SET YOUR OBJECTIVES. Don't seek publicity for publicity's sake Graham Lancaster, chairman of PR firm Biss Lancaster Euro RSCG, says: 'Consider which audiences are pivotal to the success of your business and then decide on the best channel to communicate with them.' Via the media isn't necessarily the best option. However, a media profile can play a secondary role in helping to recruit staff. Ian Wright, president of the Institute of Public Relations, says the main point of coverage is to get your product or service more widely known. The advantage of media coverage, he says, is the third-party endorsement it confers.
IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET. Rather than scattering press releases in every direction, concentrate on the media outlets that matter to your key audience. 'Ask your customers what they read,' suggests Adrian Wheeler, vice-chairman of the Public Relations Consultants' Association. Get to know specific publications, and identify the individual journalists covering your sector.
BREAK THE ICE. Don't wait until you have a big story to make contact. Establish a relationship so that when you have something to tell, journalists will be more receptive. Wheeler says well-placed journalists can provide a good sounding board for your ideas. 'Ask them for information - their impressions of the marketplace, advice to a new company and what information they need.'
GET TO THE POINT. 'Journalists are time-starved and under pressure,' says Claire Walker, managing director of Firefly Communications. Press conferences are now considered a waste of time for all but the most earth-shattering announcements, and if you persuade a journalist to have lunch they will expect to go back to their office with a story they can use. 'If you've something good to offer then phone them up,' suggests Walker.
TREAT THE MEDIA AS A BUSINESS. The magazines and newspapers you'll deal with are in fiercely competitive markets of their own and will be interested in your story only to the extent that it enhances their product. Don't expect them to publish your news and views from a sense of duty.
AVOID PURPLE PROSE. Stick to the facts: don't use the same language in your press releases that you would deploy in your brochures and advertising. Pepper your prose with superlatives and hard-nosed hacks will just yawn.
HAVE A POINT OF VIEW. A good way to generate media coverage is to become an authority on an issue relevant to your sector. Invest in research, but be wary of dressing up a half-baked straw poll as a serious survey. 'It can help to be controversial, but only if you have a credible base from which to say it,' says Lancaster.
RESTRICT ACCESS. With a small enterprise, journalists expect to speak to the organ-grinder, not the monkey. Restrict media contact to as few people as possible to keep the message consistent. Get media training for anyone who will speak for the company.
EVALUATE. Don't just weigh your press cuttings; what do they say about the company? Are your key messages getting across? Walker recommends: 'When you're talking to a journalist, it's a good idea to have the headline you'd like to see in the back of your mind. You won't get it, but you might get something like it.'
DO SAY: 'I've got a good story involving a lot of money and an unusual twist I'd like to offer you on an exclusive basis.'
DON'T SAY: 'Can you fax the finished article over to me? By the way, that stuff I said about the competition being a bunch of thieving jackals was off the record.'