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Using the Power of Public Relations to Grow Your Franchise

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As a public relations expert in Chicago, I often have prospective clients say to me, “What’s it going to take to get my business on Oprah?” While their chances are usually slim to none, the Oprah Effect has launched businesses into seemingly overnight success stories. The power of one influencer, in this case, shows why so many companies want publicity. It seems like a no-brainer, right?

But media relations is not easy. And it hardly ever means overnight success. Let’s say you’ve just opened your franchise. You have a great product or service, and your franchisor is very supportive. And let’s say you happen to have something Oprah loves and she has you on her show. Are you ready for the kinds of sales she can create for you? Is your back-end ready to handle the orders? Will your Web site time out on when millions of consumers come looking to buy from you? If you’re not ready for it, the Oprah Effect can mean not the growth, but the demise of your business.

This, of course, is an extreme case, so let’s look at it from another perspective. Traditional publications such as magazines have to send an issue to the printer months before you actually see that issue on the shelves. When it comes to non-breaking news, even daily newspapers still have a lead time of 30 to 60 days. And magazines may have lead times of six months or longer. So let’s say you want to be in Oprah’s magazine, O!, and you have a real story to tell.

You begin the process by following the six steps I outline below. It takes four months before you call their editor and pitch a story. They accept your idea and work with you on interviews and photos. Now it’s been five months. Everything is finalized and the issue goes to print…but you don’t see the story for six months. The story runs and you see a blip in your business–sales go up during the month that publication is on the newsstands. But your story was 11 months in the making, and you had maybe a two-week blip in sales. You start the process all over again.

But traditional print journalists are no longer the only game in town. The good news is, you now have access to all kinds of influencers in all kinds of media. I always recommend targeting a mix of both offline and online media so you have blips in sales throughout the entire year.

How can you use media relations to build your businesses’ brand and help increase sales? You don’t necessarily need to hire a publicist, but it is going to take some time and patience.

Here are my six steps for using the power of media relations.

1. Set up Google Alerts. A Google alert will send you e-mail alerts whenever someone mentions your search terms online—whether in Web sites, blogs, tweets or comments. The alert page asks you for search terms, type (select “comprehensive”), delivery (I like once a day), and e-mail address. The first thing to search is your name. If you have a common name, such as John Smith, filter the search so you don’t get alerts on every John Smith. You would do that by entering “John Smith” + city name (where you live).

Next, set up an alert for your company name plus city. Then set up an alert for anything you’re interested in knowing about: your industry, local organizations, competitors, and so on. Google alerts will keep you very efficient; you’ll get one e-mail with headlines and links to the articles so you can quickly scan to see if there is anything you should read.

For additional ideas on what to include in your searches, read my blog post “How-To Use Google Alerts.” Be sure to also read the comments, as there are great ideas there, too.

2. Once alerts begin coming to your inbox, use those alerts to create a spreadsheet of reporters and bloggers who write about your search terms. The spreadsheet should include name, publication or blog name, phone number (if you can find it), e-mail address, URL, and a notes column.

Although you won’t do anything with the spreadsheet for a few weeks, it’s important to begin populating it so you have contact information at your fingertips. In the notes column, begin typing in things that you think the reporter or blogger will be interested in knowing from you, based on what they already write.

3. Read your newspaper, magazines, and any local newsletters. As you see things in those traditional publications that are relevant to your business, add that reporter’s name and information to your spreadsheet. Include in your notes why you’ve added them and what you think they will be interested in knowing from you. I like to subscribe to and read online because it allows me to begin a relationship with a reporter by commenting on their articles first.

Go to Technorati and enter industry search terms. You want to find bloggers who write about your industry so you can begin to develop relationships with them. You can also use Google Blogsearch, but I like Technorati better because it gives you an authority score. The authority score tells you how much influence that blogger has among his or her readers. So, for example, let’s say that a blogger writes about your industry nearly every day, but his authority score is low. You may want to read his blog and begin commenting, but you don’t need to put him on the top of your blogger outreach list because he doesn’t have very many readers (if any at all).

When you find a handful of bloggers (no more than 10) who you think will be interested in learning more about you and your business, add them to your spreadsheet.

4. Begin commenting on articles and blogs. In today’s age of laid-off journalists and influential bloggers, writers have less and less time to do investigative reporting and need to rely on people they come in contact with in the comments section. You can, and will, be interviewed by a reporter if you comment on an article and they like what you have to say. So always be professional and factual; if you don’t agree with the story, don’t bring emotion into your argument and don’t attack the writer.

As you comment, you’re opening a dialogue with reporters and bloggers on their Web sites and blogs, and that’s how you’ll begin your relationship.

5. When the time is right, and you feel comfortable approaching a reporter or blogger with whom you’ve begun to develop a relationship, begin your business outreach. I recommend this not happen for at least 90 days. You need that long to set up your alerts, do your searches, create your spreadsheet, and begin developing relationships.

Most traditional and online publications don’t care about your press release. And, right now, no one really cares if your business made it through the Great Recession and you’re chugging along making money. If you’re reading what journalists and bloggers are writing before you pitch them, you’ll understand what they think is news and whether or not you have a story for them.

Use your spreadsheet to begin making phone calls and sending e-mails. Sometimes you won’t hear from the reporter or blogger for weeks and then suddenly they’ll call. Don’t be discouraged. Let a week or so go by and try a different form of communication (for instance, if you left a voice mail, try sending an e-mail).

A good friend of mine always equates media relations to sales…and he’s right. You’re selling yourself and your business to a reporter or blogger so they will write about you. Treat journalists just like you do your top prospective customers, and you’ll find yourself in a win/win situation.

Good luck and, as always, don’t be afraid to ask me for help should you need it.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc. Gini is not only a communication professional, but also a business owner who understands how results affect the bottom line and year-over-year growth. She takes this expertise and combines it with traditional and new media to brand and revamp a company’s image, network, develop new business, and grow the company. To encourage dialogue about the use of communication through leadership, business growth, and social media, Gini founded a blog, The Fight Against Destructive Spin.

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