Saturday, July 08, 2006

Develop a Successful Public Relations

Last month, a friend of mine - Aijaz Qaisar had his first painting exhibition at Chitra Kala Parishat in Bangalore. Aijaz is a highly talented artist - but he had never exhibited his work, consequently not recognized in the art world. All this changed after his first exhibition. The exhibition was a success - Aijaz has been invited to exhibit his paintings in Singapore. Shortly, I expect Aijaz to have a string of successful exhibitions in Europe also. (See his Paintings)

Aijaz being my former colleague, I had long discussions on marketing of art with him. Being a photographer myself & having a couple of exhibitions under my belt - there were few pointers I could give him. Among all the marketing ideas we discussed, Public Relations is the most important for an artist - so this article is about the importance of public relations as a marketing tool.
(Painting by Aijaz)

What is Public Relations

Public Relations by definition is the relationship a person/indivisual/organization has with the general public. This relationship is largely characterized by the messages sent to the public by the individual/organization. Since the message is meant for the public audience - press media will be interested in distributing the message among the public. Today the most popular medium for sending messages to public are: Newspapers, magazines, TV-News channels, Radio and Internet - popularly called as media.

Cost Effective communications

Public relations can be cost effective because the media - rather than the marketer takes on the expense of delivering the information to the intended recipient. So instead of sending a direct mail piece to 100,000 prospects, the marketer can publish an article in a magazine that is delivered to these same prospects at the much lower cost of creating the article and convincing the publication to run it.

If the media were to carry the message, then there must be some benefit to these companies - the message carried by the media must be relevant and useful to it’s customers. Therefore understanding the needs of the relevant media is critical in a successful public relations efforts.

Reliance on Contributed Material

The most important differentiating factor among media is the amount of editorial matter they generate themselves versus that which is contributed by outside experts. Typically, publications that target a very large audience generate most of all of their own editorial material.

Newspapers, magazines, TV & Radio channels etc. have a well staffed editorial departments to generate all the content. Smaller publications such as specialized magazines, trade journals etc. do not have adequate editorial staff to generate all the content.

However, both large & small media houses do need help in form of contributed materials. Editorial staff in large media houses may not have the requisite in depth expertise on all subjects. This makes it necessary for individuals/Organizations to work closely with the editorial staff and help generate the content.

For an artist - a painter, need prepare a press kit which describes his art and his expertise. This becomes essential as each artist has his own views & themes, which may be difficult for others to understand without the press kit. Editorial staff can use this press kit in compiling the news. If the individual/organization is unable to produce a press kit on their own, they can hire a full time public relations staff or contract with an agency to liaison & interact with media.

A major drawback of these public relations agencies is that they typically require a substantial retainer (often ranging into five figures per month) for a substantial period of commitment. This retainer limits the ability of individual/organization in using these agencies. This is particularly limiting for a budding artist. Therefore the individual must develop his own press kit and also liaison with the media.

Many of these publications are willing to publish material submitted by interested parties, but they are highly selective regarding the type of material they publish. So, success is determined, first and foremost, by the individuals/organiziation’s ability to produce often quite technical yet clearly written articles. Another important success factor is to stay in touch with the publications to determine what subjects they are interested in at that particular time.

Aijaz first crafted his painting exhibition on the central theme of ‘Abuse of Women in India’. Being from Kashmir, Aijaz could then create a media buzz around the Kashmir Sex scandal - by having paintings which depict violence & crime against women. To get the media more interested in his paintings, Aijaz had then created an excellent press kit -which had a detailed description of this paintings, what it means and why he chose such topics. Given the media attention to Kashmir Sex Scandal and with the associated press kit, the media was eager to publish about it.

Use of Freelancers

High expense of PR agencies has created opportunity for freelancers to step-in. Freelancers have the technical knowledge in a specific industry and know how to work with the media. Often former magazine editors, they can provide knowledge in producing articles in a specific area. Freelancers are typically individual operators who handle the writing and the associated tasks of working with editors to place the articles, working with information sources on approvals, obtaining illustrations and so on.

Another option is the emergence of a new breed of project-oriented public relations provider that combines technical expertise in providing contributed articles in a range of technical fields, along with a staff that can fulfill the ancillary tasks required to bring an article to publication. Project-based agencies are typically paid only for work completed, such as an article written. They often charge only for success in their placement efforts.

Matching Material to the audience

The press kit and the associated set of contributed articles that you are producing must be of interest to the readers/viewers.

It's also important to stay on top of opportunities in getting publicity, which typically requires knowledge of the upcoming events. For example, Aijaz should now concentrate on exhibiting his art work during Bangalore Habba. Associating with such high profile public events will get other (non-targeted media) to write about his paintings.

Closing Thoughts

Public relations offers the most credibility and best bang for the buck of any marketing communications vehicle for individual artists and small organizations. For just that reason, there's a huge amount of competition to get space in media that reach major buyers. To maximize your return on your public relations investment, be sure that your effort fits the operating practices of the media you are trying to reach and have an appropriate message ready for the media.

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