How to boost your business through effective PR and media relations

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PR and media relations should be an important part of any accountancy firm’s marketing plan, but you need to appreciate the rules of engagement.

We all know of those media-savvy accountants who appear in the local paper, on the radio or have a strong presence online. They make it look so easy, but PR (public relations) and the ability to deliver effective media interviews are skills that can be learned.

But why should you bother? Well, being interviewed by a journalist costs nothing but your time (if you are not using a PR agency) and it is an opportunity to share your personal and company’s expertise with thousands or sometimes millions of people.

PR boosts a business’s credibility and can be an important asset to protect your reputation.

Coverage in the local newspaper or being positioned as a money expert on local radio following the Budget can often have a greater impact than other forms of marketing.

“Any accounting firm can raise its corporate profile through PR, with or without the help of an agency,” says Daniel Hill, a PR specialist at marketing agency Vertical Leap. “The benefits include enhanced brand visibility and client acquisition.”

PR starts with the content you place on social media, particularly LinkedIn. This is one place where journalists will seek out sector experts.

“This content can take the form of articles, blog posts, whitepapers or case studies and should address current trends, regulatory changes and best practices in accounting and finance,” says Hill. “You may also want to share client testimonials and case studies to enhance credibility and demonstrate your firm’s ability to deliver results. You will also appear on a journalist’s radar if they see you at industry conferences speaking on panels or at local business events.”

Who is your audience?

For media relations to be effective you must be clear about the audiences you want to reach. Who do you want to read your words or hear you on the radio during an interview? Who is actually reading and listening?

Are you speaking to a business audience via the trade press or to the public via local radio or television? How old are the readers or viewers likely to be and are you talking to more men than women – or vice-versa?

You must also consider a particular audience’s knowledge of what you are talking about because this will affect what you say, the language you use and the examples you bring in to illustrate your points.

What is a story and how to make it interesting

Once you know your audience you must consider why people should care about what you are saying. You may think that what you have to share is interesting but the media might feel differently. News is something that is happening now, has just happened or is about the happen.

As an expert on an issue (such as the Budget or tax) you need to find a relevant story for the media. A journalist will only quote you if what you have to say will benefit the audience. The test is usually around saving time or money – or both.

One top tip is to ensure your story is topical. Can you link it to the time of year, the cost of living crisis, summer holidays, Christmas or even the football World Cup? What the journalist will be thinking is ‘why should we cover this story today?’

In addition, think about why your story is unusual or different. Maybe you are the only accountancy firm doing something, or this is first time something has happened. Perhaps you have won an award or launched a new service.

You also need to think about the human element of your story. Who is affected? Is it the consumer or a business owner? What is the real human impact on them of what you are talking about?

You should bring your story to life by talking about real case studies (named or not) or use research and statistics as this will add to your credibility.

Should you work with a PR agency?

An experienced PR agency will have established relationships with journalists, but that comes at a cost.

If you are looking at investing in a year-long PR campaign to raise your firm’s profile and secure coverage in top-tier publications and broadcast channels it may be worth the investment. After all, effective media relations is time-consuming.

“As well as increasing exposure and helping with content, a PR agency will use tools and metrics to track the effectiveness of campaigns, measure brand sentiment, and analyse media coverage, providing valuable insights for future strategic planning and decision-making,” says PR specialist Daniel Hill from agency Vertical Leap.

If you want to work alone, it is possible to look online to discover which local journalists cover business stories and who the editorial teams are on trade publications.

Making the most of the media interview

Once you secure a media interview it is important you make the most of what is a great opportunity.

Do not treat it as a question and answer session but more as a presentation. You are presenting the topic to an audience in the same way you would if they were sitting in front of you at an event.

Choose three or four things to say that will be relevant to the audience and hopefully help you win business. But don’t be overly salesy as you won’t be invited back. Talk about trends.

You should always prepare for an interview, and this includes thinking about how a specific audience perceives the topic.

Do they view it positively or negatively? Similarly, how knowledgeable is the audience of the topic? Do you need to give context and background? Finally, consider what behavioural change you want to see from the audience once you have finished. Do you want them to act differently? Don’t forget to mention your firm’s name.

It is also important to consider what tricky questions you might be asked. Run through these with your colleagues or PR team beforehand and work through your answers. These would be the type of questions people might ask you at the end of a presentation.

There are some other rules of engagement when talking to journalists. You can also ask them questions. For example, what exactly are you after from me today? Have you spoken to anyone else?

You should always be succinct. One technique is to use the rule of three. You might say: “There are three important points to mention when it comes to the changes in tax announced yesterday. The first is…”

Ultimately journalists want stories. With this in mind you need to use case studies and examples to help the reporter and the audience visualise what you mean. This is certainly true for radio where you need to be able to paint a picture with words. Using anonymised client stories can really help here.

Top tips for accounting firms considering their PR strategy

  • Create useful content (research, whitepapers and articles) that people want to read.
  • Maintain an active presence online and at industry events to remain present in key ongoing conversations.
  • Share expert opinions on changes to your industry and areas that resonate with your team.
  • Leverage your client’s testimonials to support stories for your audience.
  • Clearly define what you’re looking to achieve through PR, how you measure impact and report on success.
  • Work with a PR agency that can create compelling content with you, has relationships with journalists and editors, has their hands on the pulse of your industry news and provides insightful reports on PR activity.

Case study

Lucy Cohen is co-founder and CEO of Mazuma Money and is no stranger to using public relations and media interviews to boost her business.

By positioning herself as an accountancy industry disrupter, this female entrepreneur will always attract the interest of journalists.

The company had an interesting story to tell because she co-founded it at the age of 23 with another woman, Sophie Hughes. They used the media to introduce the concept of subscription-based accountancy services to many people for the first time.

“When we launched we didn’t have much money for marketing so we used public relations to build brand recognition,” says Cohen. “We had a good story in a male-dominated industry, but we are always innovating and trying to do things differently, which gets media attention.”

Cohen tends to get approached by journalists when they need spokespeople on different finance topics. The company is also proactive and produces press releases when Mazuma Money has news to announce.

She has also used the media to raise awareness of issues that are close to her heart.

For example, she led a campaign for better pain relief and information for women suffering after an IUD (intrauterine device) fitting. She told her personal story and more than 1,500 women shared their experiences with her. She launched a petition and the campaign was covered extensively by the media including the BBC, ITV, the Daily Mail, Metro, Cosmopolitan and The Times.

“Whether the subject is about health or accountancy the media need to see your passion for the subject and understand why what you are saying is relevant to their readers.”

But has the PR coverage and time spent actually improved the business’s bottom line?

“It is hard to track the return on PR because it is mainly about brand building. It certainly helps to bolster other marketing and adds to your company’s credibility, especially if you are a relatively new business.”

Steve Hemsley Is a journalist, media trainer, and podcast presenter. .

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