Kate Middleton’s Favourite Chocolate Cake or how PR can help you grow your business by Caroline Ratner
Everyone says you make the best chocolate cake in the world! You decide to start selling your cakes to friends and neighbours: Word starts to spread, and you begin to think that finally you might be able to give up your day job and follow your dream of working for yourself, by selling your world beating chocolate cake. One night you sit down and work out that you need to sell quite a lot of cakes to make ends meet, and you realise that you’re going to need more than word of mouth to turn your kitchen table enterprise into a proper business. You need customers.
So, you decide to advertise in the local paper; you place an extremely expensive ad, take a day off from work (you haven’t handed in your notice yet) and sit by the phone on the day the ad comes out, pen poised to take the hundreds of orders that are surely going to come flooding in. The phone doesn’t ring, it’s like the olden days when we used to wait for the girl or boy of our dreams to call: you keep checking for a dial tone. The phone is working. The ad isn’t.
Someone suggests you need PR rather than advertising, but you’re not sure you can afford PR, so instead you have the brilliant idea of sending a cake to the food editors on your favourite newspapers and magazines. Off go the cakes in their cute boxes, with a lovely note explaining how much your love their column and how everyone you know loves this cake and that they're available to buy and please do check out your new website http://theworldsgreatestchocolatecake.blogspot.com/2012/02/kate-middletons-fave-chocolate-cake-or.html
Days go by, not a word from the Guardian cake making writer, the Times confectionary journalist or anyone else for that matter. Summoning up your courage you call the Telegraph’s leading baking journalist and ask to speak to Miss Cherie Pie. “Oh, she’s freelance, she doesn’t work here, she only comes in once every three weeks for editorial meetings, send her an email”, says a very snotty junior editorial assistant and “no I can’t give you her phone number”, she says slamming down the phone. You suddenly realise that the post boys at the Daily Stale probably enjoyed the world’s greatest chocolate cake and Miss Cherie Pie and her colleagues have probably never so much as caught a glimpse of your lovely cake boxes, never mind tasted the cake.
So now you decide to get serious. You're going to the famous Plan B. You'll hire a PR professional and get cracking. But what does this mean? What are you getting when you pay for PR and how can it help your business?
First the good news
PR is meant to raise awareness of your business, it’s to get the word out in the press and online. Good PR is developing a short, medium or long term communication strategy that helps you to achieve your business goals. Publicists, if they are worth their salt (which by the way tastes delicious with chocolate) place articles in relevant press that, over time will raise the public’s awareness of your fandabbydooby cakes. Properly designed public relations efforts complement your broader sales and marketing strategy, both thematically and in the details. As a result of this coordinated effort, and with some pluck and luck, the world will be clamouring to buy your cakes, your dream of running a factory in east London dedicated to churning out thousands of cakes a weeks is one step closer and the Selfridges food department/Fortnums and Waitrose will stock your cakes which will start selling like er, hot…
Now the Bad News
There are no guarantees. Any PR consultant who tells you otherwise is a liar, and like chocolate cakes, which only sell if they truly taste good, excellent PR begins with hiring a Publicist who will tell you the truth. Just so you know, here are some of the guarantees that no honest publicist can make:
There are no guarantees that the press will like your product; there are no guarantees that just because a journalist tells you that they are going to publish a double page spread in the Sunday Times Style mag THIS WEEK, that it will actually be published this week or ever!
You tell your mum, your friends, your 127 twitter followers and everyone you know on Facebook to buy the Sunday Times this week. However, the editor, by chance, just tasted the world’s greatest lemon cake and decides that having tasted the lemon cake that this weeks mag will become the yellow issue, all things yellow, from nail varnish to hair ribbon, ditch the brown issue, they will feature the lemon cake not the chocolate cake, oh, and guess what they don’t bother to tell you. How embarrassing. (A word to the wise: Don't tell anyone about the article featuring your product until it has come out, then trumpet it to the world. Everyone likes to be the first to know and to celebrate you success with you.)
Also, just because Good Food magazine write about your cake doesn’t mean anyone will actually buy it. Public awareness and purchasing decisions are not the same things. That's why good publicists think hard about who is most likely to want to buy your cake if he or she knows about it, and when and where to reach them. Again, no guarantees.
However, in 2008 the PRCA reported that 92% PR agency heads perceive that clients believe PR to be more cost effective than advertising. Client behaviour appears to support this with over 50% of respondents noting the percentage of marketing budgets dedicated to PR increased in 2008.
“What? So what am I paying for? this is 99% of my marketing budget, it’s got to work for me. I’m depending on PR, it’s got to make or break my business”.
Oops. PR is and only ever should be part of a broader marketing mix, it is meant to raise your profile in the press, to get your name out there, so that eventually, when people want to buy chocolate cake, they want to buy your chocolate cake, not anyone else’s. PR may be 99% of your marketing budget now, because you have so few resources, but it won't be for long. It's also not money that you want to spend on one last ditch, short term push to get attention. Familiarity builds attraction, and PR works best when it is sustained over time. You're better off developing a budget, allocating a portion to get the PR campaign in motion, and then committing the remainder of your annual budget to a steady month to month effort, than spending your entire budget all at once. A PR consultant who truly believes in your product will be willing to work with you in this fashion, even if it means less money up front, because like you they are interested in your long-term success.
A good PR consultant is also wise enough to understand that whether you get a great piece in a given week or month, even with the best promotional efforts, is almost random. Whereas if your product has merit and your communication campaign is properly focused and executed, that within a few months luck will even out, and you will know clearly whether: 1) your product has gained traction in the press and other media; 2) whether your communication message is being heard, and 3) whether it is producing the response you intend. I’ve had clients who have got three major articles in the first month and others where it has taken a few months for things to get going: both are normal, and a good publicist will gently remind you that this is so.
The Big But
The best PR campaign can create awareness and attention, but it cannot substitute for a proper sales programme. You need both. If you’re sitting at home, dreamily choosing ribbon for your cake boxes while your PR consultant is coming up with great stories and phoning all and sundry trying to get your press and you’re not pounding the pavement getting meetings with buyers at every store that sells cake from the corner shop to Tesco then as good as your PR may be, your business will not achieve the results you intend. You must do your part too.
My Advice to You:
1. The press write articles to sell papers, they need great stories, they need to make sure that their readers love their stories so much that they’ll buy the paper again tomorrow. The press need to know more than, “this is just the best chocolate cake you’ll ever taste”. They need to know that Kate and Wills have the cake flown into their love nest from Fortnums every week because it is part of the glue that holds their marriage together or that Nigella’s hung up her apron, she says she can’t compete with a cake like this – you get the picture. So if you want your product to capture the public's imagination, find a PR person who can see the story in your product, who can see the hook that will get journalists interested. It’s not enough to have invented the world’s greatest chocolate cake recipe and just send off a press release – who cares. It needs a story: A good PR will find the story for you.
2. Have great product shots. Invest in top quality photography. The press need photos and will expect hi-res images to go along with press releases.
3. Speak to clients, get referrals, don’t hire any old PR, this is an important business investment
4, Make sure you can work together and make sure you feel confident that they understand your business.
5. You are buying expertise, make sure you get the best you can afford.
6. Don’t employ a PR who says you only have to pay on results it’s highly unlikely they will get you any press and it will only delay your sales growth. Also don’t insult a good PR person by telling them you’ll pay them when you’re on the front page of the Daily Mail. You wouldn’t go into Jimmy Choo and tell them you’ll pay for the shoes if your feet don’t hurt after a night of dancing in a pair of their 4 inch high stilettos.
7. Find who your potential publicist has worked for and what their results have been. (Remember, past results do not guarantee future performance, but your risk is lower if you select a publicist with a strong track record and a bevy of satisfied clients.)
8. Make sure that your PR consultant is working to a proper strategy, has great contacts and follow through.
9. Make sure you keep them posted on how your business is developing so that they can put together new, relevant stories as and when appropriate.
10. Make sure your PR is both proactive and responsive to news stories.
11. Make sure to send your PR a cake once a month, so they remember exactly how good your product is, and why everyone should know about it.
Good luck! And, yes, I’ve tasted your cake, and it’s bloody delicious.
© Caroline Ratner 2012