When discussing your business goals and marketing strategies, you’re probably already used to terms like “target audience” and “content.” These terms give you the mental distance to figure out the cold, hard facts that’ll lead you to success.
However, when you think about it, “target audience” is just another word for “people,” and “content” is another word for “language.”
So, if you forget you’re a human running a business for other humans, there’s not much point in any of your strategies. Real people want safety, growth, and truth. And if they suspect you’re anything less than honest, they’ll head to Google and social media platforms to set the record straight.
That’s why one of the most important factors for your ecommerce business is honesty.
What is Public Relations?
Public relations refers to the relationship a brand, organization, persona, or idea maintains with the public. In other words, public relations is all the activities related to keeping the public engaged and interested.
The goal of a PR activity (campaign) is to tailor a clear-cut message to a specific group of people that helps maintain a relationship. So it’s not just about transmitting any old news item to just about anyone: it’s about making sure your message finds the right ears.
Differences Between PR and Marketing
PR goes hand-in-hand with marketing. It’s common for brands to use a combination of PR, content marketing, and digital marketing to establish their presence, attract potential customers, and generate sales.
To compare the two, you might say marketing and PR are two sides of the same coin.
For a more illustrative comparison, you could also say marketing campaigns are fast food and PR campaigns are slow food. However, they are to be compared in terms of speed and presentation, not quality. For them to be any good, both marketing and PR have to be delicious and top-notch.
- Marketing campaigns are typically about instant gratification: deals, discounts, offers, promotions, and campaigns that are tasty, irresistible, fun to share, and fun to talk about. With marketing, the goal is to grow your business within a market.
- PR campaigns are about savoring and reflection: facts, news, and opinions that are worth chewing over and that will come to mind later as you’re thinking about something else. With PR, the goal is to grow your brand awareness in the public eye.
How to Get Started with Public Relations
Today’s customers know their way around online marketing strategies and shopping deals, and don’t like being pushed into anything. This is where PR comes in to help you gently nudge potential customers in the right direction — to your store.
1. Know your brand and what makes it unique.
Remember that you can’t promote a brand image that doesn’t exist, so make sure to define what your brand means and what you want it to be associated with.
Take notes from brands like CamelBak. CamelBak believes in going on outdoor adventures, solving problems, and helping to create a cleaner Earth for everyone to enjoy.
When creating PR-related content, be prepared to talk about any of the following without hesitation:
Who you are as a person:
- Your life story
- Your story as an entrepreneur
- How these experiences have shaped your decisions
Who you are as a business:
- Your product/service
- Your unique selling points
- Your audience and their needs
- Your business goals
Who you are as a brand:
- Business values
- Community values
- How you perceive your brand
- How you’d like to be perceived
What you’ve learned so far:
- Progress you’ve made
- Setbacks you’ve overcome
- Learnings and data you’re ready to share with the public
Prepare in-depth comments on each of these points ahead of time. Having the answers ready will bring focus to your PR content and discussions with the general public, industry leaders, and the media.
Some of your answers may change over time, and that’s alright. Just be careful about introducing those changes into your PR communication. Sudden, drastic changes might attract the wrong kind of attention and cause a backlash. And make sure everyone on your team is on the same page. They should know what your brand represents and be aware of the PR strategy behind your content.
2. Assemble a PR team.
We’re living in a time where brands are often looked upon as thought leaders, and people turn to them for advice. For example, many ecommerce brands have a blog, where they can educate their audience on their own terms. On a larger scale, content provided by key industry players is often featured in the news (when Amazon speaks, the world listens).
So, if you want to go all in to become a household name, you’re going to have to be okay with the idea of you and/or your team having a public presence. And you’re going to have to tell the same story many times, answer lots of questions, and talk to people frequently.
You shouldn’t do this alone, and you don’t have to. A few key roles on your team can help make PR easier. Sometimes one person can have several roles, but it helps to have at least a couple people in charge of different things.
- PR specialist: This role should be constantly networking with the media, building an outreach list, and finding and coordinating PR opportunities.
- Content creator: The person in this role will create copy for your PR activities, so they must be a good writer with an understanding of your brand voice and tone..
- Spokesperson: This person should be comfortable with speaking publicly in interviews, comments, videos, articles, and more. You can have one spokesperson or several: the founder or business owner, people on your team, or other hired PR specialists.
Some PR activities may be costly, but when you’re just starting out, all you need is the willingness to maintain a constant relationship with people and media outlets as well as damn good content.
3. Be part of the conversation online to be remembered offline.
When it comes to PR for ecommerce, the good news is, a lot of the action is online — especially on social media — so you can spark up conversations, join discussions, and reach out to influencers and thought leaders without having to leave your house.
And the better your brand spokespeople are at curating the brand’s online presence, the bigger the chance that you’ll be welcome or invited to participate in offline PR events as well.
Online and offline PR work together beautifully. Just think about all the times you liked a brand’s Facebook page or followed a public persona on Twitter after attending an event. Or the times you discussed a product with your friends after seeing the brand mentioned somewhere in your daily news feed.
The point in engaging in public online discussions as a brand spokesperson is to stay in the loop and not have to keep re-introducing your business when participate in a PR activity.
The most important piece of advice about giving your two cents is the most obvious, but also the most overlooked: speak from the heart and be honest. People have been advertised, marketed, and promoted to for a long time. They’re quick to spot anyone who’s sucking up or attempting to ride the other’s coattails.
Honesty and acknowledging the now is part of the core identity of Solo Stove, the brand that makes premium wood burning camp stoves. You can feel that vibe as soon as you visit their website:
Here are a few pointers for building your reputation as a spokesperson on social media.
- Single out the social media channels of choice for your customers and the thought leaders you want to engage with. Start by researching Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
- Be aware that your customers and thought leaders may not be in the same social media circles. In that case, you’ll have to maintain a presence in several places at a time.
- Follow social media accounts that are relevant to your field of interest and your brand.
- Get involved in the conversation by posting your thoughts on a recent news item that matters to your customers and/or thought leaders and commenting on other people’s posts.
- Say something only when you mean it: show genuine interest, and give your honest opinion. Remember that it’s also okay to disagree with someone, and you’re welcome to share your point of view — just do it with respect and without hurting anyone’s feelings.
If you’re just starting out and are nervous about being part of the discussion, you can begin by liking and sharing posts.
Making friends takes time, whether it’s social media friends or PR friends. Don’t worry if your social media PR activities don’t get a response right away. What matters most is that you show the public that you have a voice and an opinion.
For an example of how to use your voice as part of your PR strategy, look no further than Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX.
But before you post your opinion, go over the rules of proper digital etiquette:
- Don’t share news you’re not 100% sure is legitimate and truthful
- Check that the news source/social media account you’re interacting with is real
- Remember what you stand for (e.g., if you sell merch for a bread company, don’t go gluten-shaming people online).
Keep in mind that the more popular you become on social media, the more unforgiving the public will be of your slip-ups. And if you decide to be a spokesperson for a brand, consider reviewing your personal accounts before “going public.” Take down any social media content that is too personal or leaves an impression you wouldn’t want associated with the brand.
PR Tactics Needed for Your Online Store
Like I said at the beginning of this article, the best PR comes from honesty. Whatever you publish, start by making sure it’s true. Lying in your PR efforts is pointless — your customers are plugged in and have all the information at their fingertips.
However, telling people the truth doesn’t equate to telling people everything. You’ve probably learned that revealing everything about yourself rarely helps, in both business and in life.
So, when thinking about your next PR piece or responding to a comment, dissect the information you have. Throw away anything that’s not relevant to that time, place, and audience.
1. Focus on the audience.
Your audience isn’t necessarily interested in you, your brand, or your news — they’re interested in the benefits to them. Whenever you’re thinking about generating news around your brand, think about what’s in it for the audience.
LARQ, the brand behind the self-cleaning water bottle, provides a terrific example of how to make a press page look enticing, modern, and relevant. to the reader.
Here’s a trick to check if your news item is actually newsworthy to the public.
Once you have a draft or outline of your announcement, replace your name or your brand’s name with someone else’s. You can try it at least four different ways:
- With a name that’s not very popular
- With a name you don’t like very much
- With a household name
- With a competitor
Then, ask yourself how the news makes you feel — and if you still care about what you’re communicating.
You may find that it doesn’t matter if it’s coming from your stiffest competition, a small family-owned local business, or the Coca-Cola Company. Taking in news about new products or the number of units sold with no mention of what’s in it for the audience is boring as hell.
If it’s boring, start again, and try to find the public benefit — talk about others rather than yourself.
So, don’t just announce your brand anniversary with a list of your achievements by the numbers; reflect on how supportive your customers have been and include them in the celebration.
For example, when print-on-demand company Printful reached its first major milestone, the millionth printed shirt, the team celebrated by creating a unique t-shirt made from designs sent in by Printful customers.
Talk about how you’re part of a bigger picture and how you hope to keep providing your audience with benefits in the future.
2. Contribute to external sources and media.
Your news item can be of interest to different groups of people, but the message for each group has to look like it was made just for them. There is no winning formula to get it right: You just have to consume a lot of content and identify what your target audience responds to.
The good news is, anything can be a good PR opportunity as long as you decide on your angle, channel, and medium.
Your angle is the theme of your message, or the lens you’re using to filter information. Think about how you would report a national news event for the Washington Post versus for a small-town newspaper. What’s the nugget in your story that will convince that audience to care?
The three types of channels you need to know about are owned, earned, and paid. We’re going to skip paid channels, because those fall predominantly under the category of marketing.
Owned channels are the ones your brand owns and controls; for example, your website, social media accounts, press page, etc.
Then you have external channels, like news media, business partnerships, influencers, bloggers, thought leaders, etc. Gaining publicity through these channels through public relations is earned. You can’t buy your way in, and you don’t control what they publish — so if you get a mention, it’s time to celebrate. This is the most valuable type of coverage in terms of PR.
The medium to depends on the angle and channel you chose and the content type your audience is consuming:
- Article (news or blog)
- Panel discussion
- Press release
- Social media post
Here’s an example of how lifestyle audio brand Skullcandy uses the right angle, channel, and medium. Their products and mission are all about the music, so it makes sense that a part of their marketing and PR efforts are published on YouTube:
Whichever format you end up with, do your homework on who’s listening and speak from the heart. Your goal is to come off as an authority who knows what they’re talking about and the audience needs to feel like they can trust your advice.
3. Create newsworthy content around your products.
Remember when I said all you really need for PR is the willingness to communicate with people and damn good content?
That’s because the people you’ll collaborate with on PR efforts are very busy and always on the hunt for exciting, easily accessible new information. If you can offer them targeted, high quality content, that’s a win-win for both of you.
To make sure your message is clear and digestible, follow the five Ws.
- Who are the key people in the story you’re sharing?
- What is the story about? What’s the point?
- Where did the key events of the story happen?
- When did the key events of the story happen?
Why should your audience care?
The more ready-to-use your PR content is, the more likely it is to be picked up and have a longer lifespan.
This article in Men’s Health about Burrow, the brand behind “the luxury couch for real life,” doesn’t come off as just another promo piece. The writer has done their homework to make the article funny and topical for the site’s target audience: “I was also pleased to find some thoughtful and — let’s face it — millennial-friendly touches included, such as a built-in USB charger located next to one of the arms.”
Publicity doesn’t come out of nowhere: executing on a good PR campaign can take an entire network of people. The sooner you learn that, the closer you’ll get to achieving the level of brand awareness that you’ve envisioned for your business.
And one last thing — stick to the truth. As the saying goes, if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.