Your retail business marketing is the message you want to share about your products with your potential customers. Your branding and reputation management, on the other hand, is what people share about your business when they talk amongst themselves.
Your marketing and how people perceive your brand don’t always line up. After all, people will take marketing materials you issued yourself with a grain of salt.
So how can you influence your brand — or what other people say about you?
Good PR, or public relations, can go a long way toward maintaining a positive image in the public eye. It gives you a way to engage in reputation management while increasing the reach of your business.
But there’s a potential problem here: traditionally, PR firms or marketing agencies who promise to help with your public relations get pricey. Outsourcing PR may not be a realistic option for retailers with limited budgets.
Thankfully, the world of PR doesn’t look the same as it used to — and that’s good news for retailers, especially those who don’t want to pay for press exposure.
Understand the Basics of Reputation Management
You can look at PR as any activity that helps you manage your reputation, or how the public perceives your brand. Ultimately, this comes down to good — and frequent — communication.
PR is all about an entire process of communication between you and your audience through various mediums. It’s not buying advertisements or paying for people to give your company attention.
And that’s why PR can provide considerably more value for you than traditional advertising. You receive attention from a third-party, be it a media outlet or an event or another type of influencer. That provides validation and makes the story you want to tell about your brand more believable.
Clearly, you have a vested interest in positioning yourself in the best light when the news comes directly from you. By getting press and media attention, a separate entity is sharing information about you. It’s a great way to practice reputation management in a way that lends more credibility to your brand.
Public relations relies on earned attention. Which begs the obvious next question: How do you earn attention from decision-makers, media influencers, writers and reporters, industry insiders, and event organizers who can all help shine the spotlight of publicity on your brand?
And how do you earn that attention in the right way, so that you retain the control of your business’ reputation?
How to Handle Your Own PR and Reputation Management
There are three critical elements to handling your own PR as a retailer:
- A compelling, interesting, and truly newsworthy story to share
- Great, high-quality content to help you communicate the story (which includes a press release, pitch emails, and supporting content for your PR campaign)
- Genuine connections and sincere relationships with reporters and other members of the media who can help communicate your story to your audience
And here’s a bonus for you: the ability to clearly, quickly communicate when something unexpected comes up. Most of PR is proactive, meaning you’re actively managing your reputation by creating and sharing stories deliberately.
But there are times when stories create themselves, and media may contact you. In this case, you need to be as effective at reacting quickly as you are with taking a first action.
Let’s break each of these down so you can understand how to establish each piece and effectively communicate with the public.
Your “news” must be truly newsworthy. For the most part, that means it needs to lead with something that impacts more than just your company.
Simply expanding your product line or hiring a new employee aren’t worthy of press coverage for the most part. These events might be a big deal for you, but how do they benefit your audience? How does this knowledge impact their daily lives?
Look for stories that showcase something new or novel that an audience genuinely needs to know about. Anything that speaks to audiences’ emotions may make good stories, too.
You can also look at stories with local significance and pitch to the appropriate publications. Your state’s or region’s leading newspaper may not care that you’re opening a new storefront in a specific town — but that town’s community would be extremely interested and eager to know what kind of retailer is going to open up shop on their main street.
PR and reputation management fails if your communication breaks down. Make sure you can strongly, clearly communicate your story with the press via excellent press releases, pitch emails, and other marketing materials like social media updates and blog posts.
The best way to write a press release is to study successful ones. There are plenty of examples and templates available online, but here’s a basic breakdown to get you started:
- A headline that catches attention and hooks the reader so they want to learn more
- A subheading that provides just a little more detail for a peek at the story
- A first paragraph that gets straight to the point: What are you announcing? Don’t bury the lede here — be upfront and concise!
- A second paragraph that incorporates more details and relevant quotes to help shape your message and direct reporters to the snippets that are most important. Readers should get the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the situation from this paragraph, often referred to as a nut graph
- A way to break up the release and punctuate the critical pieces of the story (try using a bullet point list, like this one, to quickly state important facts that you want to make sure readers see)
- A conclusion with a short (2 sentence) description of your company that a reporter could use to describe you in a story along with a website URL
To help get you started on your first press release, try using a template from one of the following helpful sources:
This may be the most important piece to successful PR. You need to develop real, genuine relationships with the media you want to work with.
Influencers and content creators of all stripes are busy people. And with so much content to consume already, they’re getting pickier about what stories they run.
If you can establish some level of rapport with the press, they will be more likely to respond to you and work with you to communicate your story.
This means laying the groundwork a long time before you lay down a pitch in their inbox. Connect with reporters and writers on Twitter. Read their work and comment on it.
Send them friendly emails that look for ways to help them — did they put out a request for comments or sources? Respond and offer to provide a quote for their piece or answer any questions they might have about the topic.
Look to add value first. Pitch later.
Again, not all stories will originate from your team. Part of reputation management is swiftly, smartly reacting to news that happens around you — even if it’s bad.
Here are a few best practices to follow:
- Be transparent and honest. If you’re tempted to cover something up, think twice. Admitting a mistake or wrongdoing is infinitely better than lying — and then getting caught.
- Always take the high road (especially on the Internet). Don’t use profanity or personal attacks, even in an effort to defend yourself.
- If you have to apologize, do so — and do it sincerely. Take full responsibility and avoid getting defensive. Smart retailers admit when they make mistakes, and the press (and public) forgives those who say sorry and mean it.
Finally, taking no action is always a choice, too. Remember that everyone has an opinion and you won’t agree with everything you ever read about your business.
But is it worth getting in a Twitter feud with a reporter who has a large following? Probably not. No one comes out looking good, and you could do more harm to your reputation by publicly arguing with influencers than if you just ignored the bad press and moved on.
Follow This 5-Step Process to Communicate Your Story Through the Press
Make a Plan
Don’t take a shotgun approach to your reputation management. Get strategic instead.
List out your goals and what you hope to accomplish by running a PR campaign. What do you hope people will learn about you — and more importantly, how do you want them to feel about you? This will help you craft your press release and any pitches you send.
Get clear on what story you want to share, too. Remember, it needs to be truly worthy of news.
Simply expanding your store to a new location, for example, may not catch many eyes. But if you can frame it as an expansion of your brand that will bring 50 new jobs to a small town while also supporting the local college through an internship program you plan to run, you have a more compelling story for that community.
Then, identify the individual writers, reporters, editors, and other decision-makers who could communicate your story. Note if you have existing relationships with them — and if you don’t, list out ways you can connect with them before pitching to them.
You can also write out the outlets you want to cover your release, and have a strategy for approaching each one.
Finally, note what supporting materials you’ll create around the press release (like social media posts or emails that go to your existing subscribers) and list out who in your business will talk with media and handle incoming press inquiries. Write down every detail they need to know to successfully communicate with third parties about your story.
From this framework, list out action steps for every part of your plan. Assign each one a team member who is responsible for executing, and give every task a deadline.
Craft Your Press Release and Pitch Emails
You can use the guidelines above to write your press release and prep it for distribution. Once you’re ready to send it out, you have a few options:
- Send your release via a newswire service
- Email the appropriate reporters, writers, and other content creators and curators directly
Newswire services can be effective, but they also cost money. In the age of digital and content marketing, a direct approach is often a better option for retailers.
It’s free to do, but you do need to invest your time in looking up the right people. Blindly pitching any content creator with a big audience that you find doesn’t work. Your story must be relevant to them and their audience.
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If you send your release directly to a reporter via email, you need to craft a pitch to go with it. Basically, your pitch explains why the reporter should care.
What’s in it for them? Why does your story deserve their time, attention, and effort to share it? You must answer why they should care.
Lead with a catchy headline that’s unique and hooks interest. That’s likely one that is short and to the point, but simultaneously piques the curiosity of the reporter — or it could speak directly to their pain points or problems (i.e., their need to write good and relevant stories; it’s challenging to generate good story ideas on their own).
While your subject line should be catchy, it should also be honest. A misleading email subject will likely get your message sent straight to the trash and jeopardize future emails you send.
The message itself should be short, easy-to-read, and to the point. You don’t need a lengthy intro. A one-sentence opener that elaborates on your subject line and presents the most essential piece of information — followed by a bullet-point list of other critical details — works great.
Create Your Campaign Assets
You want to make it as easy as possible for third parties to understand the story you want them to pick up and provide coverage on. A press release can give the basic information, but in addition to that document, you may want to create the following:
- A blog post that gives a lot of detail, preemptively answers relevant questions, and gives your audience a natural next step or call to action. Media members might use your post as a source when creating their own content, and a blog post covering the subject closely gives you a place to direct any attention you earn from your PR efforts.
- Social media posts to help further promote your news or story. This can help others pick up on it if they missed the initial press release or content from your company.
- Email blasts for customers and partners. You’ll want to keep your current audience in the loop, in addition to sharing a story that hopefully reaches new ones. Create a few emails to send out to your existing base to inform them of what’s going on with your brand — and consider rewarding them for their loyalty by adding in a promotion or discount.
- Resources for your employees and designated spokespeople. Part of your job in managing the news or story is to keep your message consistent. That means you need to communicate with the outside world, but also your employees and anyone in charge of speaking with media or press. Make sure they understand important information and give them the details they need to answer frequently asked questions.
Reach Out to the Press and Other Media Outlets
Don’t expect your story to sell itself. Proactively reach out to journalists, editors, bloggers, writers, event organizers and hosts, influencers, and others who may find your story interesting and worth sharing.
Remember, focus on people you have an existing relationship with and try to avoid sending 100% cold emails. People are more likely to open your messages and engage with you if they’ve heard of or seen you before.
Writers, reporters, and other content creators or curators all have a job to do: share stories their audiences will enjoy. If you look at outreach this way, you can do these individuals a favor by providing them with a ready-made story they can pick up and run with.
Do the hard work for them and explain why this story can benefit their readers, or why their audience will enjoy it. Make sure you include all the materials they need to write up the story and the contact info they’ll need if they have follow up questions.
You can also reach out to select reporters and give them an exclusive scoop. Breaking big news first is a major benefit to media outlets.
You don’t want to ask members of the media to cover your story without giving them a reason and making it extremely easy for them to do so. Think about it: would you give someone some of your product just because they said they wanted some for themselves?
Asking a reporter to give you coverage because you want to communicate something with a bigger audience is just as unreasonable of a request.
Position your story for readers and do writers a favor by clearly stating why they’ll benefit by covering your story.
When outlets do provide you with coverage, follow up with the people responsible for publishing or sharing your story. Thank them, and ask if there’s anything else you can do for them.
Make sure you remain available if media members have follow-up questions or want to work with you again in the future.
When Should You Make the Move and Invest More in PR?
It’s easier than ever to keep PR and reputation management in-house — but that doesn’t mean it’s realistic to do so forever. You and your existing employees only have so much time, and you need to dedicate most of it to what you do best within the business.
If that doesn’t include public relations, you may reach a point where you hire for that role or make the leap and bring in a contractor or PR firm to help you. The right time to bring on a dedicated staff member or pay to outsource will vary for every retailer.
If you have a strong content marketing strategy, that may reduce the need to proactively pitch media members. And retailers in highly niche markets with little competition may find press easier to gain simply because they’re one of just a few businesses with a particular story.
On the other hand, retailers in highly competitive markets could use effective PR as a way to attract more brand recognition and get head and shoulders over other companies.
The best way to know whether investing more in PR and handing over the reins of your reputation management to a dedicated pro? Carefully track and measure your own results.
Do you get a huge boost from the PR campaigns you run? It might be worth contracting with an agency to multiply your effort and expand your reach even more.
If PR doesn’t really seem to work for you, you can do one of two things:
- Keep it in-house and a minimal part of your marketing strategy so you can focus your resources on other strategies that get more results.
- Talk with a contractor or firm who can work with you on a “trial” campaign (meaning, they don’t require you to sign up for ongoing services or a big retainer) so you can test their services and compare their results against your own.
Did the expert get a better result than you did? Well, that’s why they’re the expert — and it might be worth letting them handle your PR moving forward.
How Will You Handle Your Brand’s Reputation Management?
Regardless of who does your PR, you should always maintain metrics and track performance so you understand what works and what doesn’t for your business.
There’s nothing wrong with a campaign not working. We all experience flops from time to time. The key is to know when it didn’t work and why, so you can iterate on your ideas and run a more successful PR campaign next time.