PR on a budget

You don’t have to have big budgets and or a full-time marketing team to run an effective PR campaign. You don’t even need to have loads of great press relationships or ready-made news stories waiting to be shared (although these do help!). You just need a really great campaign plan, a bit of time, organisation and the right tricks and tools for the job. That’s where this list can help – follow our quick-fire, step-by-step guide to doing PR on a budget in 2019.

 Setting the strategy

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Who are you trying to reach

Work this out before anything else – who are you trying to speak to and what are you hoping to achieve from PR? ‘More business’ is probably the quick answer, but go into more detail than that – who are those potential customers, where are they, what businesses do they run or work for, how old are they and so on. Most importantly, how many of them do you need to reach for your next PR campaign to be a success? If you can, put a monetary value on each lead so you can measure the value of each new enquiry to your business and work out how much budget you can afford.

Think like they do

If you’re going to reach these customers through PR you need a clear idea what’s important to them, and where they get their information from. What kind of media do they consume, which industry publications do they read or subscribe to, which social media platforms do they use and which other brands, companies (or competitors) do they follow, engage with and admire. You can ask your existing customers or do your own research if you’re confident. The answers you get will depend hugely on your business, what you’re selling, and who you’re selling to, but you should now be starting to build a picture, a persona, of the people you’re trying to talk to and where your business needs to be featured.

Make a dream target list

Where do you want to get featured? It’s as simple as that. Make a list of all the places you’d love to appear if you could wave a magic wand. Aim big (why not) and don’t limit or undersell yourself. Split your list by local, national, broadcast and then news websites or publications for your industry and those of your future customers. Include online, offline, broadcast and social media.

Work out what you’ve got to say

This is where lots of companies can come unstuck and just go back to paying for advertising instead. PR takes planning, perseverance and patience, but first you’ve got have something to say. So… what do you want to say? What do your customers care about, and what problems can you solve for them? What are you an authority on, and what do you want to be known for being the best at? Then work out what evidence you’ll need to back up your claims. Bring all of those steps together and your PR messaging will really be starting to take shape.

Planning your PR campaign

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Make a PR calendar

This should ideally cover the 12 months, with three months in detail, and be reviewed once a month to keep things on track. There are some great paid-for tools out there to help you plan and keep track of your campaigns (Teamwork is one of the best), but a simple spreadsheet will do. On the x axis, put the dates (either monthly, weekly or daily depending on how much detail you need to go into). On the y axis, put all of the media channels you want to focus on, including (but not exclusively):

  • Press releases
  • Broadcast opportunities
  • Forward features
  • Thought leadership
  • Email marketing
  • Social channels
  • Awards & events
  • The list goes on and on…

 Group these together by PR campaign, and you’re in business. Now the challenge is to fill in the blanks, but remember…

(almost) everything is a potential story

Map out the next year for your business and your industry, locally or nationally. What news, milestones or events are coming up that relate to your business, directly or indirectly? Even the smallest thing has the potential to be a story with enough planning and creativity, so don’t be too quick to discard seemingly insignificant things.

Hunt out forward feature lists

All of the big print publications have forward features lists if you dig deep enough on their website or call up the switchboard. It’s in their interest to let people know what they’ll need and when, so get your hands on them and find the features where you can contribute your expertise.  Do this in detail at least twice a year. Add these into your plan and then remind yourself a month or two before each one is due.

Follow the news

Maybe this sounds obvious but I’m including it regardless because if you’re going to catch PR opportunities early then you need to be reading, listening to or watching the news every morning. Whether it’s the Today Programme, a daily national (print or digital), local business news or through social media (handle that last one with care, for obvious reasons), the more you do it the more ideas it will give you.

Subscribe to industry news

Another great source of PR opportunities. Subscribe to any industry emails that you or your customers care about. Don’t miss the great data visualisation emails sent out by the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS); you’ll frequently hear these making the news after its arrived in your inbox. Google Alerts are a great free tool as well.

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Find the right journalists

If you don’t, your wasting everyone’s time. Start with your dream media list, who are the journalists writing for them about the things that you can contribute to? What are they saying on Twitter?Read their previous articles and discard them if you honestly cant give them something they’ll be interested in. If you can, great, start working out what you’ve got to say that would peak their interest.

Tap into regular news stories

You’ll start to see how many of the same themes get revisited time and again. For example, there are monthly reports released for many industries, quarterly national economic figures, and many many yearly reports from industry bodies and local councils that you can contribute to and/or comment on quickly once they’re released. A simple monthly reminder is sometimes all it takes not to miss the opportunity.

Copy your competitors

See what they’re doing better than you, so you can go one better still. If they’re achieving great PR results, what stories are they putting out there, which publications and journalists are picking up their story. Try doing this for other companies that you admire too.

Create a list of PR and blog ideas

Get away from your desk and separate the ideas stage from the delivery. This is the really fun bit – an afternoon with the whole team without distractions can give you more great ideas than days of research. Keep your ideas sessions structured; set time limits and split it up by sectors if you’re trying to talk to lots of different audiences.

Getting your story out there

Press release essentials

If you’re writing a press release, just make it easy for the journalist. Simple, straightforward language (the who, why, where, what and how within the first few lines), and where can they or their readers to go find out more. It doesn’t need to be a tome (better if not, to be honest) but it does need proofreading. It’s great if your press release ultimately gets used verbatim, but it’s more important just to get the essential information to the right person in time for them to use it.

Invest in images and video

Never send out a story without at least one of these, so invest in good photography. It’ll be the best money you spend (after expert PR support of course) and wont break the bank. If you can’t stretch to professional photography, there are some great free stock photo websites out there (see Pexels or Unsplash), or take the photo yourself on a phone if you have to.

Boost your chances of getting covered

Some quick, simple steps can be the difference between your story getting covered or canned. Only ever send out stories in the morning, for example, unless you’ve got no choice. Don’t send out a new story on Friday, unless you’ve got no choice, and don’t call or email on deadline day, unless (yep, you guessed it). Above all, just try to give a journalist ample notice of a good story so they have to time to plan it in.

Winning the pitching war

Journalists are bombarded with pitches, so you have to stand out. See this great guide from Gaby on stacking the deck in your favour

Don’t annoy them!

Journalists hold the key to getting any PR story covered. End of. Here’s a detailed guide to keeping them on side, from former journalist turned PR man David.

Make more of every story

If it’s a press story you’re sending out, don’t stop there. Get it on your website. Get it out on social media. Pitch in follow up features or opinion pieces on the back of it. Always be thinking: ‘How can I add to or carry on this conversation for the people I’m trying to reach’.

React to breaking news

It can often be fastest finger first when it comes to securing coverage on a breaking news story.

Extra bits to remember:

  • Can you help a journalist?
  • Don’t be shy
  • You are an expert
  • Don’t make everything an advert
  • Keep personal & business views separate
  • Tell someone the story
  • Practise!

Working out what works

Don’t miss your coverage

You’ve done all the hard work getting yourself in the news; don’t miss the chance to give yourself a pat on the back by actually enjoying the fruits of your labour. Track down all of your PR coverage and then share it across your social platforms. Watch out for copyright issues here; sharing a link to the original online coverage is fine, but don’t share it on your website in full without paying your dues to the the NLA or CLA first. Save hours of hunting with tools like Coveragebook, Mention or just simple Google Alerts.

Use your Analytics

Make sure Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are set up on your website correctly before you start any PR campaign. You’ll need to justify the impact of your work to someone, even if it’s just yourself, so work out the position you’re starting from, and then use the website stats to measure the impact of each PR campaign as you go.

Measure the value

This is a whole other blog post in itself (which it will be very soon – watch this space). Look beyond how many press cuttings you’ve got and think about circulation figures, social shares, new linking domains, # of UK adults reached, new website visitors, new leads and so on. This is essential if you’re going to understand what works and try to bottle it. Look up the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework – this is the gold standard for PR and communications teams so if yours isn’t working in this way, ask them why not.

PR & SEO essentials

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Crisis comms: plan for the worst

Fingers crossed, a crisis communications plan will be a complete waste of your time. But should you ever need it in a hurry it will be the best time you’ve ever spent. Essential things include a chain of command that’s briefed and knows the plan and some template press statements to help your team react quickly during the so-called ‘golden hour’. But there’s a lot more to it than that so put some time aside just for this and speak to us for help.

Case studies

Let your satisfied customers be your biggest advocates – often it’s these people who journalists really want to speak to anyway. Show people what you’re up to, who you’re working for, and don’t make testimonials anonymous unless you absolutely have to. A good bank of case studies are a PR team’s dream.

Google My Business

So many companies still aren’t making the most of their Google My Business account, including the basics such as claiming their business listings and keeping their opening hours, map locations and photos up-to-date. Extra tips for standing out include Google Reviews and Google My Business Posts; a still underrated way of engaging with customers who find your business with your latest news, events or offers. These posts expire every week so you’ll need to keep adding new ones regularly.

Google Search Console

More SEO than PR, but no good PR campaign can ignore the SEO performance of a company website anymore (if indeed it ever could). If you haven’t already, get all of your domains set up on Search Console and linked to your Analytics Properties so you can see which search terms people are using to find you online. It could be a rich untapped source of future story ideas.

Awards and events

When it comes to awards, you’ve got to be in it to win it. For more tips on filling up the trophy cabinet, here’s our guide to winning business awards. And never turn down a speaking opportunity to share your expertise with a room full of potential customers either… you never know where it might lead.

And finally,

Don’t try to do everything all at once!

Happy hunting. If you want more help putting your next PR campaign into practice, get in touch.