Trying to get press coverage for an organization isn’t easy these days. With public relations professionals outnumbering working journalists 4 to 1, reporters and editors find their E-mail boxes filled with press releases, photos, invitations to press conferences, and other products of the spokesperson’s trade.

If you are a small business owner, or in charge of a small nonprofit group that doesn’t have its own PR person, it’s worth asking: what’s the point? Why send your own material into that information tidal wave?

“You have to figure out what your goal is,” says public relations consultant Hilary Morris. “You need to think about what you want to do for the next couple of months, and figure out what your hook is. You really have to dig deep and figure out what makes you unique and what sets you apart from the competition.”

Morris, who runs her own small communications firm, says that with smart use of resources, it’s possible for a company to get press coverage without hiring a dedicated PR person, or even investing very much time and effort.

Morris will present a workshop on public relations for small business and nonprofits Saturday, May 3, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Princeton Public Library technology center. The event is free, and begins an hour before the SCORE small business fair described in the story below. For more information, visit www.princetonlibrary.org.

Morris grew up in Morris Plains, where her mother was a librarian who ended up teaching communications, and her father was in the printing business. She was drawn to a career in education, and spent seven years teaching middle school math. As a side job, she took up event planning and running a college alumni association. She began to enjoy her PR work more than teaching, and started taking classes in public relations at Rider. She soon quit her teaching job and started her own business. She works from her Montgomery home while also raising three daughters. Her husband is an estate planning attorney with Stark & Stark.

Quick Hits: As a mother pressed for time, Morris understands the value of getting things done quickly. That’s why she recommends businesses not always send out an entire press release. Why write a 700-word document that an editor is going to cut down into a photo caption anyway? With the proliferation of digital cameras, it’s easy for a company or nonprofit group to take their own photos at events and submit them for publication. “You don’t need to spend all this time writing a big long press release. If you don’t have the resources to hire someone, and a ton of time, you can take a picture and send a caption.” Even if it doesn’t make the paper, you can post it on social media websites.

No matter how long your E-mailed press release, you should put the subject of the release in the subject line. The words “press release” in the subject line only state the obvious — and waste the recipient’s time.

Know your audience: Before sending out story pitches to reporters, do a little research on the publication’s website and make sure you know who you are sending them to. If you send a press release about a charity gala to a sports editor, she will most likely be annoyed by it and delete it. “It’s so important to do your research,” Morris says. “Once you have your message, you need to find the right contacts to reach out to. Find people who have written stories about your industry.”

Let your audience get to know you: Once you have figured out who your best media contacts are, sending news releases on a regular basis is a good idea (if you have the resources for a sustained campaign.) Whether it is the launch of a new product line or some other newsworthy event, Morris believes it helps to stay in the minds of reporters and editors.

Another trick Morris uses is to just E-mail media contacts and let them know she is available as an expert source for stories and that she is available to be quoted. Being quoted as an expert is one more way of getting free publicity.

It’s not your story: The story belongs to the person writing it. Since that person is the journalist, not you, you don’t get to see the article before it’s printed, nor do you get to be the editor of it. Don’t expect to have control over the journalist’s work.

Buy an advertisement if you need to control the message. And remember that many newspapers will sell “advertorials,” ads that resemble editorial content but which you can control.

Goal oriented: The most important part of a publicity campaign is figuring out what it’s for. Are you a new business looking to introduce yourself to the area? Do you have a staff member with a compelling story that could be told in a newspaper article? “The goal of PR is different for everybody,” Morris says. “You have to sit down and ask yourself, ‘Who are we? What do we do? What is our mission, what is our target audience, and what is our special story? What kind of press coverage do we want about ourselves?’”

Morris also does social media work on behalf of companies. But with so many people focused on Twitter and Facebook accounts as their only form of public outreach, it’s easy to let more traditional PR methods fall by the wayside. “You have to remember that the basics still work,” Morris says.

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