Start-ups and smaller business looking to make a splash in a market often look to PR as a cost-effective and valuable means of raising awareness quickly. But how do you avoid the pitfalls and head for a successful PR solution? Deborah Lewis, @DeborahInComms, PR professional and reputation specialist, shares her five steps for success.

1. Map audiences carefully

Seth Godin has wonderful advice for businesses on defining their target audiences: be as exclusive as possible. Focusing on a small clearly defined group is vital to success in an age when media is so fragmented. The more you focus, the greater the impact. 

So for example, don’t just say your audience is mothers. Is there a particular age group, regionality or interest? Do they shop in a particular place or are there other linking factors? There are millions of mothers in just the UK. If you try to reach them all in one go you will end up diluting your effort and failing to make impact.

2. Research key influencers

The reason that PR works so effectively is that it is based on word of mouth by other people who believe in your company or product and want to share their opinions. They can be journalists, experts, academics, pundits, gurus – or self-appointed spokespeople such as bloggers or YouTubers. These are the key people who will act as multipliers for your message, reaching audiences in the most credible and motivating manner possible.

Once you have mapped your key audiences, identify the key influencers that affect them.

Once you have identified them, rank them in order of importance and also how difficult they will be to reach. Spend time identifying how they communicate. If it’s a journalist, read some of their articles to check key areas of interest and how they report on products or companies. If it’s a blogger, check on their PR policy and make sure they are interested in approaches by businesses. If they are, check how they work.

For example, some YouTubers or Vloggers are now so influential that they will do very little without some form of sponsorship or payment. This could be in the form of an experience or a gift of your product. Either way, make sure you plan for these costs in advance. 

3. Craft your message and approach – more than one if need be - focusing on what makes you memorable

Unless your company has recently launched a smart watch, very few companies and products are unique or newsworthy in themselves.

However, every company has a good story to tell about its culture, products, people, customers, methods and beliefs.

Focus on those factors that make you memorable or different. Perhaps you source your products differently from your competitors, or you process them in order to preserve or add character. Maybe it is your quality checking process – or your customer service – that sets you apart. 

Then craft your story to make it relevant to each target influencer. Link your story to their interests and be clear about how you think your message will resonate with their audiences. If your pitch is win/win it will be much more likely to succeed.

4. Share all editorial via your social media channels – and say thank you

Once you achieve editorial, endorsements and other collateral from key influencers, use it as your own content through your social media channels.

Also check the social media channels of the influencers themselves. Often they will post links to articles, podcasts and videos to Twitter or Facebook. They will appreciate your sharing and reposting their messages as it helps them to reach new audiences also.

Above all, use social media to say thank you. No one is obliged to be complimentary about your business and your product and even in this brave new world of technology, good old fashioned appreciation can work wonders.

5. Be prepared for rejection

PR works and is increasingly effective in a world where what companies say about themselves carries less and less weight. 

However, journalists, bloggers and other influencers are being targeted all the time by other companies with competing and conflicting messages. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to see an article published after you send out products and explain their benefits. Don’t be surprised if some influencers reject your advances altogether.

There will be many who will welcome your message. Nurture them and find ways to get them to write about you again.

Think of it as a sales process. You need to chip away at it, listen, make the benefits of what you are doing clear and relevant. It takes time, but if you do it with authenticity, passion and commitment, it yields outstanding results in the end.

Deborah Lewis, The Hero Machine