"Do-It-Yourself" PR: Top tips for small food businesses

Written in

February 7, 2023

Public Relations (PR) can be an incredible asset, and worthwhile investment, for even the smallest of food businesses. Even with no budget, small food business owners can “DIY” their PR and create maximum impact for their brand.

Public Relations (PR) can be an incredible asset, and worthwhile investment, for even the smallest of food businesses. Even with no budget, small food business owners can “DIY” their PR and create maximum impact for their brand.

That’s why we invited Public Relations expert Hugh Richard Wright to take our members on a whistle-stop tour of what he does day in day out for his clients.

Here’s Hugh’s guide to understanding what PR involves, who to contact, how to contact them, and how to position your business to make a lasting impression...

So... What actually is PR?

Marketing and PR are often conflated, and while there can be an overlap, they are different disciplines.

Marketing is paid-for, B2C, targeted activity with a measurable result. Examples of this: online advertising which can be measured by click-throughs and sales or paying for a stall at a trade-fair or market where you sell your product.

Public Relations is the development, cultivation and leveraging of relationships to create media coverage and word-of-mouth, which create positive sentiment towards your business or brand, and keep it relevant and in the public eye. PR is also about managing your business or brand’s reputation; keeping initial buzz alive; keeping your brand in the public eye, and relevant; and protecting your reputation if something should go wrong (‘crisis communications’ – the ‘dark art’ of PR!)

It’s typically achieved by:

  • press releases, to introduce a brand/business from scratch or to announce significant pieces of news (completely new products, ranges, sites);
  • targeted pitches to specific people, titles and sections
  • regularly meeting with journalists to catch up on what you’re doing and what they’re working on
  • entertaining press and influencers (dining if a restaurant; at launches and events if a brand)
  • gifting
  • own editorial – newsletters rounding up latest news for busy journalists
  • social media
  • to mention just a few!

While there is a cost involved in PR, typically there is no further cost for the coverage achieved – this is called ‘earned coverage’.

PR can’t always be measured immediately, or at all – you won’t always know, for example, that someone bought your product because they read a particular piece about it, unless they tell you.

In a nutshell, Marketing is selling; PR is storytelling.

Do I need a PR Agency? Or can I do it myself?

This depends on a number of things…

  • What audience do you want to reach? (Who, where – local area, your city, region, country, international?) How widely do you want – or need – to be known?
  • What are the kinds of titles and sites you want to see yourself featured in? Local/national newspapers? Supplements? Consumer titles? Trade press? Blogs? Lifestyle? Luxury? Budget? Travel?
  • Do you have contacts at those titles already, and if not, do you have the time to research them? Are you confident about contacting someone ‘cold’?
  • Are you confident that you can tell your brand or business’s story yourself in a clear, concise and compelling way that makes it stand out in someone’s busy inbox?
  • What are the messages you want to get across? Who to? What do you want the results to be? Do we know how to do that, and do we have time? If the outcome of the evaluation is clear and achievable goals – go for it!

The value of having a PR agency, or consultant like Hugh, working for you is that you typically pay a flat monthly fee; they will work with you to create a PR strategy; and they will then go off and deliver it and report back on their progress.

But depending on the size of your business, the cost of hiring an agency might be disproportionate to the benefit. An agency might not scale its approach to the size of your business. Plus managing the relationship with an agency creates work which you might not have time for.

If you are at an early stage and have limited budget, you may want to consider giving DIY PR a go.

How should I reach out to writers and journalists?

1. Draw up your target list of people to contact.

How do you get hold of email addresses? Check the masthead of print titles (the staff list usually in the front or back of the magazine); their website; their personal website if they have one; social media (in bios or they might have a contact button; if all else fails, you can DM politely on social media – but not everyone likes this and some find it actively intrusive.). And before deciding what to send, decide on how to say it – your ‘house style’.

2. Define your brand’s messaging.

What do you want people to say and think about you? A good starting point is to try to think about how you’d like to hear yourself talked about – what are your selling points, unique characteristics, values? What do you NOT want people to say about you? It’s just as important to understand what your product or business is NOT, as well as what it IS.

3. Decide on what kind of message you want to send.

It could be:

A press release – this can either be a general, broad-ranging release introducing your brand or business to your audience, or tied to a specific, significant piece of news or research, such as a major new product launch or new opening

A pitch – this is a specific story idea tailored to a particular publication’s audience and usually to a particular section (for example the offer of an interview with your founder for a food trade title’s section on young founders)

A NIB – news-in-brief – a snappy detail which might be useful in a bigger piece or round-up but isn’t a story in itself – such as a new flavour of an existing product. (NIBs are usually best kept for people you already have a relationship with – once journalists know you, they’ll quite often do a shout-out if they have space to fill or are working on a round-up feature.)

The Golden Rule of Pitching: Know the publication and its sections, what they cover and what they don’t.

Journalists are very busy and receive hundreds of emails a day, so sending them something they or their publication simply don’t cover will only annoy them.

How do I write an effective Press Release?

  • A press release should be comprehensive, clear and concise – but doesn’t have to be a set length.
  • It should have a heading and opening paragraph which essentially get across the key part of your message – busy journalists won’t waste time reading something in its entirety if you don’t grab their attention early on!
  • An eye-catching image or images will both grab attention and improve chances of coverage – so make sure it’s high-resolution and downloadable, but not so big it triggers spam filters.
  • Remember, you’re not writing an article, you’re providing information, so keep things factual and avoid too many adjectives, or stating opinions as facts (‘the best relish you’ll ever taste’; ‘definitely the most delicious chilli oil on the market’)
  • BUT you can include direct quotes from yourself or from reviews: “Founder Jenny Swift says, “I think we’ve created the best gluten-free brownies money can buy!””

Essential information to include:

  • What your product is
  • What’s special about it? Why should readers be interested in it?
  • Who are the key people involved, and what should readers know about them?
  • Where can it be bought?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What formats is it available in?
  • How can you be contacted? (Website, social media, phone number, address if you have physical premises)
  • Notes to editors: this is where you can add in details about company history, people’s backgrounds, more detailed product information etc – if it’s not already in the main body of the release.

How to send your press release:

  • It’s fine to send the release in the body of an email but be careful about formatting and especially photos – do a couple of test send first!
  • Mailing packages like Mailchimp offer free templates and sending up to a limit, as well as allowing you to track opens and resend to non-openers.
  • If you like you can also attach a Word or pdf type doc, but make sure any links work and that imagery can be downloaded at a click.
  • Very importantly, make sure that you set time aside to be able to respond quickly to any resulting enquiries – press often work on tight deadlines – can even be same day! So you need to have answers, information and imagery at your fingertips.

Hopefully this has provided you in some grounding in getting started with doing your own PR. But if you’re still uncertain or don’t think you have the time, like any job – get a professional in to help you!

To discuss your PR needs, you can email Hugh: hrw@hughrichardwright.com