Expert advice from Rebecca Oatley of Cherish PR
I am really delighted to share the advice of Rebecca Oatley from Cherish PR who begins: “It may sound ridiculous, but the basic principle of PR is to create a story around a product or business that will grab people’s attention. To do that, we need to really understand those people, i.e., the end customer – demographics plus lifestyle habits, media preferences, a context for our ideas. Without this, our ideas just wouldn’t cut it.”
She thinks people fall into the trap of being obsessed with their amazing product or service and forget to look at it through the customer’s eyes. She says it is “astounding how many founders do not even consider their customers before they start their marketing, believing their idea will stand out in the world, like a beacon. Sadly, it won’t.
“The first piece of advice I give any founder is to place their business in the life of the customer when a million others are calling for attention. Is it fun, interesting, useful? Why is it different, better than the competitors? If there are no competitors, what “box” or “label” will customers give it? Is there a broader context or trend that’s happening that will provide the idea momentum? These and other basic principles of telling a good story are at the heart of being able to communicate your business to everyone and not just the media or social audiences.”
The last five years have changed hugely for Public Relations. We have seen the emergence of influencers, bloggers, vloggers, and social media stars that are much tougher to reach than the old-fashioned journalist. On the plus side, with articles now being online and staying up rather than being binned the next day like traditional print, investing in building brand awareness is easier than before. What is said stays around.
Rebecca says her second piece of advice is not to rush it, especially if you are launching a bit of tech. “Just because your product is out of the gate does not mean it is looking, feeling, or performing at its best yet. Take a long-term view of when the best time is to launch it to the world. Work hard and test it before attracting the gaze of your public – particularly the media. It needs to be a whole lot better than good-enough before you start PR.”
“Publicizing too early can be damaging. You want to be sure you have nailed what you are doing, have an initial customer base who are saying great things about you before shouting out to the rest of the market. The last thing you want is for influencers to see an unfinished idea, a scattering of poor reviews.”
Rebecca is the first to admit that good PR is not cheap and that start-ups may be wiser to look at using social media to start with and leaving till they are ready to scale and broaden their reach. But some businesses will need to make that investment to ensure the brand and communications are right from the start. A good agency, she says, should give you feedback and recommendations as to when the time is right for you if you reach out to them.
Another critical mistake people make is failing to nail what they are aiming for when they invest in Public Relations. They often have some vague idea that brand awareness is a good thing, and therefore getting their name out to everyone must be the key to success. The reality is that you need to decide who are the right people to reach and what you are aiming to say. You might be targeting investors, or it might be customers or other stakeholders. Equally, if you are sufficiently niche, you may already be known in your markets, and a big PR campaign unnecessary.
Your first step should always be to nail the blogs, Linked In, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube as these will be where your customer goes first. Create engaging and stimulating content with keywords and key messages. Only once these are right should you progress to paid content. Once confident, you can also go hunting for more customers from your competitors’ contacts and media sites in your own industry.
Use Google. Get reviews of what you do on industry-relevant sites. Build your customer reviews. Get mentions – good ones, everywhere you can that is pertinent to what you do. All those good reviews can then be merged back into your social media and sales literature. This cycle is the real brand building that fuels growth.
Always have a proper strategy. Measure, measure, measure what you do. Strategize and measure is a vital message from everyone in the sales and marketing section in the book. You need to know the results of what you are doing, how much it costs you to get how many new customers.
About Rebecca and Cherish PR
Rebecca is the founder and MD of Cherish PR, a London based boutique PR consultancy that partners with some of the UK’s best-known digital brands. They work on both social influence, print, and broadcast media relations.
She launched her agency in 2003 by “opening a bank account and banging on doors.”
I asked Rebecca if they had a clear USP at that point, but she says, “Not really, at the very beginning. I had 14 years’ experience in PR at that point, so I knew what good PR and good client relationships looked like. I did the work myself and wanted to enjoy it, so right from the beginning, I saw that delivery, proactivity, and a strategic approach meant happy clients, good relationships, and an enjoyable day at work.”
Rebecca is no stranger to tough times as she had to fight her way through the 2007 recession. “It was horrible at the time, “ she says, “but I learned so many lessons from that period. I realized that I had done a smart thing in keeping my fixed overheads really low. We were able to pare back to keep going, even negotiating with the landlord on a couple of month’s free rent. Everything else is superficial. It’s the basic principle of business that so many forget.”
Rebecca feels that many small companies become over-ambitious and ignore the basic principles of good business. To survive, you need to be sensible and realistic. “Earn more than you spend,” she says. “Work with what you know rather than what you hope will be. Look at what your good at and have a reputation for and build outwards from there. It’s not sexy advice, so it doesn’t make headlines on business pages, and therefore inexperienced entrepreneurs think that the out-dated rules don’t apply. But they do!”
She has expanded in recent years, intending to train a management team that will operate successfully without her at the helm, day-to-day. They have also launched Little Bear, a dedicated start-up service and built an international network of boutique agencies just like Cherish and called it Over There, and acquired two other small PR brands. Still, the focus remains on delivering great campaigns for great clients.
You might also be interested to read advice from the US entrepreneur Jennifer McGinley on strategic communications.