When marketing and advertising budgets are stretched to their limits, a targeted and well-planned public relations campaign is the best dollar-for-dollar investment a savvy marketer can make.
By introducing your family of products to the media through a strategic public relations campaign, your messaging achieves an unparalleled level of trustworthiness.
A well-timed and professionally executed public relations plan has the potential to deliver your message to millions of consumers and thousands of print and television outlets, blogs, video websites and consumer sites as well.
Tools of the trade
The tool most frequently associated with public relations campaigns is the news release. News releases seek to deliver newsworthy information to media outlets in the most expedient method possible and they should always include the "Five Ws" of traditional journalism: Who, What, Where, When and Why.
Previously delivered via traditional "snail" mail or fax, public relations experts today send news releases electronically - by e-mail, social networks and even online video.
In recent years, the news release has evolved to include all kinds of digital information: MP3 audio for podcasts, digital video clips (frequently linked to YouTube), product photography, and company logos and graphics.
Many digital news releases also include links to existing relevant coverage - empowering editors to search for a new "angle" to the story - and various tags/links to social media outlets, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.
The devil is in the details
When pitching a product or feature to the media, remember to focus on the consumer's needs without getting caught up in marketing lingo or hyperbole.
Remember, a news release is a "just the facts, ma'am" piece of communication.
Consumers trust their favorite journalists as they would trust their best fishing buddy and look to them for guidance when investigating new products.
Give the editors the room they need to create a well-informed opinion of your product and they'll do so accordingly.
The key element to every PR campaign is timing.
While digital media outlets provide nearly instantaneous coverage, many print outlets work with lead times of up to three months or more, meaning that an ill-timed news release or product introduction could result in you missing an entire selling season.
Prepare your information well ahead of time and get it into the hands of trusted media outlets as soon as possible.
If the product in question is not yet ready for general delivery, include a media "embargo" with your release.
This lets editors know when and how your information can be released to their readers.
For example, a news release highlighting a boat set for a consumer launch date of June 15 could be distributed in February with an embargo date of June 1, effectively prohibiting media outlets from publishing or otherwise sharing information regarding the product until that date.
This allows print editors to consider your information for a future edition that meets their needs - and yours.
Possibly the most difficult aspect of a public relations campaign is getting your information into the proper hands.
Distributing your release to publications and editors whose readers have no interest in your product (a powerboat product release sent to a publication focused on sailing, for example) will appear unprofessional, putting your future releases at risk of going into the electronic trash can.
There are many great tools designed to help you build a targeted media list, such as the Cision and Vocus media databases.
They are also a great means of discovering new publications with which you might not be familiar and they can provide fresh ideas and innovative new outlets for your product.
Since mining the systems for optimal results is a time-consuming affair, however, your best bet is to partner with a seasoned PR pro who can walk you through the intricacies of building a comprehensive media list.
An effective public relations campaign always includes these key elements: well-written and concise press materials, a solid media database and great editorial relationships.
The last two will come with time and effort but, thanks to some phenomenal support from the team at Grow Boating, dealers and manufacturers alike now have access to a full complement of sample news release templates at www.growboating.org.
They offer an excellent jumping-off point for the public relations do-it-yourselfer.
It's a noisy and confusing world out there for consumers and getting your message to cut through the clutter can be a chore, even with the best marketing strategy.
Be heard by adding a comprehensive public relations campaign to your marketing mix.
You'll leverage the huge population of boaters interested in innovative new products, grow your sales, drive dollars to your bottom line and build customers for life.
Brian Johnston is president of Bonefish Communications (www.bonefishcommunications.com) and director of communications for Metal Shark Boats (www.metalshark boats.com). For information and future topic suggestions, e-mail him at: email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.