As a former journalist, I appreciate the grit and heart that it takes to produce accurate and informative news stories day after day. I cringe every time I see an attack on the press. With #fakenews regularly invoked by politicians at the highest levels, the hashtag has become a punchline, and it’s easy to feel despondent about the future of our democracy. But I’m an optimist, or at least aspire to be, and as a public relations professional, the era of #fakenews offers an opportunity for people and businesses doing good to shine.
Scrutiny of the press has made consumers more discerning, but that’s good news. A discerning customer is a good customer. By the time they’ve found and vetted your product or service, they’ve determined they can trust you, and that trust will hold as long as you continue providing a solution to their problem and living up to your values. Here are four ways to strengthen trust with your customers through earned media.
Know your audience. Marketing 101 teaches you about understanding the likes and behavior of your target customer, but now more than ever, brands need to understand what media sources are trusted by their audience, and where and how targeted consumers get their news. A customer may have their guard up when they see a commercial, billboard, or digital ad, but when your company is featured in a beloved news outlet, you’re one step closer to gaining their trust. According to a study done by Nielsen, 58% of consumers trusted editorial content over just 33% that reported online banners as trustworthy. If a news outlet your target customer respects has determined your company is worthy of a positive news story, that customer is more inclined to agree and purchase a product or patronize your services.
Hire a trusted team. With PR pros outnumbering journalists by six to one, it’s not just consumers who have their guard up. Members of the media are understandably suspicious, and it doesn’t help that they often get pitches that are not a fit for their outlet or beat. Make sure your PR team researches the types of stories reporters are looking for and knows how to pitch to them in a succinct, respectful way. In the face of staff layoffs and budget cuts, many news outlets face pressure to crank out content quickly and frequently, so if your team gives them a story that’s worth writing, they are more likely to engage with you or at least give your pitch full consideration.
Walk the walk. Your company lands a big story in a best-fit publication, and your inbox is lighting up with sales leads. That’s great, but you’ve still got to play the long game. Your company must deliver an excellent product or service that lives up to its brand promise and values, delivering on your claims of transparency, character, and backbone. If you’re not living up to the promises you make, consumers will sniff you out as a fake and you may lose them for good. When acquiring a new customer can cost up to five times more than retaining one, your company’s success relies on maintaining a positive relationship with customers who have already converted.
Be newsworthy… for the right reasons. Most businesses exist to solve problems. Many of these problems are extremely compelling, at least among my clients. Whether your business is trying to end the childcare shortage and support high-quality early education or dismantle the traditional barriers to women succeeding as attorneys, hone in on the most interesting messengers to help tell your story in the press. Stand out when it aligns with your brand’s personality. Be creative when you examine your press release from a journalist’s perspective. Find a way to capture the attention of your target audience and tell a story that makes a lasting connection.