PR for women-owned businesses
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Nobody is ever going to pay as much attention to your business as you do. Once you acknowledge that, you can stop wasting your time on press releases and start figuring out more creative ways to gain attention for your business. In my experience, when you capture the right strategy, recruit the best messengers and expertly execute a creative event, media attention will follow.
Many companies and organizations treat public relations events as a task on a to-do list that has little or no relationship to an overall business strategy. Send press release. Check. Recruit influencers. Check. Host an event—ah, we’re all too busy, so how about just a happy hour at our new office that only our friends and family attend—check. But actually collecting press clips and qualified business leads? The line falls flat on that.
To leverage an impactful event for your business, you need a dual perspective. That requires identifying your ideal customer and your ideal news source. What sort of event will resonate with your target audience and inspire them to engage with your brand? Which reporter at your dream news outlet covers your beat, and what can you do that is newsworthy enough to catch his or her attention?
Scratch the white linens and plastic wine glasses so that your next PR event packs a punch with potential customers and creates a real opportunity for media coverage.
In 2015, I helped rocket Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s effort to pass universal pre-K for the state’s four-year-olds into the media and the hearts and minds of voters. Knowing the target audience was parents of preschoolers, I created new lyrics to the popular song from Frozen, “Let It Go,” framing it as “Let Them Learn” and partnered with the national parenting magazine Mamalode to create interactive events across Montana’s larger towns. We hired a face painter, provided hot cocoa, and of course, “Elsa” and other characters from the movie were on hand to excite the kids. The campaign drew hundreds of parents and educators who contacted legislators to support the bill.
Always think of your event as part of a campaign, regardless of whether you work in politics.
What’s the win? How does your event fit into the larger narrative you are trying to weave across all your marketing channels? A stand-alone event can only accomplish so much, and ideally, it will reflect your key messages and amplify the “echo chamber” created by integrated marketing tactics like digital ads, social media, print, billboards, or radio and TV ads. An integrated campaign has a creative concept, an attention-grabbing headline and strategic actions for people to take—all of which work together to funnel your audience to take action.
One of my proudest professional moments came when my former client, national nonprofit Women’s Voices for the Earth, signed off on my idea to spoof Justin Timberlake’s “Dick in a Box” video in order to draw attention to toxic chemicals in menstrual products that could harm women’s health. Our “Detox the Box” campaign targeted Procter & Gamble, and the video we produced shattered the organization’s records for social media engagement and number of views on youtube (more than 74,000). Since the client was a national membership organization, “events” were mostly virtual and the call to action was to convince women to contact P&G and ask them to remove harmful chemicals from their products.
Remember, your next PR event doesn’t have to require a hotel ballroom—make it digital.
Are you targeting busy moms who can’t get away? Or perhaps entrepreneurs in need of your services but who lack predictable schedules? Tailor your event to meet your audience’s needs and know that may mean going beyond the four walls mentality to bring your event to more people, perhaps even hosting it exclusively online.
A digital PR event might be anything from a live Q&A with your company’s CEO or an uber-successful franchisee or perhaps its a guerilla marketing stunt captured by cameras while attendees tune in live. Remember Red Bull’s space jump? That event was created solely for the purpose of capturing media and customer attention. Red Bull had a large net to cast since the product is available nationwide, so they needed to do something that would capture a large target audience as well as members of the media.
Needing only a screen and internet access—two things nearly all consumers have these days—this virtual event launched Red Bull to the coveted top-of-mind consumer headspace. Six months after the event Red Bull reported a sales increase of over 7%.
You don’t need Red Bull’s budget or to drop a human from the sky to communicate your message to your desired audience. When it comes to your business’ events, creativity and gumption can take your brand or cause a long way. What events have worked well for you in the past, or perhaps fell flat? I’d love to hear about your experience via Twitter @caitlincopple or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a former journalist, I appreciate the grit and heart that it takes to produce accurate and informative news stories day after day. I cringe every time I see an attack on the press. With #fakenews regularly invoked by politicians at the highest levels, the hashtag has become a punchline, and it’s easy to feel despondent about the future of our democracy. But I’m an optimist, or at least aspire to be, and as a public relations professional, the era of #fakenews offers an opportunity for people and businesses doing good to shine.
Scrutiny of the press has made consumers more discerning, but that’s good news. A discerning customer is a good customer. By the time they’ve found and vetted your product or service, they’ve determined they can trust you, and that trust will hold as long as you continue providing a solution to their problem and living up to your values. Here are four ways to strengthen trust with your customers through earned media.
Know your audience. Marketing 101 teaches you about understanding the likes and behavior of your target customer, but now more than ever, brands need to understand what media sources are trusted by their audience, and where and how targeted consumers get their news. A customer may have their guard up when they see a commercial, billboard, or digital ad, but when your company is featured in a beloved news outlet, you’re one step closer to gaining their trust. According to a study done by Nielsen, 58% of consumers trusted editorial content over just 33% that reported online banners as trustworthy. If a news outlet your target customer respects has determined your company is worthy of a positive news story, that customer is more inclined to agree and purchase a product or patronize your services.
Hire a trusted team. With PR pros outnumbering journalists by six to one, it’s not just consumers who have their guard up. Members of the media are understandably suspicious, and it doesn’t help that they often get pitches that are not a fit for their outlet or beat. Make sure your PR team researches the types of stories reporters are looking for and knows how to pitch to them in a succinct, respectful way. In the face of staff layoffs and budget cuts, many news outlets face pressure to crank out content quickly and frequently, so if your team gives them a story that’s worth writing, they are more likely to engage with you or at least give your pitch full consideration.
Walk the walk. Your company lands a big story in a best-fit publication, and your inbox is lighting up with sales leads. That’s great, but you’ve still got to play the long game. Your company must deliver an excellent product or service that lives up to its brand promise and values, delivering on your claims of transparency, character, and backbone. If you’re not living up to the promises you make, consumers will sniff you out as a fake and you may lose them for good. When acquiring a new customer can cost up to five times more than retaining one, your company’s success relies on maintaining a positive relationship with customers who have already converted.
Be newsworthy… for the right reasons. Most businesses exist to solve problems. Many of these problems are extremely compelling, at least among my clients. Whether your business is trying to end the childcare shortage and support high-quality early education or dismantle the traditional barriers to women succeeding as attorneys, hone in on the most interesting messengers to help tell your story in the press. Stand out when it aligns with your brand’s personality. Be creative when you examine your press release from a journalist’s perspective. Find a way to capture the attention of your target audience and tell a story that makes a lasting connection.
Pride season is in full swing (pun intended), and corporations are decking themselves out in rainbows and sponsoring parades.
That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not meaningful brand activism either.
As someone who grew up in a suburb of Boise, the LGBTQ hub of my deeply red state, I’m heartened when I see major Idaho corporations publicly supporting Pride. My jaw dropped when I drove past the billboard on JUMP (the nonprofit community center built by the heirs of french fry magnet J.R. Simplot) advocating the 30th anniversary of Boise Pride.
As a kid attending public school in Nampa during the 1990s, I didn’t know a single openly LGBTQ person. The messages I heard about sexuality were overwhelmingly straight, white, Christian, and conforming. In my town, gay men were considered disease-ridden perverts; lesbians were unattractive tomboys who couldn’t “get a man,” and bisexuals were confused sluts, if they existed at all. (Trans+ people certainly didn’t.) It wasn’t until I left Idaho in 2005 that I began the journey to accept my queer identity.
My upbringing in Nampa was 20-plus years ago, and I’d like to think a child in school today would have a better experience. Yet just two years ago, a gay man named Steve Nelson was murdered in Nampa because of his sexual orientation. And the Idaho legislature is comprised of many of the same old, white men who ran the state when I was a child, who are related to many of the same people who ran the state when my parents were growing up. Because of their lack of leadership and understanding of people who are different, we still lack state laws to protect basic LGBTQ civil rights.
This underlies why a rainbow float in a Pride parade doesn’t cut it for me when it comes to corporate activism. If you care about supporting full equality for our community, challenge yourself to do better.
Real change means using your corporate platform to advocate for adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s human rights laws so that no one can be fired, denied housing, or public accommodations based on who they are or who they love. It means sending your C-suite to the legislature to support the programs that support the 40% of homeless youth who identify as queer. It means showing up to support access to healthcare, including STI prevention and comprehensive sex education in public schools. It means working with law enforcement to end violence and murder of transwomen, particularly transwomen of color. It means cutting a check to organizations like Pride Foundation or volunteering your time to increase access to scholarships for LGBTQ students and grant money to the nonprofits working toward real change.
More than once, a client has asked me what public relations actually means. It’s a fair question. Public relations, much like its umbrella industry, marketing, can be hard to pin down. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: “Advertising is what you pay for; publicity is what you pray for.”
Publicity doesn’t come from the gods, but rather hard work and a solid strategy. PR is defined as any effort toward creating a favorable opinion of your company or brand in the eyes of the public. Yet who is the public? Unless you are a mega-brand, chances are Jane Public will never know who you are, and probably doesn’t care. That’s why I prefer to define PR this way: Any effort, aligned with business goals, that creates a favorable opinion of your company or brand in the eyes of your target customers.
PR is valuable because you have to earn it; it’s not paid advertising. This is why it holds greater credibility than advertising in the eyes of a brand’s target audience. PR strategists often refer to “earned media,” meaning press mentions such as print, online, radio, or TV articles, social media posts (but not social ads and not paid influencer posts), guest blogs for third-party sites, op-eds and letters to the editor. The reason brands invest in PR is because trust equates to a higher conversion rate at about 5%, versus paid advertising, which is less than 1%. Even in the era of “fake news,” most consumers still have particular news outlets, blogs, and people that they trust. The key is to get your brand’s story into those best-fit outlets, based on what your target audience finds credible.
I’ve found PR to be most impactful when buffered by an overall marketing strategy that includes paid, earned, owned, and social media and measurable goals around each. Known as PESO, the good folks at Spin Sucks invented this model and have all kinds of resources to help you leverage it for your company.
Let’s face it, public relations is an odd profession. Everyone thinks that they know what PR is, and many companies and individuals purport to do it. If you’re after professional help that gets results, make sure you ask these five questions before making a hiring decision.
1. Who does the actual work? In many firms, especially larger ones, the people who pitch you to get the contract are not actually doing daily work on your account. Smaller firms or solopreneurs might be the way to go if you are interested in someone with ten or more years of experience doing the work.
2. What is their pitch to placement ratio? Public relations is an industry for hustlers, sure, but hustle alone isn’t enough. You want to make sure that whoever you hire gets results. Do they have a decent track record for getting press mentions, or do they tend to spam reporters with mass emails?
3. Can they pivot? Sometimes, the storyline you and your client think will capture the mind and heart of a reporter or editor doesn’t work. A strong PR strategist can think on their feet and knows when it’s time to think of some fresh ideas for how to skyrocket your company into the news media. When interviewing someone to help you, it’s a good idea to ask them about a time when they pivoted successfully.
4. Do they know the right people? An excellent PR person tends to have great relationships, a mind for strategy, and the ability to get shit done. Relationships vary by industry, geography, and work history, and they can (and should) be built and cultivated over time. Depending on the timing of your needs, and the location of the market you’re trying to reach, evaluate the relationships held by prospective agencies or solopreneurs. For example, my relationships are strongest in the areas in which I’ve worked: social responsibility, progressive politics, the Pacific Northwest, and Montana. That doesn’t mean I can’t pitch successfully in other markets (I do and have), but depending on a client’s goals, I may or may not be the best fit. But never doubt that a young woman from Idaho can get a client into the grab bag at the Golden Globes, because I’ve done that too.
5. Do you like them? Life is too short to work with people who don’t share your values and who struggle to get along with others. If your gut tells you it’s not a fit, it’s probably not a fit. At the end of the day, everybody’s skill set is replaceable, but the human factor isn’t.
I spent the last week of March in beautiful Palm Springs, California, attending the Altitude Summit, one of the nation’s top conferences for female creatives and entrepreneurs.
From meeting Chicago-based Candice Blansett-Cummins who finally clarified for me what the heck “masterminds” really are (oh yeah, and she runs 15 social impact companies), to finding my conference buddy-turned-lifelong friend in Anderson Street TV founder and host Victoria Cumberbatch (take a gander at her provocative web series on YouTube and Instagram), for me, Alt was about making connections and affirming my recent choice to launch my own business. It also forced me to take the important step of leaving my two-year-old son home with Dad for five whole nights. (Spoiler alert: We all survived).
Between bouncing between gorgeous mid-century modern hotels where Alt hosted breakout sessions, keynotes (yes, Joanna Gaines and I were in the same room), and roundtables on topics ranging from SEO to finding your calling, my brain and heart are full. Here are three lessons that will stick with me now that I’m back home.
Lesson #1: Be yourself. My phone was down to 1% battery life, and I needed an Uber to get back to my hotel. A friendly lady with curly hair and a big smile approached me in the conference hotel roundabout and insisted that she would give me a ride. As I got into her very normal-looking Prius, I briefly considered whether or not she would murder me, but I figured anyone attending this conference was probably pretty cool. On the 15-minute drive, she asked all sorts of questions about my background and business, and I told her, truthfully, how I’d just started Full Swing, and while things are hopping, setting out on a new course can be scary AF.
When we arrived at my hotel, she handed me her card. Turns out, she’s the president of television for a major L.A. based studio. Had I known what a high-powered job she had, I might have been afraid to bring my full self to our conversation. But because I was authentic, she took to me and now I have an incredible professional contact who is also a pretty great human. Win-win.
Lesson #2: Just create the damn content. One of the things I really wanted to focus on at Alt was podcasting. I’m not necessarily creating one for myself, but I may be co-producing one with a client, and I find myself pitching a lot of podcasts these days. I was thrilled to learn how easy it is, not to mention affordable, to get started. That $40 mic on Amazon.com? Totally sufficient. Thanks to the co-founders of Rock Your Wedding Biz for leading such a great session on how to get started.
Lesson #3: Ditch the excuses when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, when in doubt, buy the sequin pants (diversity speaker and trainer Monique Melton rocked a fantastic pair). For a white woman, I fancy myself pretty up to speed on when it comes to the impact of systemic oppression in our country having worked with intersectional organizations like the YWCA, Pride Foundation, and Philanthropy Northwest.
Yet home base for me is Idaho, which is 93% white. When you consider that for every 91 white friends a white person has, they have just one black friend, the consequences of calling a state like Idaho home become pretty apparent.
Then consider how many white people find jobs because of someone in our (mostly white) network, and you start to connect the dots around why economic, social, and political inequality persists. Besides hiring Monique to help your company improve, one of my favorite personal resources for identifying and combatting white fragility and thought-provoking reading on topics like racial justice and performative allyship is Layla Saad. We can all do better.
What’s the best women’s leadership conference you’ve attended? Will you be at Alt Summit next year? If you can’t wait that long for your next women’s leadership fix, I highly recommend registering for the Athena Pack in Bozeman, Montana, May 1-2.