Stealth Marketing: How to Put Local PR To Work for You

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1 Stealth Marketing: How to Put Local PR To Work for You 2003 Ferguson Caras LLC 2003 Aquascape Designs, Inc.

2 Stealth Marketing: How to Put Local PR to Work for You We sometimes refer to public relations as Stealth Marketing. PR flies under the radar screen. It does its work, and most people have no idea how it happened. It s a story that fills the front page of the lifestyle section of a local paper. It s a live TV broadcast on the 5:00 news. It s a radio announcer giving the time and place of an upcoming event. And every single story, broadcast and announcement had one thing in common: they each featured you and your marketing messages. Messages made even stronger because they were no longer marketing messages they were news. How did it happen? You made it happen: because you learned how to make the discipline of PR work for you. You learned how to fly under the radar screen and turn marketing messages into news. Public Relations is not Advertising Most people know what advertising is. Few people can say the same of public relations, even many who think they know. So a comparison can help illustrate what PR is by showing how it s different from advertising. In advertising, you write and produce your own ad, either for newspapers, radio, television or the Internet. Then you pay the media to run your message exactly as you wrote it. In public relations, you write or produce a story, or come up with a story idea. Then you give it to the media, free, no strings attached. They use it or don t use it, as they choose, depending upon its news value. Of course the story you offer the media is one which benefits you. It features your product or business. It tells a valid news story, but you are the example or the quoted expert. The benefits of PR are twofold: Number one: if the media does run your story, it carries the strength of third party endorsement. (This is the difference between you saying how great you are and a trusted public source saying how great you are.) Number two: press coverage is free. Of course the PR efforts necessary to get that free press coverage are not free but they re very cost-effective. More on that later. 1

3 Why PR Works Print editors and broadcast producers need ideas. Every day of every week, they have to fill their pages or their airwaves with news and other interesting stories. It s a tough job, especially at smaller local papers and stations that are often understaffed and overworked. That s where public relations comes in. Put Yourself in the Journalist s Shoes To do PR effectively, you must think like a journalist. You have to come up with the kind of ideas and stories an editor might expect from his own reporters. Then you give those ideas or stories to the media for free. When everything works right, the media gets a good story and you get free publicity. Did you know that up to 75% of the feature stories you read in the daily paper are generated through PR efforts? A feature story is basically anything that isn t hard news like a train wreck. Feature stories make up the bulk of the lifestyle sections of newspapers. And the lifestyle section, where gardening, outdoor & family living and similar topics are covered, is just where you want stories featuring your business to be. Depending upon the newsworthiness of your story, you may also find yourself a good fit for business news and metro sections. Why PR Can Work Especially Well For You One thing local media love is a local story angle. Local reporters and editors will not only appreciate your providing them with good story ideas, they ll be glad to have someone nearby who they know they can rely on to answer questions about water gardening or landscaping. But, remember: for news, you must think of yourself as a consumer advocate, not as a salesman. Be generic. Focus on what s important to consumers. To have credibility, you must suggest a range of information, not just info about the products you yourself carry. You should know the good points and bad points of pre-formed ponds and other low-end products as well. (Note: you can mention other types of products, but you don t have to mention other brand names!!) Good PR can have a snowball effect. You get the ball rolling with good stories and ideas, and editors and reporters will call you for advice when they come up with ideas of their own. As a trusted expert on water gardening, you won t always be addressing just the specific things you do. You ll also be asked to comment on related water gardening topics that you might reasonably be expected to know about. If the topic is birdbaths, well, it is (at a stretch) water gardening. And they might call and ask. You re the expert. Give good advice. If you can fit in something that relates to you, fine. But if it seems awkward to do so, don t. If you can 2

4 help out the journalist on a story that doesn t benefit you directly it just increases your credibility as an expert. There will be another opportunity. Journalists are usually pretty good about understanding why you re such a great source of information. Which means they ll try to make sure that you get what you need out of the deal too, when they can. They value a good source. So long as you re low-key and respectful about what you expect in return, you ll have developed an important and powerful relationship. PR Pitfalls Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of the American system. But it also means that when you talk to a reporter, whatever you say is fair game. Many a businessman after insisting to his PR counsel that he didn t need any help planning his interview has picked up the morning paper only to find that everything he said (when quoted out of context in the reporter s story) made him look like a cross between Attila the Hun and Homer Simpson. On the other hand, when you ve worked out what you re going to say and how you re going to say it before you talk to the reporter, it s easy to avoid pitfalls like that. The PR Point The point being illustrated is this: unlike advertising, in PR you do not have ultimate control, the reporter does. But if you use basic PR skills to think through and plan your strategy, and then present your story clearly, you ll almost always be pleased with the results. Good PR takes careful thought and a planned approach. In the pages that follow, we ll try to give you an idea of how to build story ideas and stories and how to grasp the philosophy behind public relations management. Once you understand how it works, doing PR on a subject you know well is not hard in fact, it can be a lot of fun. Step-by-Step Instructions for Developing a Local PR Program Following are steps you can follow to develop a local PR program. Practice thinking like a reporter. What is it about you or what you know that might be of interest to a reporter s readers/viewers? Remember: you are part of the reporter s public; what kinds of local water gardening stories would interest you? Start thinking of yourself as a local expert in water gardening and landscaping. Present yourself as such to the press. Always think: what special tips can I provide to the person at home reading his newspaper or watching the news. Position yourself as a source of consumer information don t try to sell your business (that s what ads are for). 3

5 Start thinking of timely, how-to story ideas. We ll have come up with a few in the Pond College course. What else can you come up with? Ideas are especially strong if they have a local angle, something that specifically appeals or concerns people in your area. Make a hit list of the local newspapers & magazines you d like customers to read about you in, or TV and radio programs they might catch you on. Read/watch/listen to them and determine where you would fit in. For instance, could you fit in the following: o Business page profile on a local company o City-related news story o How-to story in the newspaper lifestyles section or seasonal garden supplement o Technical story in the Sunday paper o A business or lifestyle story that features your people in a targeted capacity (i.e. how including ponds in your landscaping business has helped you grow, etc.) o A real-estate story on how ponds increase property values o A talk show or live demonstration o A non-profit or charity tie-in event, such as a Parade of Ponds or Ponds for Kids Clip articles that relate to your business or your customers. Get to know the kinds of articles that publications run and who writes them. Who to Call and What to Say First, learn the names of the writers who write about water gardening, landscaping, etc. Call the publication/station and ask the operator What editor would be interested in stories about water gardening or landscaping. (If they put you through to the newsroom, don t get nervous. Ask the question again. If they want to know why, tell them you are updating a media mailing list. Why? Because you are. Make a database of these people and keep it up to date.) When you re ready to pitch, be sure to choose the right editor or reporter for your particular story. For a consumer local human interest/lifestyle story (such as Retired Couple Build Dream Paradise ), you want a lifestyle or gardening editor or even the city desk. The business editor will not be interested. For a story on How a Water Garden Increases Property Value, the real estate editor should have first shot. 4

6 When you call to pitch, be ready you may have to give your story idea on-the-spot in order to get referred to the right reporter. Be concise and talk fast. Practice beforehand. Try to make your whole pitch in under a minute. At a newspaper: call and ask for City Desk, Editorial, or Newsroom (all options may put you through to the same desk). At a TV or radio station: ask for the Assignment Editor, Features Desk or a particular reporter you think will be interested. Ask: Who would cover a consumer interest story about water gardening? If no reporter is named or they ask for more information, proceed with your quick pitch. Or, if you get a name, talk to that person. First introduce yourself ask the person if they have a minute, to be sure they re not on deadline and then give your pitch. Say something like: o Hi, this is (your name). o I m a local landscape contractor and we re involved in an event that sounds like your kind of news with kids at the John Hancock Middle School. It s got kids, dirt, digging and a nonprofit event to benefit the school biology program. Can I go on? o The kids have raised money to install a pond, a living biology laboratory, o We re teaching, lending our expertise, but the kids build the pond. o They re really making a whole eco-system, with plants, big colorful koi fish and everything. o We thought you might like to send a crew. It s going to be a lot of fun with kids getting dirty and working hard for a good cause. Remember: talk fast, be organized. Use a crib sheet with your important points bulleted. You re trying to paint a picture for the reporter. He has to visualize your story and how it will appeal to his audience. (He s always basically on deadline and doesn t care a fig for the particulars of your business. Tell it from his point of view.) Be sure to call media where you advertise, but don t think that necessarily gets you in. Keep in mind that editorial and advertising departments are generally kept totally separate. You can ask your ad representative for advice about the best person to contact, but do not have the rep. talk to the reporter or editor for you. You could make the editorial side angry. The most you should do is tell the editor that Your Rep said you should call and tell your story idea. Send a brief cover letter (pitch letter) to the editor proposing your story idea, including enticing details, including who, what, when, where, why and why you are a logical, credible source for information. Also, 5

7 provide background material on your company, the Aquascape ecosystem, and if appropriate to the story, any background materials that might help: fact sheets, contact lists, press clippings, etc. Keep in mind that your role in PR is to help make the job of the reporter easier: the less legwork he has to do, the more likely he is to squeeze your story into his busy assignment schedule. Be sure all info you provide is accurate and supportable no hype. Never say bad things about the competition. All this does is give the other guy credibility. Focus on the positive things that you do. Include in the letter any local facts which might be of interest to a particular editor. Indicate that you ll call in a day or two to review these topics. Follow up periodically by phone. Get to know your contacts, what interests them and what they cover. Call them with news tips occasionally, even if they have nothing to do with you. If you see an article that you could have been contacted for but weren t, don t call to point this out or complain. Once a story has run, it s too late. Instead, follow up with another story idea. Position yourself as a good source with the media and they ll think of you when they need information. Pitching Your Story Be encouraged: again, 75 percent of newspaper and features stories are generated by PR contact, according to USA Today. A pitch is just a lot like a sales call, only here you are selling (no strings or fees attached) a story to a reporter who may or may not be interested. A reporter s interest will depend upon your idea s: o Freshness o Timeliness o Non-commercial tone o Interest to a wide number of people in your area o Local connection o Visuals (if TV) Start with: o A good idea o A local angle & supporting facts 6

8 o Target the right people o Spell their names right Get on the phone with your reporter and: o Ask if he can talk (if he s on deadline, ask when you can call back) o Let him know you ve sent him materials to arrive tomorrow about xyz story or, o Call him cold and follow up with your letter and/or materials You have about 45 seconds to get the reporter s interest Be organized Have your facts on hand Tell him what readers/viewers will gain Get your local angle in up front Be enthusiastic Be concise Be flexible if he s not interested in Ponds for Kids, maybe he d be interested in a story about how ponds protect against West Nile mosquitoes. Follow-up with a personalized one-page pitch letter: o Three to five paragraphs only o Intriguing opening paragraph o Describe the story idea o Indicate the local angle or the story's benefit to the public o Tell why you are a logical source of this information (a good interview) o Describe visuals o Give details who, what, when o Include your phone/fax/cell numbers, where and why info and street address Follow up by phone o Reporters are hard to reach o Keep calling and leave clear, concise messages that let him know what you are calling about as always the squeaky wheel gets attention Doing an Interview o Remember, the reporter who comes to interview you is "on assignment" and must get the story he came to get. o Keep in mind that your goal is to create a greater awareness of what your business can do for people you did not pay for an ad. A good PR story doesn't have to be about you to 7

9 sell you and your services within your community. By quoting you as a local expert, you gain higher visibility. o Your role is to provide well-rounded information. It s not enough to only focus on the parts of a story that serve you. For example, a story about water gardening might normally include information about entry level products like barrel kits. Even though you may not sell these products, they re part of the over-all water gardening story. Your products represent the high-end of the story. To make the story strong and balanced, include both the high and low end. o Don't say anything you wouldn't want to see on Page One of your local newspaper. Say what you mean avoid jokes or comments that rely on inflection, irony, or a "you had to be there context" to convey to meaning you intend. When you read these quoted out of their context in the paper or see the sound bite on TV, you don t want an unpleasant surprise. o Decide what the worst question you would ever have to answer might be (or questions, plural) and be ready with answers. The Boy Scouts had it right with: Be Prepared. PR is subtle therein lies it credibility and strength. Before the Interview o Do your research. Know the facts o Identify your copy points (a short list of things you want to say) o Work up the interview scenario on paper o Figure out a probable Question and Answer, visuals o Review your facts o Practice answers to probable and improbable questions o Keep them simple, short o No jargon o Get to the point o Don't waste time o Interact with interviewer o Avoid dead-end "yes" or "no" answers Remember it s your interview. No matter what questions they ask, look for opportunities to get your points in. 8

10 In the End Local PR can be a cost-effective and very powerful way to get your marketing messages out to potential customers. At its best, PR creates customer pullthough, literally driving customers to you. At the very least, PR can create a positive attitude toward you, your products and services. It creates credibility, putting people in a buying mood. It can increase the effectiveness of all your other marketing efforts. Aquascape s Ecosystem Ponds are the launching pad for hundreds of great stories the people and the press would be interested in. You and your business are a natural part of those stories. But the most important thing to remember is that PR is a mindset. It s a discipline that you must learn and carry around with you all the time. PR isn t just words, it s actions. You should pass everything you do in your business through a PR prism. Good PR is not free, but it s a wise way to invest your marketing money. Over time, the cost savings can be enormous. Good PR doesn t happen right away. But it builds over time and eventually it becomes much, much easier. So have patience. Good PR doesn t make the final sale. But it can get you in the door, talking to customers who are interested, intrigued and ready to buy that great thing they ve been hearing about in the news. News that only happened, because you learned to fly under the radar. 9

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