I often suggest that chambers create press releases for their events and other special happenings to get free publicity. It surprises me how many people these days don’t have the relationship with their local news entity that they once did. But I guess now that everyone is a publisher, it feels less necessary to some. However, local coverage and other free PR (public relations) can help you get the word out with no cost to your chamber other than your time.
So, if you’re ready, here’s a crash course in using PR to help you get some free publicity whenever you have something important to say.
Basic Success Strategy for PR
In this article, you’ll learn the basic steps to getting your story told through PR including:
- Knowing your audience
- Building and maintaining relationships
- Telling (the right kind of) moving stories
- Explaining why they should care
- Following up and continuing the relationships
What Is PR?
Public relations is earned media coverage. It’s “free publicity” because you don’t pay for it in money. The old saying in marketing was you “pay for advertising and pray for publicity.” There are some gray areas in PR involving paid placement, but what we’re covering here is non-paid.
This type of exposure is free to all chambers and something any chamber pro can make happen. It could be in the form of an article in your local paper, television coverage, or even being featured on a podcast with a thought leader.
How Can Free Publicity Benefit You and Your Members?
You may have heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad PR.” The reason many argue that is true is because someone is talking about you even if it’s in a less than desirable way (“bad” PR). You’re part of the conversation.
There are celebrities who have made careers around bad PR based on their wild antics.
We’re not looking to do any of that here.
PR calls attention to your event, organization, issue, or members’ activities from an outside source so it’s not seen as marketing. However, similar to marketing, PR gets people talking about you and amplifies your message. It’s also free.
Strong public relations not only benefit the chamber in helping you do things like sell event tickets or raise funds for your foundation. Your PR connections can help your members as well. Your work as a community connector can become a very valuable part of membership.
But PR is not something you can decide on one minute and succeed in the next. Good PR takes laying some groundwork and here’s how you can start doing that for your chamber and your members.
Mastering the Basics of PR
Many people think PR is all about writing press releases and while that is a component, PR is primarily about building relationships and understanding needs. So let’s walk through how you might do that.
Knowing Your Audience
First, list the media outlets and contact people in your community. Next, ask yourself if there are any influencers or community people who share the type of information you have to share. For instance, there might be a business blogger or economic development person who will give free publicity for businesses opening. Add those people to your list.
Once you’ve created a list of who you’d like to reach, do a little research on them and the type of information they share. This is a critical step because it doesn’t benefit you to try to pitch a down-home-style mom-and-pop success story to a critical economic analyst. It’s not their kind of story.
In order to have a successful pitch, you need to know your audience.
Building and Maintaining Relationships
Once you’ve completed your list and the types of stories each person tends to deal in, make contact with them. Get to know them. Build a relationship and ask them what they need. You are not pitching to them at this point. Do this now. Don’t wait until you have a “favor” you want to ask.
Explain that as a chamber professional you have access to a lot of information and people and if there’s something specific they are looking for, you’d love to keep an eye out for them.
Then follow through. Give and give often. Don’t pitch anything until you’ve established that relationship.
PR is a long game of building relationships.
Telling (the right kind of) Moving Stories
So you’ve done your research. You know what kinds of stories each media outlet or influencer wants. You’ve built those relationships and helped them first. Now you need to pitch your free publicity need in a way that is appealing to that person.
When you looked at what they share and you’ve spoken to them about their needs, you likely have developed an idea of the kinds of stories they want. Touch base with each of your contacts and ask them what form they prefer to receive a story in. Explain that you have something you think would be perfect for their needs and their audience but you want to give it to them in the format that is most helpful. Most will ask you to write a press release but some may tell you to send it over in an email.
You can pitch the same story several ways for publicity or coverage in different outlets. Just as you would tailor your resume to the type of job you’re applying for, you should tailor your story or pitch based on the recipient.
For example, if you have a ribbon cutting for a new restaurant business, you may pitch it like this to these sources:
- home town paper: that loves human interest stories: play up the story of the owner, the hardships that were overcome, or the nostalgic reason behind why they chose to locate their business in your town. If your chamber is a contributor to the local paper, include PR stories when appropriate.
- the Econ development blog: interests include stats and new jobs. Instead of telling the owner’s story, you’d focus on what the new business is bringing to the community. How many new jobs, in what sector, what future growth is possible, etc.
- the food critic or other niche influencer: here you would describe the types of dishes the new business will be serving or what the new restaurant brings to the community plate. (Whatever your new business, there is likely a reviewer or influencer who would take note.)
- the local TV channel: that has an interest in giving back stories. Focus on how this restauranteur is giving back to the community through donations or charity nights, etc.
It may seem like more work to reframe each of your pitches to the specific needs of the groups you are targeting but you are more likely to get coverage if you give them what they need.
The best stories (that get coverage) are those that will move an audience to feel or do something.
Explaining Why They Should Care
Now that you have given them the angle and the details for the story in a way that they prefer (press release, bullet points, video footage, etc.), it’s important that your cover letter (or email) contain a very important point: why they should care.
Yes, it’s great news to you the chamber and your member but why should this other person and–more importantly–their audience care?
What’s the “so what?” here? (Tailored to their interests.)
The “so what” takes the tailoring of the story a step further to the reason the story is so important at that moment. The “so what” is not more jobs, for instance. The “so what” is, for example, more jobs at a time when the local economy has 12% unemployment. Draw that correlation for them and spell it out. Yes, they will do their own research but apply the information for them in a way that makes it impossible not to understand why this is such a big deal.
You may have to be creative in finding interesting correlations and showing why they (and their audience) will care but that is what will get you free publicity.
Following Up and Continuing the Relationships
After you presented your story, thank them for their time and continue to build on your existing relationship regardless of whether they cover your material or not. Remember, there’s a lot involved in a story and sometimes even good ones get passed on due to space or other things going on at the same time.
Reach out periodically and help your contacts whenever you can. Continue to touch base with them and find out what they need. Invite them to chamber events.
Maintain a good relationship with them so that they think to call you first.
Succeeding in public relations is a give and take. There are issues and events you want to get covered. Your contacts need stories to tell. But they need the right kind of stories. These tips will help ensure that you get free publicity and they get great stories to tell.