March 2, 2024

There are three ways retail companies talk about themselves to an outside audience: advertising, marketing, and public relations.

Both marketing and advertising have to do with what you say and think about your retail business, from how you convey basic information like prices, opening hours or your website address, to more complex needs, such as getting your products in front of the right people in the right market at the right time.

The third and equally important way of communicating—retail public relations, or retail PR—has to do with what other people say and think about your business.

Ahead, learn what retail PR is, its benefits, and how to create a retail PR campaign. The article also lists six external PR firms that specialize in retail, in case you require outside help.

What is retail PR?

Retail PR is the process of spreading the word about a retail company or brand. It can include getting mentioned in news stories, building an online community of followers, hosting an event in a store, and practically anything else intended to make people aware and feel favorable about your company.

Public relations broadly falls into one of two categories: proactive PR and reactive PR. It’s important to understand the differences between them and decide on your approaches for each.

Proactive PR

Something positive has happened, or is about to happen, and you want to let the world know about it. Or, conversely, something negative is about to happen and you want to control your company’s public messaging.

Reactive PR

Something affecting your brand or company has happened or is happening. It may impact you directly—it has to do with a product you sell, or a store like yours—or indirectly. Whatever it is, you want to respond to it.

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Benefits of retail public relations

Any thriving retail business owes part of its success to being well thought of by customers, prospective customers, other companies, and its local and digital communities. Retail PR can help accomplish this in ways that advertising cannot; it’s what you want people to think about when they hear your company’s name.

The main benefits of a well thought-out PR strategy include:

  • Increased credibility with customers. Retail PR can help a brand be trusted by consumers.
  • Low-cost publicity. Public relations focuses on gaining free editorial coverage rather than paying for ads.
  • Your brand is positioned as a category leader. Good retail PR can help your business stand out from the competition in your space.

Types of retail PR

Retail PR focuses on getting a particular message to a particular audience. Technology is rapidly changing both the way consumers communicate with retailers and also what they expect from them. With that in mind, it’s important to track both your goals for a campaign and the results you get. Here’s a look at the basic categories of retail PR.

Online and social media communication

Your online channels aren’t only essential advertising and marketing tools but they also play a significant role in your retail PR strategy. How you communicate to and engage with your followers on social media feeds into how your brand is perceived by a broader audience. Developing a brand personality on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, and being consistent with it through the content you create, can help generate a positive feeling around your business.

Community relations

Your customers don’t just want to hear from you, they want to respond. A recent study shows that 77% of consumers view brands more favorably when they proactively invite and accept consumer feedback. Building an online community and responding to it helps you identify brand advocates and nurture customer relationships by showing your audience that their opinions matter. And that’s important to them; according to data collected by Monkey Survey, 91% of people believe companies should fuel innovation by listening to their customers.

Media relations

In a way, direct consumer feedback is replacing part of the media market: communities have fewer newspapers, television channels, and radio stations than they used to, meaning there is less direct communication between stations and local retailers. These media are still important, however, and it can be beneficial to build a relationship with them to ensure you reach as broad an audience as possible. It is also useful to have a reservoir of goodwill to draw on with local media if a problem arises.

Crisis communications

Good media relations are particularly important in a crisis, which could involve anything from extreme weather, crime, cyberattacks, product recalls, corporate malfeasance, or other problems. Due to the instantaneous nature of digital news media, it is essential organizations be able to respond quickly and confidently when a crisis emerges.

Internal communications

It’s important for a retail company’s employees to be fully aware of the company’s broader goals and PR messages, especially those in customer-facing positions like retail associates. Internal communications covers the sharing of information among departments, teams, and team members, and can also take the form of meetings, Q&As, task delegations, newsletters, and check-ins.

The 5 steps of a retail PR campaign

Whatever the size of your retail business, when you have a story you want to communicate through a PR campaign, there are certain steps you need to take to give it the best chance of being successful.

1. Make a plan

Start by listing your goals for the campaign and what you hope to accomplish by running it. You need to understand what you hope people will learn about your retail business, how the campaign will make them feel about you, and—particularly in the case of current and future customers—what you hope they will be motivated to do as a result. Identify the individual writers, publications, and influencers, and whoever else could help you communicate your story.

Local media are chronically in need of colorful copy for their readers, and tend to react well to being approached by people and organizations that might have a story to tell. If timing allows, send an introductory note in advance of the launch of your campaign. Then follow up with a second email or a phone call reminding them of the intro and offering the story.

You can use the same approach for trade media. They may be national or international publications, but they often find themselves writing up smaller, local retailers who have an interesting story to tell.

2. Craft your basic materials

Traditionally, the basic PR communications document is a press release. Communications is evolving and you will likely require other materials (see below), but a press release is still a good place to start. An effective press release typically consists of a headline, a brief summary of the news, date and location, a body paragraph providing some background and explanation, boilerplate (a block of copy giving the basic facts of the company issuing the release) and an ending. The ending frequently contains a call to action, such as a link to a website or contact details to learn more.

Press releases may also include supplementary information on the subject of the release—if it’s about an individual, then a short bio, for example—and are usually accompanied by images.

3. Create additional content assets

You want to make it as easy as possible for third parties to understand the story so they are more likely to provide you with coverage. To help make this happen and to boost the content available through your own digital channels, in addition to the press release you may want to create:

  • A blog post that maybe gives more detail, preemptively answers relevant questions, and gives your audience a natural next step or call to action. This can be published on your website.
  • Social media assets to help further promote your story. These assets can form the basis of organic or paid posts to support your initiative.
  • Email campaign materials. You want to keep your current audience of customers and partners in the loop, especially if you’re aiming to reinforce positive perceptions of your retail business.
  • Resources for your employees and designated spokespeople. Part of your job in managing the news or story is to keep your message consistent. While you need to communicate with the outside world, you also need to communicate with your employees and, if you’re a larger organization, anyone responsible for speaking with the media. Make sure they understand the basic story and have the details they need to answer frequently asked questions.

4. Publish content and engage the media

When it’s time to publish, package the components of your story so as to make them as self-explanatory as possible. Writers, reporters, and other content creators or curators all have a job to do: share stories their audiences will enjoy. If you look at outreach this way, you can do these individuals a favor by providing them with a ready-made story they can pick up and run with.

To get your message out to a wider audience, you might also require a distribution service. While this can be expensive, there are a number of press release distribution services that will distribute your message for free. With these companies, the free service is an option offered under certain conditions such as a limitation on number of releases in a given period, incorporation of ads into the release, and so on. Many of them also offer press release writing, editing, and syndication services.

5. Follow up to increase coverage

Don’t expect your story to sell itself. Reach out to journalists, editors, bloggers, influencers, writers, and others who may find your story interesting and worth sharing with their audiences. In the follow-up stage, focus on people with whom you have an existing relationship; do the hard work for them by explaining how this story can benefit their readers or audience. Make sure to give them all the materials they need to publicize the story and the contact info to follow up.

6 retail PR firms to support your business

If this sounds like a lot of work, then that’s because it is. Public relations can be a difficult, time consuming, and sometimes frustrating business. To help them publicize and grow their businesses, most large retailers and thousands of smaller businesses employ the services of an external PR firm or agency.

To give you an indication of the range of approaches and support services available in the retail PR world, here are six PR firms and agencies of various sizes, along with their and areas of specialization.

  • Pointman News Creation, Toronto. Specialists in PR and reputation management, this company has done work for a wide range of clients and industries. The basis of its success, says Pointman, comes down to the “gravitas” of the campaign idea and creating legitimate newsworthy pitches.
  • Anderson Collaborative, Miami. A larger marketing agency with a focus on PR. Its public relations and corporate communications services include press releases, media list building, targeted pitching, spokesperson branding, monitored reporting, social media operation, SEO and web integration, and more.
  • Rhino Reviews, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Specialists in online review reputation management, Rhino notes, “With over 84% of people trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations, a business can no longer ignore their importance.”
  • PRLab. A bigger agency with a specialty in retail, PRLab has offices in Amsterdam, Austin, Munich, and Stockholm. It operates on an international scale, providing specialized global PR services for tech startups and corporates.
  • Otter PR, Orlando. Otter offers a month-to-month service with locked-in rates.
  • PressFriendly. PressFriendly describes itself as a virtual PR agency built on a software backbone. It works with seed-stage/Series A startups to build PR programs on a budget.

When should you invest in retail PR?

It’s easier than ever for retailers to keep PR and reputation management in-house, but that doesn’t mean it’s realistic to do so. You and your employees only have so much time—and you need to dedicate most of it to running the business. If that keeps you from focusing on PR, you may reach a point where you either hire for that role or bring in a contractor or PR firm to help you.

The right time to make that move will vary with every retailer. The best way to know is to carefully track and measure your own retail PR results. Do you get a huge boost from the PR campaigns you run? If not, you can either downplay it and focus on other aspects of your marketing strategy, or you can talk with an agency that can work with you on a trial basis and compare results against your own. Did they get a better result than you did? Well, that’s why they’re the experts—and it might be better to let them handle your PR going forward.

Retail PR FAQ

What is public relations in retail?

Public relations is the process of managing communications between a business and its public. In retail, a business’s publics include customers, employees, vendors, and, increasingly, online followers.

What are the types of retail PR?

The different types of retail PR are online and social media communications, community relations, media relations, crisis communications, and internal communications.

What are some examples of public relations in retail?

Examples include traditional media advertising campaigns, sponsorships, product placement, social media campaigns, and corporate social responsibility.

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