentions in different publications, creating exposure and traffic for the advertiser.
If a story is professionally crafted and is pitched smoothly to the right journalists, a company can gain exposure worth much more money than it paid for the PR services. If a start up gets mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other newspapers, causing smaller names to follow (smaller publications don’t want to miss the “big stuff”), how many eyes potentially see the story and hear a new brand name? Many, delivering results that are more effective than spending dollars on other advertising, because PR is camouflaged as editorial news.
If a story is successful, a brand will be mentioned in different media outlets, creating brand awareness among regular folks, webmasters and bloggers. If the story is compelling enough, webmasters and bloggers will mention it and possibly provide a link. A good story also leaves some imprint in the mind, so a brand stands a chance of being remembered, mentioned and potentially linked, months after the story is “gone.”
Exceptional stories are picked by CNN and other authoritative domains, and a link from there is highly valued by Google.
SEO PR has a slightly different focus from traditional PR. SEO public relations is after links, while classic PR is after brand awareness. The two overlap closely, since with brand awareness links come naturally, but more common forms of PR offered by search engine marketing firms focus on links and PR search rankings. Some even evolve into strategies of ranking a PR article on search results which has a link to the original website, passing link juice, or mentioning the company’s brand.
Keep the PR up
If you do get hot and various sites on web are talking about you, keep riding the wave while you’re in the spotlight. Create a follow up article and mention your site more.
Distributing Public Relations Articles Yourself
Use online PR wires to distribute your content on the web:
PR News Wire
Make your article an average of 400 – 800 words, with a character limit of 65 for Google news headlines and 150 for Yahoo News headlines. To get a feel for how most press releases look, browse through PRWeb and PR News Wire. You’ll notice that most of them are crappy, though, so by no means take this as a standard. Instead of being like everyone else, differentiate.
There are many companies on the web that do PR, many of which are SEO companies. Some do their own in-house thing; others outsource, but still charge you royally. A simple search for SEO PR or PR service turns up a good list of companies. Those companies that don’t do SEO are usually well aware of it and have incorporated SEO techniques into their craft. You can also try SEO companies, but watch out for outsourcing, which many companies do.
Try getting an exclusively PR service company that is familiar with SEO and understands link value, instead of leaving the task to an SEO company.
Creating PR Stunts
Public relations stunts create a lot of publicity and links, but may backfire, depending on how you approach them. The goal of a stunt is get a lot of attention and links. To create a stunt you can trash someone, claim to make a mega invention, start controversy, talk about subjects no one wants to talk about and all other sorts of goofy stuff. The risk of this strategy is that a negative image associated with the stunt may stick with the brand and in fact destroy it.
A good example of a “PR stunt” was Aaron Wall’s lawsuit with Traffic Power. Though completely accidental, it created a lot of controversy, and as a result his name was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times and throughout the blogosphere. It was a blessing in disguise, and it helped Aaron get his business off the ground.
Partner up with a Brand
Brands like Google, Apple and Nike have immense brand value. If you partner up with them or someone equivalent, their brand power will be partially passed on. Though it’s not much in the way of PR exposure, it’s a good trust builder.
Bloggers Speak of Public Relations When the Speak of Linkbait
The most well known PR trick pulled by SEOs is the link bait article through social media like Digg, Sphinn and others. It has maintained the basics of traditional PR, where to get the needed exposure you must first provide the turf, but social media crowds replaced the journalists. The essence stayed intact – good turf means good exposure.
Both forms of PR, the traditional and social media, require connections to promote the story (less with social media), but both serve the same purpose – links and brand awareness.
Journalists don’t like pitches. They despise clueless firms and PR agents emailing them with “here’s a related story you should be writing about.”
The basis of successful public relations is networking and connections. It’s far easier to get stories out when you have journalist friends. In fact, this is what you pay PR firms for – their connections with journalists. The more quality connections a PR firm has, the more it charges and the pickier it is about who it chooses to work with, because jeopardizing relationships with the right connections costs more over time than turning down the client.
Jason Calacanis, founder of Silicon Valley Insider follows a different PR strategy. Instead of paying $15,000 per month to PR agencies, he establishes contacts himself. He goes to conferences and dinner parties, and gets to know people. He meets people; sometimes they are related to media, sometimes they aren’t. Over time, though, he gets a large pool of contacts in his field, some of which are startups, journalists, critics, CEOs and all sorts of titles that can spin the wheels in their respective callings.
As they meet for dinners, coffees and parties, the question “How is your business, and what are you doing now?” comes naturally from journalists, who then in turn write an article and give Jason free exposure.
The investment cost is dinner money, time to build relationships and a pleasing personality, but it seems to pay off very well.
The Problem with PR
Most PR stories are pure garbage, not worth anyone’s time. Over many years, social interaction, which is the basis of good PR has turned into a dull science, killing the essence of public relations. The whole system is so honed that if you browse through PR wires (PR web, PR newswire) you’ll find tons of junk content that no good journalist will care to mention. To make PR work for you, you must provide the gleam that stands out from all of that dross. It’s harder than you might think, but the potential payoff is huge.