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The importance of an integrated communications plan

My speciality is media relations but I couldn’t do what I do without pulling together integrated communications plans for my clients.

While media relations is an amazing asset for your business, we’re finding more and more that it needs to sit alongside your marketing and social media to cover a full spectrum of PR and put your business in front of your target market wherever possible.

Sometimes it isn’t enough to just send a press release - you have to do everything you can to make yourself stand out.

It all starts with your key messages - these have to be consistent throughout your activities - whether it’s a paid ad, a press release or a social media post, your key messages are the glue that holds them all together and gives your brand the trust factor.

And just like marketing isn’t sustainable without PR, PR is relying more and more on marketing to get those key messages seen in the media. They both rely on different tools and tactics to achieve the same goal, which is why I always advise my clients to put aside some budget to boost their PR activity if they can.

Let’s use Christmas gift guides as an example. If you’ve followed our tips on the three Ps but are getting nowhere with your pitching, it might be time to think about placing an ad to give you some leverage with the publication.

In fact, we’ve found that increasingly a lot of magazines are monetising gift guides, especially at competitive times of the year, and if you’re willing to invest a little, you’ll often get more support in return, across the specific feature and potentially beyond.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and traditional media relations can and does still work. But, if you want those guarantees, or you want to be in a specific publication but just can’t get through, a little bit of investment can go a long way.

There are a number of reasons why the need for advert support is on the up, but I and many of my peers feel it’s mainly down to the rise of digital media and the amount of “free” content that’s out there on the web.

Bloggers have been monetising their content for years in order to build a business around their platforms, and print publications are finding it increasingly difficult to compete and make money, so they’re following suit and are not just relying on traditional ads and cover charges to generate income. Therefore, you may need to pay a small fee in order to be advertised in a gift guide.

As always, think about your target market. If you know they’re reading that publication, weigh up the benefits of paying for an ad in order to secure editorial. It could be priceless for your reputation.

I always negotiate editorial inclusion for my clients if they are taking an ad and I encourage you to do the same. An advert alone won’t bring in sales or support. But if it helps you get a platform in your dream publication to share your story, your product or your offer which you can’t get otherwise, well that’s the stuff that works. And a good PR practitioner will help negotiate these deals.

With ads in mind, think about the long game. When planning your marketing for the year, plan some strategic ads in your target publications that may act as a foundation for editorial support from them at key times of the year. If you can negotiate editorial coverage when booking ads you’ll ensure you not only get to tell your target market about yourself, the publication will promote you as well, which will come across as more authentic to your audience.

And after all, that’s what PR is about.

It’s also worth putting aside some budget to boost key social media posts as you can target your market specifically. For example, if you’re launching a new product, well that’s pretty exciting so is definitely worthy of a press release, and if you want to guarantee target media inclusion, get some ads booked for the launch period, but don’t forget the power of organic and paid social. Basically, you want to make sure you show up everywhere for your target customers!

Another important thing to consider is offsetting budget against sending out samples, especially if you’re a product-based business.

Even if you’re paying to be in a gift guide, most journalists (and almost all bloggers) will want to review your product for themselves, so that they can create their own content around it and put it to the test for an impartial write-up. As such, it’s an absolutely vital part of your PR strategy.

If you have to choose between the two, I’d suggest starting with samples. If you can provide a publication with a sample to review or to use as a competition prize, you are far more likely to be covered.

Keep in mind, media outlets just want to provide great, relevant content for their readers. Like you, they want to get people to know, like and trust them, to buy their magazine or newspaper, and if you’re a brand that their readers will love that will help them get great results too.

Investing can be daunting, especially for a small business, but if you can spread your investments, you’ll also spread your risk. Showing up for your audience in multiple places is a great way to build your brand awareness.

The key thing is to know where your audience is, what they want and work with the right people to reach them. If you sell high-end horse products, showing up in the Daily Star is probably not going to help you!

So, next time you’re thinking of running a PR campaign, keep in mind that it’s not always enough to put all of your eggs into the PR basket.

While I would never advise clients to market without a PR strategy in place, it’s becoming increasingly important to integrate marketing with your PR as well.

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