Does Everybody Know Your Name?

Linley McConnell

Curious to know how your competitor landed in the Sunday paper? Why do they get on the evening news for doing something good? They seem to be everywhere. They just catch all the breaks!

Actually, they are working hard to make their name synonymous with cleaning in your area. It’s very intentional. And you can do it, too. This month I’m sharing everything you need to know about public relations, a marketing tactic used to generate brand awareness, and how to implement a PR strategy within your own business.

What is PR?

Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds a positive bridge between businesses and the public. Businesses, public figures like politicians or celebrities, and not-for-profits can hire PR agencies to manage their reputation, to develop a communications strategy, and to pitch strategic stories to media outlets. ‘Traditional’ PR focuses on leveraging media like print, television and radio. While PR agents still pitch to these types of outlets, there is now a larger focus on partnerships with content creators and brands on social platforms.

There are two main types of PR coverage: paid and unpaid. ‘Paid coverage’, as the name implies, is paid content. For example, you pay for your business to be featured in a magazine article. Unpaid or ‘organic coverage’ is free. Due to the precarious media landscape, today’s media are incentivized to find paid placements; however, there are still plenty of opportunities to have your business featured for free. Here are my tips to make that happen.

Step 1: Build a Media List

Before you think you have the perfect ‘story idea’, it’s important to acknowledge your key stakeholders. Ask yourself: If I could choose any TV show, radio show, magazine, etc., what visibility would drive the most value for my business? During this process, be aware of your own personal bias. You may love sports radio, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best place to reach your customer.

It’s also important to be realistic. Start with outlets that are attainable – like local news, radio and small publications. Building a media list is like building any contact list. Begin a search for the relevant producer, writer or host. Everyone has an email! If it’s hard to find an individual’s email, you can always call the station or publication and ask for it, or start with the newsroom’s general mailbox. You can find emails on LinkedIn, through a Google search and on company websites.

Step 2: Brainstorm

Once you have a media list, you can develop a ‘pitch’ or story idea. Producers, writers and creators are also running businesses, so make sure your idea will get their attention. Here are some prompts to get you thinking about potential story ideas:

National Days’: Consider ‘National Red Wine Day’ or a ‘National Dry Cleaning Day’. How can you relate a special holiday or national day to your company? For example, Gibson’s was featured on blog Vita Daily for a story about red wine stain removal for National Red Wine Day. The day doesn’t have to be specific to cleaning. Tie in with something like national holidays to communicate that you clean flags at no charge, or offer veteran discounts.

Seasonal Pitches: Seasonality is predictable and a popular media hook. In our industry we can offer our expertise at those seasonal habitual cues like ‘how to store your winter wardrobe items’.

Press Releases: A press release is a document sent to the media to share an announcement or product launch. Examples in our industry include:

  • Significant company milestones (Celebrating 100 years in business).
  • Being first-of-kind (e.g.: Going No Plastic, using a new environmentally friendly process, etc.).
  • Announcing a Partnership (e.g.: Gibson’s Cleaners partners with Canada Goose); keep in mind that to share a press release of this kind, you may need to get permission from your partner. Chances are, they are as eager to get publicity as you are, and may be sending their own release out. Why do your own? You’re sure to get top billing that way!

Sporadic Moments: Once you get familiar with PR, you may start to reach out to media at opportune times. For example, you cleaned ‘one hundred Santa suits’ and want to share this with local media.

Step 3: Draft Your Pitch

Once you have your idea, you’ll need to craft what PR agents call a ‘pitch’. A pitch should be a tightly written paragraph with a hook or lead-in sentence explaining your story idea. (Here is a guide that goes deeper on pitch writing.)

You know your business better than anyone. When you write a pitch, it’s effective to reference a spokesperson or someone who can speak on behalf of the company. This should be an individual who is comfortable with public speaking. While an owner may be an obvious choice, it can also be a key employee or family member, if you are a family business.

Here is an example pitch about a fictitious company, ‘Bubbles Cleaners’.

Hi Reporter Name,

It’s Prom Season! While this should be a milestone event for teenagers, did you know that one of every eight high school students can’t afford a special outfit for their graduation? That’s why Bubbles Cleaners has partnered with Prom Drive Dreams to collect and clean over 250 gently used prom outfits for those in need. Currently these dresses and suits are waiting to be sent to Prom Drive Dreams’ boutique. It’s a spectacular sight to see. Come take a VIP tour to see the spectacular variety of garments! We would love to share more with your team about how this dream came to life to make high schoolers’ dreams possible.

Would you be in interested in speaking with Suzie MacNeil, Bubbles Cleaners CEO and President, about this amazing initiative? We look forward to hearing from you! (Contact info here.)

Step 4: Reach Out and Follow Up

Now it’s time to use your media list and send out your pitch. It’s best practice to tweak your outreach email by individual (sending them out individually, addressed to an actual person); however, you can send an email blast to a list if you’re short on time. If you choose this method, it is critical to put the email list in your bcc (blind carbon copy) address box. It’s risky sending them this way, since many media outlets screen out things with multiple addressees. Will it really take you so long to copy, paste and address emails to 10 outlets, rather than one blast?

Once you’ve sent your initial outreach, it’s important to follow up with each media outlet to ensure they’ve seen your email. This email could say something like:

Hi Reporter Name,

I wanted to reach out to make sure you had a chance to read about our recent partnership with Prom Drive Dreams. Suzie, our CEO, would love to connect with your team and share more about this incredible initiative and to show your team the 250 dresses and suits that will create a fairytale ending for many deserving teens. (Include contact info as before.)

Step 4: Be Prepared

While it can be disheartening to not hear back from reporters to whom you send your pitch, it can be overwhelming when you do. If a journalist or media professional follows up, you’ll need to be ready. These people are busy and will give you a day and time they’ll send a camera or writer over to your plant. The ‘media world’ in most cities and towns is quite incestuous and small. If you are difficult to work with, show up unprepared, or do not deliver on your pitch, you will not be re-engaged.

Step 5: Lights, Camera, Action

Great news! A reporter has picked up your pitch and wants to write about your story. Put your preparation into practice and then sit back and enjoy seeing your business in the spotlight!

It can be exciting to have a successful PR response, but remember that it should complement an already robust marketing strategy that you are running. Do not expect to be on TV once and generate exponential sales. PR is a slow-build activity. You are creating a relationship with the media and with your community. Any good relationship takes time.

While PR may sound intimidating, it’s simply telling your unique stories to relevant stakeholders. I encourage you to give it a try.

Would you be interested in a PR toolkit specifically for dry cleaners? Let us know in the comments below.

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