Sometimes I feel like a doctor. It never fails that whenever someone asks what I do and they hear “public relations,” they suddenly say “I want to be on TV." “Really? What’s your story?” They give me a quizzical look. “What is the story you have to tell?” Now, blank stare.
Everyone wants to be on TV or see their name in ink or on a blog, but the truth is that public relations isn’t the best marketing avenue for every business. It can be helpful to most businesses, especially something new in the market, but unless you have a compelling story to tell PR might not be for you. Ask yourself “why." Why is your business/product important to your customers/industry? Why and how is it going to change people’s lives? Why is it worth news coverage?
In my PR workshop at SCORE, I always use the example of the owner of a dry cleaner I met soon after starting my business in 2001. As soon as he heard I was in PR, we had the exchange above. I finally asked him what it is that his business does differently from other dry cleaners. He said “nothing." I told him that, basically, he wasn’t going to generate any PR unless he dry cleaned clothes in the nude and for charity. A light bulb went off. Did it go off for you?
Media are looking for interesting and new stories, products and services. Just because your competitor received coverage doesn’t mean that media are going to retell that story featuring you! You have to bring something new to the table; a new trend, product or service. You have to really differentiate your business to create a compelling and meaningful story.
Every day I put my journalist’s hat on because PR is a journalistic endeavor. We professionals are creating news as a marketing tool, and to be successful we have to have a strong nose for news and what is newsworthy. Our goal is to generate awareness about the business, product, service or organization we’re working for, and, in most circumstances, encourage sales. Of course, this is the ultimate outcome for any marketing endeavor.
It can be really tough to step outside of your business and look at it from a new perspective to understand whether you have a story or not, but it’s crucial before you begin spending time on a marketing element that may not work for your business. In the instance of the dry cleaner, I told him to price the competition and engage in couponing. He is still in business.
Jennifer Fortney is president of Cascade Communications, a boutique virtual PR and marketing communications company in Chicago focusing on small business and startups. In her 15+ year career she has worked with some of the top Fortune 500 companies and a wide variety of small businesses and startups across the country. A Journalism major with Music minor from The University of Kansas, she is also the PR instructor at SCORE Chicago and founder of @MyStorySource live media pitch feed on Twitter and Facebook. @SmallBizPRXpert