By Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, President & CEO of Rhino PR
We all know that projects aren’t won, designed, and constructed by one firm alone. It’s a collaborative effort between the architect, general contractor, sub-contractors, and other specialty designers to bring a project to fruition, and the client plays a key role in how it comes together. The same collaborative mindset should be applied to marketing and public relations. All team members want to receive recognition for their respective roles on a project. Reaching out to your project team to coordinate public relations (PR) efforts yields better results than going it alone.
The key to project team PR is working together to devise a mutually beneficial media strategy, sharing project information, and giving everyone a say in the final product. Before you start, however, secure client participation and permission to publicize the project. Your client contact may be your biggest fan, but be sure that their communications and legal departments are aware and agreeable to PR outreach. Share your strategy with them and provide opportunity for approval of materials when necessary. Taking the time to involve the client early will make for a smoother and more successful process.
So where do you start? Use PR tools like press releases, byline articles, media relations, and events to publicize the project throughout its lifecycle, and include client testimonials and quotes whenever possible. Project milestones like groundbreakings, topping-off ceremonies, and ribbon cuttings provide the most obvious reasons for PR. While the event planning and coordination for these milestones differ in the details, the approach to project team PR is generally the same.
- Develop a PR plan around a project milestone. Events like groundbreakings, topping-off ceremonies, and ribbon cuttings are truly a team effort to pull off. Set team goals and objectives for PR and identify the target audiences and media you want to reach. Keep them in mind as you outline your strategy and tactical activities for achieving them. Establish a schedule of deliverables, deadlines and responsibilities, and pursue all relevant media for pre-, post- and live event coverage. For example, a media advisory could be used to generate broader interest and encourage press to attend the event. Send a press release with photos after the event, and follow up with editors who couldn’t attend. Post photos and video content to social media after the event to build followers and drive people to ‘like’ the project team’s company pages.
- Craft a compelling message. Know what you want to say, and more importantly, what the team wants people to learn, about the project. Draft three or four key messages and be consistent about using these messages across all channels. Why is the project interesting? What problems did the team solve for the client? Does the project approach speak to a broader trend in design or construction? The more consistent and repetitive you are in spreading the message, the more likely the target audience will hear it and remember it.
- Understand your media targets. Identify the press most likely to attend and cover the event, and pitch appropriately. Include local, business, and vertical media, as well as “party press” if your event features high-profile names, celebrities, or politicians. Remember to hire a photographer, if the event warrants one. Television and radio outlets should be contacted the morning of the event, as assignments are prioritized and determined early in the day.
- Plan ahead. If you’re inviting the media, start pitching as early as possible – when the event is scheduled – to secure interest and attendance. When inviting the media, a personal invitation (email is fine) in lieu of a mass announcement is recommended to establish a relationship and to answer specific questions about the event. Even with early outreach, don’t be surprised if press decline to attend the event but offer to cover the news afterwards. Cheerfully offer to send post-event photos and follow up as soon as you have them. If the media does attend, ensure a member of the project team is available to facilitate introductions and arrange interviews.
- Know your PR toolbox. PR professionals use a variety of placements to publicize a project at all phases of design and construction. Press releases, editorial opportunities and byline articles are the bread and butter of PR. What differentiates them?
- Press releases are written and distributed by the project team to disseminate information to the press. They follow a generally accepted format, with a headline and sub-headline announcing the “first-best-only” of your news; three or four paragraphs highlighting the who, what, when, where, and why of the story; a relevant client quote; and boiler plate of consistent company information for each project team member. A project press release should highlight each firm’s role on the project in a concise and compelling way. Distribute the press release to media targets via email, aiming for mid-week days when editors’ inboxes are less full and more likely to be read. For greater national impact, issue the press release on a wire service where it will get pick-up on hundreds of news aggregate web sites.
- Editorial opportunities are articles that have been scheduled according to a publication’s editorial calendar. Unless noted otherwise, these articles are written by editors or freelance writers hired by the publication and constitute public relations in its purest form: information gathered by a neutral third party (the writer or editor), who crafts the article with the most relevant and interesting information provided by you and other experts, for the benefit of their readers.
To take advantage of these opportunities, research editorial calendars for your target publications. Pitch the project as a case study and offer to set up a phone interview with the client and project team. Most monthly magazines work two to four months ahead of the publication date, so be sure to leave enough time to contact the editor.
- Byline articles may also appear on a publication’s editorial calendar, but may not be marked as such. This is where you need to do your homework: scan the publication, check the editorial guidelines online, or email the editor directly to ask if the publication accepts contributed – or byline – articles. Bylines are planned well in advance of the publish date, so pitch with plenty of time to ensure that your proposal gets read.
For byline articles, the authors (i.e. your project team) draft the article in accordance with the publication’s writing guidelines. Vertical publications in particular often feature newly completed projects, especially those with a public profile or interesting design/construction aspects like historical restorations or urban developments. Provide a few project photos to accompany the article and tell the project story. A byline article is a perfect opportunity to showcase the project team’s expertise on addressing a design or construction challenge or highlight best practices using the project example as a case study. A byline article is not an opportunity to plug a product, use marketing jargon, or give kudos to yourself or your project team. In its published form, a byline article can become a valuable piece of marketing collateral – with the benefit of the publication’s masthead at the top.
Coordinating a team-based approach to PR is a win-win for everyone. It tells a more comprehensive story of the project and provides recognition for the key players. More, using local, national and industry trade publications – both print and digital – to educate and inform potential clients is a proven step to build a successful brand and drive continued sales growth. Remember to share the wealth when you promote your next project.