US humourist Will Rogers said: “Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far”.
Public relations (PR) is the most cost-effective promotional tool available to a craftsperson or designer. It’s not entirely free – you must invest your own time and may have to give away some samples, to the right people, when appropriate – but, done right, it gives you tremendous ‘bang for your buck’.
PR is especially useful if you are trying to establish a premium or trend-setting brand, since your customers are more likely to be influenced in their buying by the journalists they follow in print and online than by advertisements. Featuring your craft item in the ‘right’ photo-spread in the ‘right’ magazine may do more for your sales than a full-page colour advertisement in the same magazine.
Find out who are the key journalists and other influencers in your target customer segment. Follow what they write; learn what interests them; make contact with them and pitch your idea – gently, because you’re selling, but you don’t want to appear to be doing so. Be patient and persistent. And, when a journalist contacts you on their own initiative (happy day!), respond as quickly and as helpfully as you can.
Entering, and winning awards is a great way of getting PR, with the added advantage that the award organisers do most of the publicity work for you!
Sponsorship can be a useful form of PR for some craft businesses. Sponsoring a craft or design workshop in a local school may cost you no more than your time but may introduce you to the parents of the children you tutor – who are your target customers. Or a child from the school may win an art award – and you might share in the resulting publicity.
Another way of connecting with your local community is to hold an ‘open day’ in your studio/workshop, so people can see you at work and learn what you do. But if you are inviting members of the public into your premises, be careful with your materials and tools – and make sure you have the necessary public liability insurance in place.
Developing a PR strategy consists of deciding on:
- Your aim: What do you want to achieve by the end of the month/year/campaign? Be specific: not “more sales” or “media coverage” but “a 25% increase in sale of item X through our existing retailers” or “two feature articles, with photos, in Y magazine or in Z blog”
- Your message: What do you want to say? Remember to couch it in terms that interest your audience (see below). While launching a new range of craft items is exciting to you, your audience is thinking “what’s in it for me?”. Since yours is a visual medium, take advantage of it by sending photos with your press release
- Your audience: Who do you want to say it to? Distinguish between the end-receivers of your message – the readers of a particular magazine, for example – and the editor or journalist you need to influence to get your message published. Keep your message simple – complicated messages are easily misunderstood or misinterpreted
- Your outlets: Identify specific magazines, TV programmes, blogs, etc that your audience read/see. Target specific journalists whose work and style you have got to know – invest them in getting to know them, both before and after your initial approach
- Your plan of attack: Don’t just fire press releases into the blue: pick the right time to approach the right person with the right message. Remember that you may need to repeat your message several times before your audience grasps it. Be realistic about how long it may take to see results
Make sure you measure your results afterwards. Spend a little time tracking the impact of your PR efforts. You’ll quickly learn what not to do again – and what you should do more of, or do better. Count visitors to your website, sales or the amount of media coverage you receive, whatever fits best with your PR aim.