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Maximizing Public Relations Results for Your Net Business

 By Anita Price ( )

 You spent months, maybe years, planning your Internet business.  You had a unique idea that nobody else was doing on the Net.  You developed what you believed to be a successful revenue model.  You hired the hottest interactive shop to build your site. 

          With such a brilliant plan, where is all the site traffic you expected to generate?

            Low traffic numbers will be the inevitable result if you do not plan and properly execute a marketing plan for your site.  For Internet entrepreneurs, public relations can be the most cost-effective part of your marketing mix and can also be the most effectual means to communicate your company's message and generate awareness for your site.  Public relations should be an integral part of your business plan at a very high strategic level.

            Before embarking on a PR effort for your site, you must be willing to commit the time and resources necessary to ensure successful results.  Top-level management involvement with your PR team is critical to the process.

 Selecting a Public Relations Firm

 A garage-based start-up has very different needs than a post-IPO Web company.  Create a checklist of attributes that your business needs in a PR agency and keep focused on them when you are interviewing agencies.

Start looking for a PR firm long before you need one.  The process takes longer than you think.

Ask about the team that will work on your account.  How experienced are they?  Do they have experience with other Net businesses?  If not, do they demonstrate the ability to understand your current business situation and future direction?  Ask the PR firm about its experience integrating PR programs with other marketing activities. 

Make sure that the people pitching your account are the same people who will be assigned to your account.  Many agencies send senior-level people to the pitch, then switch you to their junior-level staffers after winning your account.  Ask that the titles of employees assigned to your account be written into the contract.  Start-ups present difficult PR challenges and require seasoned professionals.

Do not be impressed by an agency's media contact name-dropping.  Those contacts may not be the appropriate reporters, editors or analysts for your company.  Experienced PR professionals quickly develop relationships with editors and analysts as needed for your business.

Find out about the agency's experience with online media.  Do they understand current Internet technologies and trends?  How has the Internet affected their approach to public relations?

Finally, determine if you would like to work with these people.  Does the agency's culture match yours?  Do your personalities complement one another?  The success of your PR program will depend upon effective communication with your PR firm, so make sure that you select a team with whom you'll enjoy working.

  Working with a PR Firm

Embrace your PR agency as a true partner.  Provide your PR firm with all of the information it needs in order to perform its job.  Have the firm sign a non-disclosure agreement, if necessary.  But, by all means, do not hold back information.  An open, honest, two-way relationship is necessary to the success of your PR program.

Invite the senior person on your account to work in your office on a regularly scheduled basis, i.e., once a month or once a week.  Some of the best ideas are initiated by talking to other people within your company.

Likewise, visit your agency.  Get to know how your PR team members do their jobs.  Ask questions.  A good PR firm will welcome this familiarity.

Respect your PR firm's expertise.  Trust that the team members know their jobs.  Stay involved, but do not impede their ability to do good work for your company.

Give your PR firm access to your CEO and other top-level executives.  Crafting the right message for your company is best served if it is not filtered through several levels of management.

 Planning Your PR Campaign

 Early planning is imperative to a successful PR campaign.  A lot of up-front work goes into the launch of a site or the introduction of an online product or service.

The first step is creating a strategic plan.  As basic as this seems, many Netpreneurs come to us with a laundry list of PR tactics they think they need, without taking into consideration their objectives or their various audiences.  A plan that incorporates measurable objectives, target audiences, target media, strategies and tactics is the foundation of a successful PR program.

In order for your PR team to create a strategic plan, you must understand and identify your objectives for embarking on a PR campaign and clearly communicate those objectives to the team.  The strategies they develop to build site traffic, for example, will be very different from the strategies they recommend for attracting investor interest.  So, be very specific when defining your objectives.

Define your target audiences.  If yours is a consumer site, do not merely state that you are targeting a consumer audience.  Identify the specific demographic you are trying to reach.  Similarly, if you are a business-to-business site, clearly define your target company's size, vertical industry, etc.  Then also identify the titles of those within the company you would like to target.  Beyond potential customers and site visitors, there are usually other audiences you may need to target, including venture capitalists, prospective employees and industry influencers (i.e., editors and analysts).

Develop the message–what is the one thing you want your company to be known for?  You cannot have multiple messages in PR; you have to clearly communicate one cohesive message.

Choose your key media targets.  There is online media, business media, technology media and consumer media.  Then, there is broad-based media, vertical market media, geographically or regionally based media, etc.  If your resources, either personnel or budget, are limited, you must pick which to go after initially.  This does not mean, however, to ignore your second- and third-tier media targets.  You can get your releases to them through a wire service, so that when you are in a position to focus your attention in their direction, you are hopefully already on their radar screen.

 Executing Your PR Campaign

             Public-relations work mystifies entrepreneurs and seasoned CEOs alike.  Some view it as a series of press releases and mailings.  Others envision PR professionals on the telephone with editors all day, somewhat like a telemarketing boiler room.  While we do not have space here to provide a tutorial on public-relations tactics, the following are some basic strategies that are crucial to the success of your PR program.

Make yourself available to the press, even if it means breaking out of a meeting when a reporter calls.  If you are not available or you do not seem to want to make yourself available, the reporter is not going to write about your company.  Editors have deadlines to meet and if you are not available at their convenience, then you will miss the editorial opportunity.  The best-planned and executed PR campaign can fail if you are not accessible to the press.

Similarly, make information about your business readily available to the media.  Many reporters work odd hours and they may need to access information about your company after regular business hours.  The best way to provide them with the facts they need is by placing a ``press information" section on your Web site (allow access by working members of the press only and require registration).  This section of your site should include company address and phone number, names, titles and backgrounds of management, strategic partners, source of funding, etc.  Include after-hours contact information for essential individuals.

Get industry analysts involved early in the process.  Find out the analysts who cover your industry and share your site strategy with them.  They can provide valuable feedback.  They may even choose to write about your site if it offers something new and unique–a different revenue model, a product or service that's not currently offered on the Internet, etc.  A report written by one of these analysts can give your site credibility with editors and potential investors.

Deal honestly and openly with the press.  This is especially critical when the news is bad.  For example, let's say that hackers have compromised the security of customer data on your site.  You must fully disclose that information to the press.  You must also communicate the steps your company is taking to protect those customers and how you will prevent future attacks.  Trying to conceal such information from the press will result in very negative publicity for your company when the news does come out.

Set realistic expectations.  A good PR firm will help you understand what to expect from your PR program.

Public relations can influence audiences like no other discipline.  Determine what you would like to achieve with a PR program, and then select a PR firm that can translate your vision into a strategic plan that will garner results.

 Anita Price is public relations director at Schraff Group, a fully integrated Internet marketing communications firm with a successful 22-year history. The firm leverages its expertise in advertising, public relations, Internet application development and Internet business consulting to offer its clients truly integrated business and marketing support for Internet companies.  Schraff PR is especially adept at executing PR campaigns for pre-IPO Internet start-ups and established Internet ventures.  Additional information can be accessed at



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