Let’s talk: Public relations magic


public relations (PR) brand interview of businesses

Featured | Let's Talk

By Loren Webb

What is public relations and how can businesses really make the most of PR to elevate their brand and reach customers? That’s what we’re answering and discussing in today’s Let’s Talk on “PR Magic.”

Public Relations (PR) is essentially (to take it in reverse) the relationship with your public – and the maintenance and professional work behind that. You can have a good reputation, or a bad reputation – dependent on how you capitalise on PR opportunities and how you are presenting in mainstream media.

PR heavily influences what your existing and potential new customers think of you/your brand. If we think of Westpac’s scandal last year, for example, or the huge underpayments we saw across companies (including George Calombaris) – it conjures up a perception of that person and or business, and in these examples they’re not particularly good ones…

The way companies deal with these issues, and communicate these issues and their solutions, is crucial for their brand. A good or bad reputation is critical and can cause business failure in the worst cases.

Just like public figures, politicians and celebrities, businesses small and large should have some idea of Public Relations and have some sort of strategy in place – whether that’s managed internally or externally through an agency, or both.

Whatever position you’re currently in with PR for your company, we know the below advice from PR and communication experts will help you on your journey.


Lauren Trucksess, Marketing Manager, Investible

A journalist’s job is to uncover and share interesting stories about events and issues that interest or impact the public. So, if you want to earn the media’s attention – tell an interesting story!

Think about the elements of any good story; you’ve got the main characters (which might be your business but more often than not, is your customer), an opportunity, problem or ‘opponent’ and a solution or resolution.

Similarly, you rarely tell a story in the same exact way to different groups of people. When it comes to PR, be sure you personalise your story to suit the publication and its audience.  Research what types of stories the publication typically covers and how they’ve covered similar stories.

Remember, the story is rarely going to be about how amazing your company is. It’s more often about the person who is affected, helped or supported by your business, how the issue addressed is part of a wider trend or the potential knock-on effects. Asking yourself ‘Who cares?’ and ‘Why?’ can be a useful sense-check.”

Alan Smith, Head of Strategic Business Communications, Digivizer

PR for small businesses and startups face the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly fragmented media. But the fundamentals of PR remain unchanged: define what’s news about your story; be ruthless about being honest about differentiation – even with more outlets available, channels won’t cover you simply because you think you’ve done something interesting; build and grow relationships with editors and journalists, wherever they now work, and include freelance writers. Ensure your talent is prepared to talk to media – it’s the CEO or founder who is of most interest. And always answer the question, why would any reader or viewer care about your product or service?

PR is more than media – so consider your expanded network and ecosystem that might include regulators, partners, users and employees. Use social media to engage directly with all your audiences, and create content fit-for-purpose for each relevant social media channel.

Finally, measure everything – coverage is a start (you do have to be seen to be discovered) but use tools to assess and analyse engagement, to measure impressions, and to measure the effects of coverage or engagement on leads or sales. When your news content is shared, seek out and form new relationships with these new influencers or journalists – but always seek permission and deploy respect when pitching. Earned media – what others say about you – is today part of a complex set of dynamics that also include owned media (what you say about yourself) and paid media (paying to take your message to market). Each has its part to play.

Tony Blackie, Founder & Executive Chairman – Blackie McDonald Communication Group

As the marketing industry is getting highly competitive and noisy, it’s crucial for businesses to cut through the noise and to be heard. Having their names out there, with the right message, at right time and through right channel is key. Typically, small businesses don’t have huge marketing budget unlike large corporations. So how do you build awareness around your brand as well as the products/services? The answer is …. PR Magic.

I’m not going to beat around the bush, influencing a journalist to write a story about your client can be one of the hardest things a PR person will ever do. As we all know, journalists don’t need representations from PR people about what is happening in the market, they have their index finger jammed firmly on the social, economic, political and trade pulse. But they are increasingly busy and having someone provide a fresh story idea to write about and precis of the content saves time.

That’s why selecting a good PR agency, who would understand your business objectives and goal is important. Partnering with communication consultants with an ability to develop content that is in line with your core business values and messages will help businesses to gather media traction. Coming up with story ideas that will appeal to the journalist and her/his publication is vital. Getting on board with agencies which have been around for a while and with a strong a track record are always a good bet. Also, someone who have been on the same journey as yours, will always go above and beyond to tell your amazing story to the world.

Jonathan Englert, Founder, AndironGroup

Don’t obsess about PR and definitely don’t start with it in isolation. I actually wrote a book with another journalist based on the wreckage we kept seeing as company after company approached communications as an afterthought. Communications is a broad concept, which includes PR as a subset, and is concerned with every possible touchpoint, every message, tone, voice, expressed philosophy and aesthetic. There are just too many small tech companies with clunky websites and dated logos, worshipping one-off media releases that miss their story, screwing up opportunities to speak clearly. And communications goes well beyond even this. It is about coherence, clarity and expression that is deeply connected to intent and vision.

Good communications means investors, partners, customers, team and, ultimately, media share a similar understanding of a company, hopefully one in which good will is central.  One very practical suggestion for startups and businesses that have never done PR: don’t go the agency route and never do media until you are sure of your voice and its consistency—and never go early.  We once had to change the name of a company because its very unusual name was attached to a horrible review by a well-known tech journalist on a highly-ranked site because of a premature PR campaign. The result was that review was going to always appear on page one no matter how much the product improved, so the name had to go.

Elise Hendriksen, Founder of Shout PR

Working as a publicist for entrepreneurs and startups my advice is:

  1. Make sure you have all assets ready to go before you commence pitching a story (high res images, bio, company backgrounder, any relevant statistics or supporting documents and a press release if needed).
  2. Is what you are sending newsworthy? Make sure it isn’t just an essay about you and your business.
  3. Research and know your audiences inside out – both the end consumer you’re targeting and the publication you are pitching to.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the journalist you are pitching to. What topics do they write about? What is currently in the news that you might be able to offer a new perspective on? What headlines will ultimately get readers to click on them? What can YOU offer THEM? People often make the mistake of being too close to their own business and believing what is interesting to them will be interesting to a news outlet.

Samantha Dybac, founder and managing director, The PR Hub

Most people don’t start a business to become famous. Their motivation usually comes from passion, a desire to work for themselves, or seeing an opportunity to do things differently and better. While this is fantastic, from the outset founders should also think about the role they have to play in the marketing and promotion of their business. Why? Because people buy from people. If your goal is to create awareness and credibility, then your personal brand is the best way to get noticed and differentiate yourself from your competitors. Consider the examples of Steve Jobs and Apple, or Janine Allis and Boost Juice. Both developed a personal brand early on that invited consumers into their world and showed them someone they could not only recognise but, perhaps most importantly, trust. As a small business owner my advice is to think about your expertise and develop a content plan that helps you stand out and takes your business brand along with it.

Felicity Zadro, Managing Director, ZADRO

When it comes to public relations (PR) there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for any business, regardless of size or industry. That’s because PR is used to build awareness, strengthen reputation, develop relationships with the people who matter and get others talking about your products or services. As no small business is the same, and stakeholders aren’t created equally, you will need a different approach to communicate with each of your audiences.

To get the most out of PR you need to implement a strategy. The first step is to establish your business goals and identify the channels your audience use to communicate, remembering there is more than one tool in your PR toolbox. At Zadro we use media relations, partnerships, sponsorships, social media, influencers, training and events to communicate messages to prospects, clients, industry and media. PR is powerful, effective and drives long term business success.

Fran Foo, Director, Kicker Communications

PR is not for everyone and least of all a small business with constant budget constraints.

Before spending a cent on PR, a small business owner should ask themselves a few key questions, including “why do I need PR? And why now?”.

They have to be committed to PR, dedicate time and effort to preparing and properly responding to media enquiries and opportunities in a timely manner (e.g. some journos have a one hour turnaround time).

PR is not a panacea for business woes and in some instances, detrimental to a brand. For instance, timing a PR blitz when there’s insufficient stock is just asking for trouble

As a small business owner, creating and sharing your story with the right media can help build awareness, boost credibility and open doors to new partnerships and customers – provided you get the basics right.

The first step is to speak to a PR practitioner and get their (free) advice on which path to take media-wise.

Maria Cricchiola, Director of Brand communications & PR at SiteMinder

Approach everything with a laser focus. Whether you intend to remain a small business or are a startup with growth aspirations, have clear goals and know how you’re going to get there. It might feel like everything is working against you—from budgets to resources and time—but these limitations can unlock ingenuity, so embrace them. There are a multitude of free or otherwise cost-effective tools and platforms out there, awaiting you. What your business lacks in size, it makes up for in nimbleness; use that to your advantage. The definition of “media” is forever evolving and your nimbleness puts you in a unique position to evolve quickly with it.

Your story is everything and you will need the right people, internally and externally, to help you tell it. (Tip: your time-poor CEO may not be one of those people.) So, make every phone call, email and social interaction count, as the relationships you forge in the beginning will be critical down the line. You may have pressures to hire external support, but consider if that’s really best. Consultants and agencies are great, but they’re also consumers of budgets and time. Recognise your strengths as well as your limitations.

Joanne Painter, Managing Director, Icon Agency

For any small business starting out, PR can be a great way to raise brand awareness and build your brand without the big cost. The key is being targeted, creative, and having a clear objective in mind. Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Decide what you want to be known for – what differentiates your business and why should the media care?
  2. Find your back story. Telling the story behind your brand brings it to life and makes it more personal.
  3. Be targeted. Choose media that align with your target customers. Think about their media habits and try to target your PR into those channels.
  4. Focus on digital media to maximise the SEO uplift. Be sure to ask for a backlink to your website in the article.
  5. Have a plan and stick to it. PR doesn’t happen overnight so it’s important to invest for the long haul.

Follow the above steps and you will be well on your way to PR success.

Tim Lele, Head of Public Relations, Keep Left

If I was to give one piece of advice to small businesses about how to approach earned media, it would be to stop thinking about it as “free advertising”. Reframe your thinking to be about what audience you’re trying to reach, then think about the media they consume. Now you’ve got your publication targets, it’s time to think about what value can you add to those audiences.

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