Marketing: Using Publicity to Build Your Niche in the Changing Marketplace

Editor’s Note: Marina Dock Age talked with Kelly Flory, general manager of Martin Flory Group, a public relations firm focused on delivering editorial coverage for its clients in the marine, outdoor and RV markets since 1962. In the Q&A session, Flory gives some insights into generating media coverage and reaching new customers.

How is publicity a powerful sales tool?
One aspect of public relations (PR) – specifically, publicity – is one of the most cost-effective, yet misunderstood, forms of marketing. Publicity is part of your sales efforts, as it helps you retain and attract customers.
It means sharing stories or news about your company, your people and your products with the media, who use this information in their publications, websites, blogs, radio shows or TV programs. Their use of your information creates exposure in many media outlets.

This media coverage has impartiality that creates third-party credibility. Readers believe what the media reports (in general!), they trust the information. This situation of other people saying good things about your company is far more powerful and effective at winning potential customers than you saying the same things about yourself.
And best of all – publicity is free.

How do businesses develop good relationships with the media?
Media relations is part of your publicity plan, in that developing good relationships with media is key to its success. When you are responsive and helpful to the media, you make their jobs easier. As a result, they tend to 1) use your press releases more readily, as they know you’ll be there if they have questions or need something; 2) become more receptive to other ideas you present to them, such as feature articles on a broader subject or an invitation to attend an event; and 3) may actually reach out to you, instead of you reaching out to them, if they’re gathering information or comments for other stories.

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Can you dispel some myths about publicity?
MYTH: Publicity is part of marketing, an expense.
REALITY: Publicity is part of sales. Marketing efforts drive your sales. How can people buy something they don’t know about?
When customers come to a purchasing decision, whether it’s for a product or a marina slip or a repair service, they need to understand why you are better than others. PR is one of the most cost-effective ways of educating customers about your company, its products and services. You have to be visible in the marketplace.

MYTH: Publicity is only for big companies.
REALITY: You have more to promote than you think.
A publicity plan can seem overwhelming, especially to smaller companies. But every business has something that sets it apart from others. You just have to identify the unique aspects of yours, understand your niche, then share your stories with the media. The resulting media exposure translates into sales opportunities with those potential customers reading your story.

How do you generate publicity?
Publicity isn’t some mystical, powerful thing. Really, it’s relationship building. It’s not rocket science, but does take some planning, commitment and a little creativity. And time.

The basic publicity tool is the press release, a story that shares news about your company, people or services; that promotes a specific product or service; or educates on a certain subject. Unlike the limited space of an ad or social media post, a press release can afford you the opportunity to tell a larger story and provide more details. This is particularly good to explain features and benefits of a product, especially one that is more technical. It’s also good for educational subjects, where you want to tell people how or why something should be done.

What are a few possible topics for a press release?
• New product or improvement to a product;
• New facility or expansion;
• New equipment purchased;
• New personnel or promotions/added responsibilities;
• New relationships with boatbuilders;
• Awards for the company or its personnel, or given to others (including sales awards);
• Appointments to industry or community Boards, steering committees;
• Announcements of sales growth (easily expressed and accepted in % vs $ – 1000% growth);
• Training sessions held for company personnel or outside salesforce;
• Seminars for customers;
• Open houses, demo days, National Marina Day, Venetian Night or other special events;
• Participation in industry or community projects;
• Celebrations of anniversaries – employees or business relationships.

How do you promote educational articles?
Rather than share news or tout the benefits of your company, educational topics are designed to inform, and put you in a position of being the “good guy,” trying to help others without direct benefit. (Such editorial coverage can be even more potent than news coverage and result in a more favorable view of your company.)

Possible topics include:
• What to look for in a quality (marina, service center, type of product);
• Updates on environmental issues affecting customers (pump out regulations, etc.);
• How to do something (shrinkwrap a boat, spring commissioning, basic winterizing tips);
• A weekender’s guide to (your town) with places of interest to visit, restaurants and mention of your facility.

Why do you need a plan to generate publicity regularly?
More than ever, we need to overcome cultural and digital noise. Messages are everywhere; without repetition you’ll be lost in the noise. Building relationships—whether with the media or potential customers—takes time to build trust and establish your position as a credible information source. Your company’s voice, when heard in multiple media channels in a helpful way, can become a leading voice over time.

Key aspects of your publicity plan include ensuring press releases are well-written and target the proper audience, as well as ensuring you have the resources in place to handle follow-up requests from the media. Read your local papers, as well as regional and national publications, online news services and blogs to determine how their content can fit with your overall business. What types of news and subjects are they covering? How are they reporting them? Look for a specific editor or columnist within each outlet that better fits with your business, too—they’ll be more receptive to your news or story ideas. This is the hard part of public relations – developing your contact list.

As for writing content, you can try the basic who, what, when, why and how is fine. Keep it simple. Traditional style is called an inverted pyramid – most important at the top, least at the bottom, to make it easy for editors to cut from the bottom if needed. It’s OK to put an “about” statement with a brief profile of your company at the end, especially if it’s more of a B-to-B message and you haven’t mentioned much in the text. Stay away from blatant, overboard self-promoting text. It needs to read more like a news story than an ad. You have to get the editors to believe it and find it interesting, and worthy of passing on to their readers.

Why is photography important?
If a good press release is like a delicious cake (chocolate, vanilla, pick your favorite), then good photography (and now, video) to send out with that press release is truly the icing on top.

Photography is powerful. It’s true that a picture is worth a thousands words, at least! It’s one of the first things an editor will look at and consider about your press release. You don’t have to be a pro, you just need to have an image that’s in focus and 1MB or larger, that doesn’t look like a 4-year old took it. Most cell phones have the capability to take excellent photos. Capture the moment, you’ll never know when it’ll come in handy. You can also repurpose professional photography, taken for your literature or website, to use with press releases.

Likewise, video’s appeal has skyrocketed with the digital age. The media landscape has changed to devour more video content. Online media loves video links in website stories; digital magazines can end a destination piece with a video of the waterfront; and staff-challenged local TV stations can use your video for a story rather than sending someone onsite.

How do marinas mange media relations?
Once your press release is sent out, it’s vital to respond to media requests ASAP. Sometimes an editor will have a clarifying question. Or maybe they want to expand the story – particularly nice. If an editor reaches out to you, make it a priority to respond – within a day. Within an hour is even better.
If you don’t have what the media person needs, or it will take some time to get them an answer, be honest. Editors work under deadlines, and nothing will kill a relationship faster than ignoring them.

Don’t be afraid to talk to our industry media. They’re interested in your company, and they’re generally not interested in launching an undercover expose. You need more caution with mainstream media, as you need to know the purpose of their story. In the end, know that you control the interview: you can pivot questions to your points. In general, if you’re helpful and kind to the media, it’ll come back to you. When you become a reliable source of information, you become a pretty valuable asset to a journalist.
An easy way to track coverage is to review the publications to which you send regularly, and set up simple things like Google alerts with specific, somewhat unique phrases from your press release “Joe’s Marina sales award.”

What else can marinas do beyond press releases?
Invite your local media to tour your location, or take a seminar, or go for a boat ride. There are many business and lifestyle story angles that can be uncovered by the media if you just give them the chance to explore your world. Give the media the reasons why they should attend your event, offer them as many angles of information as possible, and hopefully one will resonate with them. They won’t necessarily come “just because you asked.”

Once you’ve developed some good media relationships, you can also pitch story ideas to them, maybe covering local environmental issues and the environmentally-friendly things you’re doing; or maybe you’ve had good business growth and are hiring people so you can show how you’re helping the local economy, etc.

And finally, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an email or phone call from a journalist who wants your opinion or information on a given subject. Now you’re a resource. How cool is that!