Chemical marketers who ignore public relations as a tool to build business miss big opportunities in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Following are a few of the benefits to be gained from a well-designed public relations program.

  • Increased company name recognition

  • Greater product visibility in industry

  • Enhanced technical image

  • Increased motivation of sales representatives

  • More trade show booth attendance

  • Uncover prospects for company products

  • Improved sales


The Range of PR

Public relations, or PR, involving chemical products encompasses far more than product publicity. When used with other company communications such as personal selling, direct mail, print advertising and tradeshow participation, PR can enhance the effectiveness of the entire corporate marketing effort.

Because PR comprises such a diverse range of communications activities, this article’s purpose is restricted in scope. Excluded are discussions about speeches, newsletters, press kits, videos, Internet websites, educational materials, seminars, community affairs, special events and other programs — all of which can fall under the public relations umbrella.

This article focuses on news releases and feature articles — frequently used public relations tools for the chemical industry. In the past, “press release” referred to written statements that appeared primarily in newspapers or trade journals. Today, however, industry communications go well beyond printed information. Currently, a more appropriate term for a press release is news release. These can even take the form of a narrated audio or videocassette that can be transmitted over the Internet.

News releases most often announce product developments or organizational information to industry trade publications. Feature articles (longer texts typically carrying an author’s name, or byline) are placed in publications to position companies as specialists in a particular technology — or to provide insight on trends within an industry. As a rule, the feature article does not carry obvious commercial messages about the author’s company. This helps to ensure that the content is relatively objective and, thus, benefits the reader. Nor will the more respected journals accept articles that carry pre-conditions of final review by the author or demands for particular page placement within the publication.

Chemical Industry PR is Cost Effective

In today’s economic environment, chemical marketers are under constant pressure to reduce communications costs. The public relations discipline has benefited from this pressure. Generally, PR delivers the biggest return-on-investment compared to costs for other promotional expenditures such as publication space advertising. Yet, as cost-effective as PR can be, it does not automatically confer efficiency and economy. As with advertising, direct mail, sales promotion or other communication methods, getting the most from a public relations budget requires specific skills, experience, and procedures.

A minimal marketing communications program should include PR that centers on bi-monthly news releases, plus one or two feature articles a year in addition to a quarterly newsletter. These would work in tandem with trade show participation and regular direct mail contacts with customers and prospects to ensure effectiveness.

Developing a List of Trade Publications

There are several steps chemical marketers should take in promoting business through print media.

  • First, maintain a current media contact list. Start with a comprehensive directory of publications, such as Bacon’s Publicity Checker, which is available in most public libraries or on the Internet. It lists virtually all trade periodicals published in the nation, organized by industry and subject.

  • Second, develop a list of business editors’ names with the trade journals important for your chemical market segments. Keep the list current; editors often change jobs. Also make sure the editor’s name is spelled correctly. The most effective practitioners of media relations cultivate personal relationship with these editors. Besides directories, finding the current editor of a publication can be as simple as checking the masthead of the appropriate trade journals read by company colleagues.


“Care and Feeding” of Editors

Trade journal editors are essential contacts for PR professionals. Part of the editor’s role is to serve as “gatekeeper” for the publication. Editors tend to be both hungry for industry information yet selective about what and how they use the information.

The challenge for the chemical marketer is to provide editors with company news written so that it brings benefit to the publication’s readers. If your company is the only firm likely to benefit from the message, the editor will probably refer you to its advertising department, and rightfully so. Some editors request press releases be sent by e-mail instead of standard mail. The wise PR practitioner does not make follow-up telephone calls to ask an editor if the release has been received. This can annoy editors because they typically receive a large number of releases daily. If a press release doesn’t inform an editor how the message directly benefits the journal’s readers, chances are that the editor will discard the material.

Guide to Writing News Releases

  • A news release should contain just that — news. Leave out overtly promotional phrases such as “landmark,” “exciting,” “unique” and “revolutionary.” Also omit extraneous commentary such as, “We are pleased and excited to...” Try to keep it to a single page — and, most important, totally accurate.

  • Make certain your news release appeals to the audience of the trade journal. Editors claim that many of the releases they see have no news value beyond the particular firm and its clients. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the various sections and departments of the publication you are targeting. This will help you customize your release to meet the magazine’s particular style.

  • When writing the news release, double check that it contains all the pertinent information the editor will need to publish the release and accurately answer the questions “who?, what?, when?, why?, where? and how?” This information should be placed in the first paragraph, also called the “lead” paragraph, because this is all that might finally appear in the publication. Also make sure you include a company contact name and telephone number (usually at the top of the release) for the editor to call for more information.

  • Even with all of the electronic spelling and grammar checking programs available, journalists continue to receive press releases that contain errors. Sometimes names are misspelled or numbers do not add up. Whatever the case, editors will tell you that errors in a release affect the credibility of the entire story.

  • Avoid sending editors releases that look like advertising or self-promotion.


How Can You Get Your Feature Articles Published?

First, is your topic newsworthy? Is it a precursor of a trend? Does it represent perceived innovation? Is it educational? If not, it probably holds no interest to the readership and will not be accepted by the editor. Understanding your target publication’s format and style, then learning to think like its readers enables you to tailor the sales pitch to the editor for your article. Most often the sales pitch is put in the form of a “query letter” to the editor. Don’t write an article before you receive a commitment that it will be published, unless the article will be prepared for some other reason. Many editors are willing to discuss openly what they are looking for and what it takes to be published. After all, you are helping them to do their job. Editors usually trust and respect marketers and publicists who promote story ideas and articles they can print in their magazine.

It is beneficial to review journalistic guidelines from the publication and to ask up front if the publication is on a deadline. Article length is usually a consideration for most publications. If an editor is looking for a feature of 2,000 words, constrain your story to this particular range.

The best PR practitioners read the industry trade magazines and have a “feel” for the stories that would be of interest. When numerous publications cover the same industry, the magazines usually target readers with different job functions, such as research, product development or commercial. You really need to study the publication to determine which feature article is right for which magazine.

Industry trade journals publish a helpful tool called an editorial calendar, which lists the publication’s focus for each issue in the upcoming year. It provides topics for feature subjects by month or issue date. This information can be obtained from the advertising department, but you can also ask the editorial department for a copy of the latest version. Editorial calendars are helpful in determining the issue best suited for your news release or feature article. Keep in mind that an editorial calendar changes yearly, so obtain the most recent copy.

Work from a Written Annual PR Program

Why is a formal, written PR program necessary? Because it imposes a discipline on both the plan and carrying it out. Formalizing company public relations into a written plan of action is itself a productive exercise. A written plan helps refine the underlying logic and feasibility of the proposed actions. Once PR objectives are established that mesh with the annual marketing plan, the remaining step is a precise written program, complete with budgets, responsibilities and timetables.

  • Establish realistic objectives. Too often, managers neglect to ask themselves what public relations should do, or what problem public relations should solve. Is the problem one that public relations can solve with a single release? Or might other marketing tactics be more effective? The answers to these questions, of course, depend to a great extent on a given company’s business and market circumstances.

  • Develop strategy and tactics. Keep in mind that agreement on objectives will drive the strategy. It will be difficult to determine what public relations techniques are most cost-effective if you do not first determine the results those techniques should deliver.

  • Maintain a continuous effort. Smart communicators know that frequency is essential to message penetration and retention. A communications program is an investment over an extended period, increasing budgets as revenues and market conditions warrant. The audience may not respond the first time they hear the message, but chances for a response improve with every impression.

  • Measure program effectiveness. If the budget allows, build objective measurement into your programs. This is the way to find out if the program works by checking what actually happened in the market. A simple, yet often overlooked, measurement technique is the built-in response mechanism. Offer a free brochure. Is there a post office box number or a dedicated toll-free telephone number to receive inquiries? The company will learn if it is reaching prospects in a given target market when mail arrives.


Summary

Accomplishing marketing objectives is the primary goal of chemical industry public relations. In its broadest context, news releases and feature articles are valuable parts of an annual marketing program. These materials can broaden the firm’s effectiveness locally, nationally and in the international arena.

Targeted PR reaching customers and prospects can boost productivity by reducing the selling cycle. PR can help to make the prospect aware of the chemical company’s products in advance of a sales visit. PR can qualify sales leads and can reinforce the company’s image, its products and customer services. Chemical marketers who fully exploit these cost-effective tactics gain big sales rewards.

For more information on public relations, contact Mort Spiegel, Spiegel & Associates Inc., PO Box 1538, Morristown, NJ 07960; phone 973/538.8242; fax 973/829.1383; visit www.gti.net/mspiegel; e-mail mspiegel@gti.net.

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