In this 15-minute episode, first broadcast for Radio Reverb, Vicky Hughes of Fugu PR and Steve Bustin of Vada Media discuss how to do your own PR in your freelance or small business… and Steve lets us in on his favourite way of explaining the difference between PR and advertising! Listen now:
Originally broadcast for Radio Reverb in Brighton, England.
- Vicky mentions the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
What exactly is PR?
Julie Stanford: Hello, this is Julie Stanford of Essential Business Radio. A few years ago I was lucky enough to present a show called ‘Business as Usual’ for Radio Reverb in Brighton. A number of the shows I think are still very useful for businesses today. In this show, I talk to Vicky Hughes of Fugu PR and Steve Bustin of Vada Media. I asked them about how to perfect your PR.
I’d like to explore the idea of PR, so Steve, no pressure.
Steve Bustin: For most small businesses, my sort of definition of it, and I don’t know if Vicky agrees, it’s actually about looking to reach customers and potential customers using editorial coverage in the media. Now, there are some other elements around. There’s now moving onto online, certainly, and I’m sure we’ll go onto that later.
I think, for most people, it’s actually about … they want to see themselves in the papers. They want to be in the right publication, so they’re reaching the right people with the right messages. That’s the bit that so many people freak out about with PR, is the message stuff. They’re like, “What am I going to talk about?” “What if I’ve said the wrong thing?” “What if the journalist says the wrong thing?” “What if it’s all written up bad?” It’s just disaster.
Actually, with some very basic skills, most small businesses are perfectly capable of running a really effective PR campaign. I know a lot of PR people don’t like me for saying this, but I would say most small businesses should be doing their own PR.
Julie Stanford: I think the trouble is, most small businesses have to do their own PR to a certain extent. It is a luxury to be able to have a PR consultant working with you all the time and probably, most PR consultants would say that’s not actually necessary, they might not even want to be doing that.
Vicky, what do you think would be … do you agree with Steve’s definition of PR, first of all?
Vicky Hughes: I do agree. I mean, first of all, I’ve had to give many presentations on what is PR and even my mother – been doing it 15 years – just about understands what I do and it changes, still, day by day, no one day’s the same. I often hop back to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations as a good definition, which is effectively trying to reach your publics, whoever they are, be they key stakeholders, be they shareholders, be they your customers, be they your employees, so anybody involved in your business, has an influence on your business, try to reach them in some way and deliver the message that you want to go out there.
PR is changing
In terms of delivering a campaign, it’s getting back to the basics and making sure that you have a very clear message, what are you trying to say about yourself? Make sure it’s as uncomplicated as possible, try and bring it down sort of four or five key nubs, effectively, only. Then, consistently getting that message out using a variety of channels, and the media, most definitely, is usually what most businesses want to be seen in. I often get a bit frustrated, because to me that’s one access point, that’s one channel, but that’s what most people are aware of and that’s what most people want to see and that’s what you can very quickly measure to a degree, of a success of a campaign.
However, yes, social media, online’s increasingly important and I think to much of a degree it’s starting to take over traditional media in terms of reaching your publics. That is changing the way in which PR operates.
Julie Stanford: We can think about … now we’ve defined it, in that we’ve realised it’s not easy to define, but we’ve broadly …
Vicky Hughes: It comes to reputation as well, I’ve come to find. It’s trying to improve and build a company’s awareness and reputation.
Julie Stanford: So, through the media, whatever media outlet that is, whether it’s radio or television or in print, that’s really what we’re talking about. Yeah, Steve, did you … ?
Steve Bustin: I just think it’s really interesting, what makes it about … you know, how much would you pay for a double page spread in The Sun? What’s so good about PR when you get it right, particularly when you’re getting editorial coverage? If you think about it, when you flick through a newspaper, magazine, your eye is drawn towards the editorial, we now all tend to filter out the adverts to a greater extent, I think. When you read an editorial, there’s an endorsement implicit in it.
Julie Stanford: Yes.
Steve Bustin: You know, the journalist is saying, “These people are worth reading about.” You expect the journalist to have filtered out the dross, if you’d like.
Julie Stanford: Or the hard sell.
Steve Bustin: Yeah, to pick up messes. One of the definitions you can give of PR, or the difference between PR and advertising is, an advert says, “Hey, look at me, I’m great!” Whereas an editorial coverage says, “Hey, look at these guys, they’re great!” There’s an endorsement implicit in that.
Julie Stanford: There’s also that thing of, the subtext is, “And I know what I’m talking about.” So, to say you’re great, somebody wandering by that hardly knows anything about this industry to say you’re great is one thing. For a journalist who theoretically knows more about it, is harder to impress to say that, is praise indeed.
Steve’s favourite way of explaining PR
Steve Bustin: Absolutely. The other way to put it, and this may sound a little crass, is if we’re at a party and if I walk up to you and say, “Hi, I’m Steve, I’m great in bed.” Now that’s advertising. If somebody else walks over to you and says, “That’s Steve over there, here’s great in bed.” That’s PR. I can guarantee, if there’s one thing you remember for the whole of this programme, that’d probably be it.
Vicky Hughes: That is one of my favorite definitions and I have said that one many times. It’s absolutely perfect, isn’t it? It’s that third party endorsement, you cannot beat it. It has so much more value.
Julie Stanford: I’m slightly worried, though, that anyone listening who’s only just joined the show now might be ringing up immediately trying to get hold of Steve’s number.
Steve Bustin: I do a lot of PR training for small businesses and I always use that little analogy because it always raises laughter and people always remember it. Somebody came up to me at a networking event a few months ago, saying, “I did your PR course about two years ago and you’re the guy who said he was great in bed!” And I thought, there are worse reputations to have.
Julie Stanford: We can’t have preconceived ideas as to where we should be talking about what we’re doing, because actually it might be that the thing that surprises us, is the thing that brings in masses of coverage.
Vicky Hughes: Absolutely, and I think, in terms of relaying that to a business perspective as well, actually, some of the campaigns I’ve done that have been incredibly successful have been that position in individuals and businesses as experts in their field. You cannot beat that as an endorsement, having again, be it in BBC News, be it in the Daily Telegraph or The Financial Times, or in the key trade publication when there is a feature that is key or current to your business, to the industry, what’s happening.
If that’s written by or is quoting an individual and a particular business then they are automatically given so much more credibility and status. They are most definitely considered and seen as the experts and that very much builds a business’s reputation. Then customers start coming through.
Again, if you’re looking for a supplier in a certain sector or you’re looking for a certain product yourself at home, more often than not you want to read positive things about it, in terms of, you’ll go and do a Google search and you’ll be looking for: where does that company come up? If they are obviously very clearly one of the market leaders and they are very much the expert field and they’ve very much been endorsed by others, you’re more likely to call them in. You want to talk to them. Again, that kind of third party endorsement, you can’t beat it.
If you’re looking for a supplier, you don’t go to the individual and say, “Can you tell me why you’re so good?” You’ll ask your peers in the business, “Can you recommend somebody in a specific field?” Be it PR, be it marketing, be it supplying paper or particular machines, you want to know somebody who’s trustworthy, who’s reliable, and who would deliver in what they say, because they may say a huge amount of things, but you want a little bit of proof.
Julie Stanford: Yes. It is, it’s proof, isn’t it?
Who decides who’s an expert?
Steve Bustin: I think it’s also worth saying that most media experts are self-appointed. There is no panel that decides who’s an expert and who’s not. It’s actually about having the gumption to put yourself forward and say, “Yes, I am an expert in what I’m talking about. I do know my stuff.” And putting yourself out there to the media.
Actually, one little tip for people listening in, would be the website expertsources.co.uk which is a site that’s now becoming quite widely used by producers and journalists who are looking for media spokespeople. Anybody can go and set themselves up a profile – I should say that I don’t work for them, I have no particular interest in this – I mean, it’s about fifty quid a year, but actually, you can go and set yourself up a profile with lots of key words and it’s a great way to start putting yourself out there if that’s something you’re into doing.
I think more and more people now are, particularly when they see their competitors being quoted, they’re like, “How come they’re in there? Why can’t I be in there?”
Julie Stanford: Especially when you think, “I know so much more than that person being quoted who has a very canny PR consultant.”
Steve Bustin: Exactly, that’s the thing, your competitor is being promoted. Either they’re promoting themselves or somebody’s doing it for them.
Vicky Hughes: I’m sorry to interrupt, but it comes down to time as well. We talked earlier about whether every small business should do their own PR. Most of the smaller businesses I’ve worked with are aware they need to do their PR, but they have so many more demands on their time, it quite often – and to be honest, I would say the same for myself. You said, “Are PR people good at promoting themselves?” Fantastic at promoting other people and other businesses. Absolutely atrocious at doing my own PR.
Julie Stanford: It’s like the analogy of the decorator, isn’t it? That their house is never decorated.
Vicky Hughes: Exactly.
Julie Stanford: What I really would like to ask you now, is, Vicky and Steve, from your perspective, what would you say that someone, if they’re starting out, if they’re trying to their own PR, just a few tips for that. And then if they were going to come to you and ask for support, how they would go about doing that. Steve, do you mind starting?
How do you begin doing your own PR?
Steve Bustin: In terms of tips of doing your own PR, I would say, a lot of the things that businesses worry about is finding the right story and they say, “Well, I’ve got nothing to talk about.” Actually, one of the best things to look for is what’s new in your business. News is, by definition, what’s new and a I think a lot of people forget that. If they can look at their business and think, “Okay, what am I doing that’s new?” And you may not have a whole new product or a new service, it may be that you’ve actually got a new senior member of staff or if you’ve got a new client win. That can be news. I think it’s a lot of, if you can identify the right story and the right media outlet to send it to, you’re well on your way to succeeding.
In terms of, if you’re looking to find a PR person to work with, ask around. Ask who the people are using, find out even who your competitors are using. If you’re always seeing one particular business in a related sector, always in the media, ring them up, just say, “Can I just ask you who’s doing your PR? Would you recommend them? Are they good?” Get a recommendation from somebody who you think is doing well at the moment.
Julie Stanford: Yes, because if that PR consultant is being effective for that company, then we’d all know about it, wouldn’t we? Because you’d see them visible in the press. When someone comes to you for the first time, what sort of questions would you be asking, what would you be expecting of the small business coming to you for support and advice?
Steve Bustin: Certainly interested in what they’re doing, what stage they’re at in their business. A lot of businesses will launch, and then go and look for PR and your launch is actually your best story that you’re ever going to have on the whole because you’re new, you’re the new kid on the block, you’re fresh and exciting. So, I would say, what stage are you at? And ideally get somebody involved in the run up to your launch and help you really get a strong start.
I’d also ask about longevity. There’s an awful lot of businesses that’ll say, “Oh, I’m just going to do PR for a month or two months.” It’s actually, that’s not going to be the best way to spend your money. I would rather find a business that’s looking to spend a regular amount for six months than one that’s going to throw a chunk at it in two months, because you’re going to get far better results long term for your business if you do it over the extended period of time. Better to do a little bit every month for a longer period, in my opinion than just to do one big splurge and then nothing.
Julie Stanford: So you’re really looking for someone who’s in it for the long term, who understands that PR by definition isn’t a quick fix. It can’t be, can it.
Advertorial, editorial or advert? What’s the difference?
Before I move on, I just want to ask you the difference between an advertorial, an advert, and PR, because there is a difference and I think some businesses get caught out with an advertorial.
Steve Bustin: Yeah, an advert is something that you write. You write the copy, you take it to a designer to design it for you.
Advertorial is a piece of what looks like editorial, but you have paid for the space, you have control over what’s said. You might even be asked to write it, but on the whole one of the journalists in the publication will write it. Legally, it has to have at the top ‘advertorial’ or ‘advertising promotion’, or something like that. It has to make clear that it’s not editorial.
Editorial is then something that journalists had written, you haven’t paid for the space, but you don’t have control over what that journalist has written. That’s one of the issues with PR, it’s not always a precise science. You don’t always have total control. Some businesses don’t feel comfortable with that.
Julie Stanford: The reader, therefore, seeing an advertorial, seeing the ‘advertising promotion’ the perception is going to be it’s the same as an advert.
Steve Bustin: If you’re thinking about doing it for your business, just think about when you’re reading a magazine, do you read advertising promotions? Or how do you read them? Do you read them more skeptically? Chances are other people are going to read your advertorial that way.
Julie Stanford: Magazines quite often will ring up and do quite a hard sell on advertorials, won’t they? In fact, sometimes say it’s the only way you can have any editorial space if you pay for it.
Steve Bustin: That’s a real problem, particularly local press these days, they are really struggling budget-wise and most of them are starting to say, “We will only give you editorial if you take an advert.” There’s no easy answer, I’d be interested to know what Vicky says.
Vicky Hughes: There’s no easy answer, and I think there is a small role for advertorials, to be honest with you. I think less so, from a reputation building and educating [perspective]. If you want to actually tell people about your businesses and about your product then people won’t be looking that much. If you want to build a brand, brand awareness, getting the name of a particular product, particularly has more value in a consumer market, it does have a value there because it’s one part of a range of tools that you’ll be using.
Most certainly, I think most people are aware and sceptical enough not to take that much notice of an advertising feature.
Steve Bustin: Certainly, I’d say, if you’ve got the choice of having to take an advert or take an advertorial, take an advertorial. Do you agree?
Vicky Hughes: I would, yeah, most definitely. In terms of the debate about small publications, small publishing companies, and regional media struggling massively, they are losing revenue like you wouldn’t believe. A lot of them are going under and I think a lot more of them will do so as well and the web has obviously had a huge impact on that as well.
There’s a bit of me that often when I talk to my clients is, these small trade publications actually do have quite a lot of value, so sometimes if you can support them, if you do have the budget to do so, it would be massively appreciated. It doesn’t guarantee, often, the editorial and it frustrates me hugely because I think a story is a good story regardless. However, I’ve worked with a lot of publishing companies, I’ve worked with VNU and Incisive and I’ve worked with Reed Business for years, and I’m aware of their business needs as well and I try and understand from their perspective as well. If you are able to support them even to a lesser degree, it all helps open doors, but most definitely don’t rely on it and it has a lot less value than, quite often, the editorial that you would be able to generate if you had a good enough PR campaign and a good enough news story.
Julie Stanford: A tip for anyone looking to do something PR-wise who doesn’t really understand what they’re doing?
Vicky Hughes: Three key things I’d like to say, three top tips. One is first of all establish what are you trying to say? Understand, clarify your message. Second thing I think is understand your audience, just sending something out to lots of people. You want to think about who are you trying to reach, who are your customers, how old are they, what’s their demographic, what are they like to read. Ask them what do they read, what do they listen to? Then you know who you’re trying to target. Third thing, which supports, actually, what Steve was saying, is be consistent in what you’re saying. Yeah, consistently over a period of time that message will ultimately get through.
Julie Stanford: Vicky Hughes of Vicky Hughes PR and Consultancy (now Fugu PR) and Steve Bustin of Vada Media thank you very much for coming in. I’m Julie Stanford and this has been ‘Business as Usual’ on Radio Reverb, thank you for listening.