by Susan Shelby
The key to effective business development is an integrated approach of marketing and public relations (PR), yet many professional services firms focus solely on marketing at the exclusion of PR. What exactly is PR and why should it be part of your company’s marketing mix?
PR sets the stage for strong client relationships by enhancing your public image and increasing market exposure to create brand awareness and establish your firm as a thought leader. From a business development perspective, PR ensures that “cold calls” are never cold.
What is PR?
As part of an overall communications strategy, PR is an invaluable marketing tool to generate visibility and brand recognition and garner third-party validation through editorial placement. Unlike paid advertising, direct mail, and other communications vehicles, editorial placements are vetted by a neutral third party (the media), lending credibility and trust to your news and expertise. PR’s many tools (press releases, byline articles, media relations, social media, etc.) can also help your firm communicate thought leadership and improve your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) rankings. Using local, national, and industry trade publications — both print and digital — to educate and inform potential clients is a proven step to build name recognition and drive continued sales growth.
To get started, outline your goals and objectives for PR, and be both general and specific. What are you trying to accomplish? Who are you trying to reach? A clear goal is to garner coverage for your firm or project, but decide where you will focus your energies. A favorite monthly vertical? The national business press? At the end of a year, what would success look like? Goal setting is helpful in developing your media strategy and tactical activities, as well as evaluating success later on.
Identify your internal challenges and find an internal champion. Getting internal buy-in will be one of the bigger hurdles to clear when recommending the investment in PR. Understand the corporate goals of the company and convey how a PR program can support business development initiatives. Then, identify a key figure in the organization, preferably on the management team, to support your efforts and sell others on the merits of PR.
Define your target audience and key messages
With PR, it’s important to define your target audience and understand what motivates them. Who are the decision makers who hire your firm? What publications do they rely on to stay current? What conferences do they attend? Your target audience may include current and prospective clients, potential hires, and other influencers in your target sectors and vertical markets. Make a list of target publications by category, including local/regional press, national A/E/C publications, vertical/market press, social media outlets, and online influencers.
To focus your PR efforts, know what you want to say, and more importantly, what you want readers to learn about your company and its services. Craft three to five key messages that communicate your competitive differentiators, and use that messaging across all PR and marketing vehicles. The more consistent and repetitive in spreading your message, the more likely your target audience will hear it and remember it. Remember, it takes seven touches to make an impression.
Create a PR plan
Next, create a comprehensive PR plan that focuses on delivering key messages and valuable content to your target audience based on your business strategy. Set goals for press releases, byline articles, speaking opportunities, industry awards, and general content creation that promotes your firm’s expertise and thought leadership. Develop an annual content calendar for these PR activities, as well as a strategy for the company’s various social media channels, to keep the marketing team on track throughout the year.
In today’s business environment, companies are vying for attention from a myriad of audiences, and it can be difficult to make an impact in such a noisy media environment. Targeted, strategic PR can produce tangible results that raise the visibility of your business.
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations.