By John Surge, Hobbs/Herder Advertising
Marketing for Professional Services Providers
In today’s tough economy when marketing budgets are tight, professional services providers such as financial planners, insurance agents, real estate agents, engineering/architecture/construction firms and CPAs can still engage in a do-it-yourself public relations campaign to generate new business leads and referrals.
While public relations is a broad-ranging discipline, this post addresses the art and strategy of engaging the media to write about you or your company or include you as a source on articles being written about your industry. Here are seven foundational steps to get you moving in the right direction:
1.) Up-to-date database of all media contacts. Do you have a database of all publishers, editors, writers, industry websites and bloggers who cover your industry both locally and nationally? Consider including TV and radio outlets. When was the last time you updated your database? You have to do some work here. Pay attention to who’s writing about what and who’s covering what. For a sales person, this would be called sales intelligence. To be successful in PR, you need to know what the people in your database are up to. The core of success in PR is relationships with the media covering your industry. Update this database in real time and, one per quarter, more comprehensively.
2.) Dynamic press kit. Do you have a dynamic hard copy press kit as well as a dynamic digital press kit? What is included? Make sure it’s visually impressive. Include: bio of you or your company or both, marketing collateral (brochures, ad slicks, etc.), articles written by or about you and your latest press release. More isn’t necessarily better, but the press kit needs to have a substantive visual presentation.
3.) Expert source sheet. This is for your press kit, but I wanted to address it separately. One of the best ways to get covered by the press is to be available as an expert source for articles written about your industry. For instance, the principal of a Southern California structural engineering firm we work was invited to Kobe, Japan to participate in a simulated earthquake on a $100M high-rise to study new preparedness techniques. With the local media, he can use this experience to be an expert source on earthquake-related articles. For your press kit, create a one-sheet with a list of topics/subjects you can speak to. Include your cell phone and be deadline sensitive. The first to respond is usually who gets included in the article.
4.) Think like a newspaper reporter. The difficulty with do-it-yourself PR is that writing is a professional service just like your profession, so you are most likely missing some key skills you need to overcome. How do you create press releases that peak interest and demand to be considered? Well, that’s why there are public relations professionals who are worth their weight in gold. But it doesn’t mean you’re out of the game. You have to do some work and develop a “nose for news.” Be a student of headlines. The cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine is a great study on well-written headlines. If you can, hire a writer. It’ll be worth it. In addition to press releases, write one expert industry article or whitepaper per month to post on your website, put in your press kit, send to your media database and link in your press releases. This helps build your firm’s credibility and is a best practice for engaging in content marketing rather than interruption marketing.
5.) It’s about discipline and a plan. Do you have the fortitude to start a PR campaign and keep it going? That’s the question. You need a long-term approach to be successful in PR. It’s not complicated but you need to commit to a plan. For instance: a.) two press releases submitted to my database per month; b.) one call every six weeks to everyone in my database to build the relationship; c.) track the writers in your database and communicate with them when they write an article pertaining to your industry. Communicate, compliment, contribute; d.) continually add to and refine your press kit; e.) never stop.
6.) Both traditional media and online media. There’s always a “new best thing” bandwagon approach, but I wouldn’t exclude traditional media just yet. It’s still very key to get “ink,” so don’t just focus on web distribution. With that said…
7.) Master the process of web distribution of press releases. To drive traffic to your website (make sure you have a website worthy of traffic) and to establish your expert credibility online, you need to master the new rules of PR online. Get studying. A great resource site is free-press-release.com. Pick a press release distribution service (like free-press-release, prweb.com or marketwire.com). Combine your press strategy with blog and social media engagement. And make sure you have a website that helps, not hurts your business. Create a press release section on your website and continually look to add content that demonstrates your expertise. Again, this is an area of high expertise but if you dig in and get started you can make headway. If you can, think about getting some help in this area.
For the professional services provider, article placement can be one of your most effective marketing strategies. And it doesn’t have to take a huge budget if you’re willing to do the work.
John Surge is President of Hobbs/Herder Advertising, a Newport Beach, California based marketing agency specializing in strategy, branding, advertising, web, PR, and direct marketing for professional services providers. http://www.hobbsherderadvertising.com, twitter.com/johnsurge