You don't need a huge budget to build an effective communications strategy
Your business should be booming right now.
You’ve done all the right things: social media, SEO, product and/or service creation and everything that should be required for you to achieve that success you desire. After all the resources and effort you’ve put in, you can surely expect your business to be on everyone’s lips.
Only it isn’t.
And your competitors are.
Wherever you go, whichever media channel you trawl, all you can find are references and mentions of your competition. Everyone is talking about them; they're in the news, on the internet and even in the newspapers. Their reps are communicating with the customers on a daily basis. And all your valuable traffic is going to them.
So, what can you do?
Where did you go wrong?
The one thing that you might have ignored is the Public Relations (PR) and Communications (Comms) portion of your business. And doing so has ignored one of the most important parts of a successful business strategy.
We live in the age of communication, and brands have to live up to the expectations of the consumers. With attention spans shrinking and competition intensifying, brands are vying for that piece of consumers' attention. And in this scenario, it’s essential to set up a successful PR and Comms strategy for your business. But often, setting up a separate PR department might be cost-prohibitive for many small businesses.
So what's the solution?
The good news is that you can build an effective PR and Comms machine using freelancers.
This is what we're going to discuss today, and along the way, we’re also going to let you know of some steps which can help you to set up a public relations and communications strategy using freelancers. But as usual, we're going to begin at the beginning, and define what PR actually is.
What is public relations?
PR is, in a nutshell, the method by which media and communication channels can be leveraged to promote a business and create a popular brand perception in the minds of the consumers. PR involves communication and is the process by which your brand’s image is bolstered in the public consciousness.
PR is essential for brands in order to manage and disseminate company information; in this respect, there's some similarity to branding
PR as an activity can't be expected to happen spontaneously; it must be carefully coordinated and executed with professional efficiency. For this very reason, larger organizations usually have their own PR and Comms wing that takes care of communicating company news with the public through means of social media, press releases and news outlets.
And this is exactly where medium and small businesses trip up, or rather are forced to trip up. Creating and maintaining a separate PR wing takes an inordinate amount of resources that these businesses might not always be able to afford. This results in them losing out on essential links to the consumer, and ultimately ends up affecting the brand value.
However, small and medium businesses can, and should, take advantage of freelancers. By leveraging the power of modern technology and communication media, businesses can achieve with freelancers more than that can be done by separate PR wings.
So, how can small businesses set up a public relations and communications strategy using freelancers? And would it be as effective as one created by full-time employees? That’s what we're going to be exploring next.
How to create a successful PR strategy
PR is an amalgamation of media communications, technology and mass reach. Therefore, to create a successful PR strategy, multiple facets of the current business ecosystem must be kept in mind and managed at the same time. This requires PR professionals to be proficient in multiple aspects of business and communications.
In this section, we are going to take a look at some of the steps that you can follow to create a winning PR strategy.
Set your goals
The first and most important step to setting up a PR strategy is to define your goals and objectives. What do you want to achieve from the PR campaign? Are you launching a new product that you want the customers to know about? Or has your business been hacked and you are looking to let your consumers know that their data is safe with you?
Whatever the reason, defining the goals behind your PR campaign is the first step to ensuring its success. When you define your goals, this gives you a crystal clear view of your PR strategy and also helps to streamline the steps of your PR campaign.
Know your audience
Who are you trying to connect with through your PR campaign? Which individuals are you targeting with the message? Knowing this can be the difference between the success and failure of your campaign.
However, it’s not necessary that your target audience is always going to be individual people. They can be user groups, communities and demographic sections that have influence over your business or are intrinsically linked to the success or failure of your business. They're the ones you’re trying to attract, and the ones you hope to turn into loyal patrons.
However, the task doesn’t really end after identifying the target audience. Now you need to research deeply about their habits, their likes and dislikes, and their preferences. Are they more comfortable on the internet, or do they prefer television? Are they a newspaper reading crowd or a YouTube audience?
Once you know how your target demographic accesses media, you can then customize your PR campaign to make sure it resonates across your target demographic. Doing this properly can increase the effectiveness of your PR campaign by leaps and bounds.
Define your primary messages
Once you know the people you’re trying to reach out to, now it’s time to decide exactly what messages you want them to hear from your end. This is a vital step because the message that you send out must be relevant and timely, which means it should hit the mark exactly where it matters. For this, you must define your primary messages.
Primary messages are the core of all the messages that you want your audience to hear. They form a vital part of your PR program and can play an important role in determining the communication channel that you’ll be using. Make sure your primary message is believable, credible and easily understandable.
Choose your channels
Now we come to the next important part: media channels. Choosing the right media channels is essential to ensuring that your message reaches the audience in the right manner. Of course, this will depend on the type of audience that you’re trying to reach out to.
Whatever channel you choose, make sure that you are able to communicate with the largest part of your target audience. By doing so, you ensure that your message is disseminated across the greatest possible populace, and hence has a significant impact.
Using freelancers to build your PR network
If you don't have the budget to hire a full-time in-house PR and communications expert, you can build a great comms network just using freelancers.
Use freelancers to create press releases
The press release will be your number one tool for getting your brand in the media. Press releases are typically written in the style of a news story, contain some interesting news or commentary from your company and generally a few quotes from a brand spokesperson.
This is where freelancers come in. While the cost of maintaining a regular PR department may be prohibitive for you, you can always look to hiring freelancers for doing your job. And press releases are an excellent way of ensuring that you reach out to the largest possible audience.
Press releases can allow your business to achieve a larger demographic footprint within a very short time. However, in order to do this effectively, you must guide your freelancer team in how they can prepare and disseminate the press releases. The first step to doing this successfully is to define the topics for the press releases.
Share the purpose of your press releases with the freelancers, and allow them to come up with their own innovative inputs. By virtue of working with a varied range of industries, freelancers often have unique insights into problems that full-time, static professionals cannot muster. So leverage this experience and help them to come up with the right topics for your press releases.
To get a freelance writer to create a press release, just draft out a few bullet points of the information you'd like to get into the media, tell the writer a bit about the target audience and offer them a couple quotes to use. You'll also want to share any relevant data to help support the release.
Use freelancers to distribute your press releases
Before you get to distributing your press releases, you'll want to build up a good media contact list. Hire a freelance virtual assistant
to do some research and compile a list of journalists and publications that regularly cover topics relevant to your industry. Have them put together a spreadsheet with the names of the publications, the names of the journalists, the journalists' contact information and notes on each journalist's areas of interest or expertise. They should also include a column on the traffic and circulation numbers for each publication so you can get an idea of potential audience reach.
Once this list is compiled, you can get your freelance virtual assistant to work through the list for each press release you intend to distribute. Have them start with the largest publication and offer the publication exclusive first dibs on your press release. If the publication passes, they should move on to the next largest publication, and so on.
The reason for doing it in this order is that, if you manage to get your release covered by a large publication, it's likely to be reprinted or linked to by lots of other media platforms. But if the release runs in a smaller publication first, the larger ones are likely going to ignore it. For example, a site like "Big Jim's Tech Blog and Periodic Conspiracy Theories" will probably pick up your release if Cnet runs it first, but if you give it as an exclusive to Big Jim first, Cnet's not gonna touch it with a 10 foot pole.
Now, once your virtual assistant has worked their way down your list and your press release has been distributed accordingly, you can wait 24 hours or so and then have them distribute it via a press release platform like PR Newswire. They can also send the release out as an email to the contact list they've put together.
Another way to get your brand in the news is to offer expert commentary. Position yourself as an expert in your industry, and then offer yourself up for interviews. Your virtual assistant can help with this as well. After they've put together your target publication list, they can keep an eye on trending news items running in the publications and contact journalists on your behalf to offer them an interview.
Another great platform for positioning yourself as an expert commentator is Help A Reporter Out, or HARO. This online platform connects journalists with experts offering commentary. There are free accounts which will send you a daily email rundown of the topics reporters are seeking commentary on, and paid accounts which will filter commentary requests by industry, and connect you with the journalists seeking commentary.
Once your message gains traction, however, the next important task comes into play.
Track the effectiveness
This is the final and most important step in determining the success of your PR strategy. Just delivering the message and waiting for it to reap benefits is not enough. You need to proactively track every facet of your campaign, and make sure that it’s giving you the results that you seek.
To do this effectively, you need to create measurement standards and tools that can track the key performance indicators that you’ve set up for your PR success tracking. This can range from whether your press releases have reached the required number of people or not, whether they’ve had the desired effect, or if you’ve reached your target audience within the set time frame. Press mentions are another great metric to track. You can do this pretty easily by setting up a Google News Alert for your brand's name, or you can use more comprehensive tools like BuzzSumo. Again, this is a good task for a freelance virtual assistant. They can track the effectiveness of each PR campaign and compile a report on the press mentions and audience reach each one generates.
Monitoring your success is essential in determining if your PR efforts are giving you the right returns or not. By measuring the effectiveness of your campaign, you can actually refine your PR process and ensure that future campaigns don’t fall short of any requirements.
Whether it’s through social media, press releases or traditional advertising, public relations, and communications are a part of your business strategy that you just cannot afford to ignore.
By hiring freelancers to take care of your PR efforts, you stand to reap multiple benefits. Freelancers come from diverse professional backgrounds and have exposure across multiple industry verticals. Hence they can bring coherent expertise to the table which other PR professionals cannot.
And finally, it must be mentioned that the cost of hiring freelancers for your PR and Comms campaign is only a fraction of what it would take for maintaining a full PR department. Utilizing the power of freelancing in order to create a stellar PR campaign is not only possible, but also highly effective and profitable.