Mastering PR for small business with Liz McKenzie from Canva

10th August 2020

Liz McKenzie is a PR powerhouse. As head of PR and Communications at Canva, the company that has democratised design and now has 15 million active monthly users in over 190 countries, it was a privilege to sit down with her and pick her PR brain about how to approach and best utilise PR. 

Check out the full episode: PR Masterclass with Liz Mckenzie from Canva

Public relations is about sending the right message, to the right place and getting it in front of the right people. It helps to build and maintain a stronger brand reputation, promotes your brand values, and enhances your visibility. 

Without further ado, let’s dive straight into Liz’s tips to mastering PR.

When is your business ready for PR?

A question that is often asked is when is a startup or small business is ready for PR. 

Liz relays that throughout her career she’s had startup founders and entrepreneurs approach her saying “We need PR to get our service out there, we need to get customers and investors”. What Liz then points out is that these are two entirely different audiences.

This cannot be understated. The reason is, the message that you would use for an investor is incredibly different from a customer who would be utilising your product or service.

Liz’s advice is to exhaust everything you have in your armour before you actually go out and do PR. Utilise emails lists, networks, friends. Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.

Once a customer is happy with your product, they’re going to talk about it. When this conversation spreads, it creates content, content creates coverage, and ideally, a journalist might hear about it. To already have that social clout, to have conversations existing about you already, means that when you speak to the journalist you can say with authority “Look how many people are talking about us…so now let’s have a conversation about what we’re doing”. This gives you a much stronger base to start from as opposed to starting a cold conversation with someone that’s never heard of you.

So Liz’s key takeaway here is, make sure you talk to your consumers first before you engage PR to get sales, investors or otherwise.

Cornerstones of every PR campaign

Liz says, “There are basically two things that every PR campaign should have.” 

The first one is owned media opportunities. This includes content that is housed on your own channels – your blog, your YouTube channel, your social media. The purpose here is to drive conversation, get eyeballs across your content, and build up a loop to encourage more people to talk about you.

The second is earned media. This is when you start reaching out to other channels and journalists to talk about new things that are happening with your product or service.

Reaching out to journalists

So you want to reach out to journalists, but don’t know where to start. Liz suggests utilising tools that are readily available. One is Source Bottle – a tool where journalists go to ask people or experts to give their opinion. You can try Help A Reporter out – a global tool where journalists are always on the look out for spokespeople to comment. But Liz’s ultimate advice, “honestly, just go on Twitter.”

Liz explains that a lot of journalists are super active on Twitter. So find the right journalists, follow them, and keep a close eye on what they’re talking about, their call-outs for expertise and so on. Liz continues, “another really good tip is figure out who your competitors are. Once you do that, go online and search who has actually covered your competitor”. It’s likely that if they’ve written about your competitor, they’ll likely want to hear about you, too. 

Related: How to use Google Alerts and stay on top of mentions and competitors

Nail your key messages

One problem that many early-stage businesses have is they don’t know how to convey their message or turn corporate-speak into something more meaningful. Liz takes it back a step, highlighting that the first thing that any organisation needs to solidify is what their key messages are.

Broken down, these are:

  1. The What. What are you announcing? Are you talking about a new service, launching a new product?
  2. The Whey. Why are you launching a new product? Is it to solve a problem?
  3. Call To Action. What do you want people to do – sign up, download, follow your socials. 

By focusing on three key messages, you’ll maintain consistent messaging and people will start to respond to.

Understand the objective

Like almost everything in business, it’s about knowing where the goalposts are and mastering PR is no different. Liz says, “Whether or not it is to increase sales, encourage someone to go to a website or download an app…how you get them to do that really comes in the form of the story…how do you want a person to feel?”

In her capacity at Canva, they aim to educate people about creating really amazing designs in order for businesses to achieve their own goals. 

“It’s around how do we communicate that message to those people to take that action to do what we need them to do.”

Don’t alienate your audience – scrap the jargon

Something Liz has seen time and time again is people making the assumption that your audience understands what you’re trying to say. But put yourself in their shoes. If you say something techy, or really jargon-y, and your audience doesn’t get it right away, they’ll perhaps intend to go and figure it out, but likely this will never happen. The key to communication is to be super direct – use the simplest words you can.

Be timely

It’s a great opportunity to connect with journalists when they are going to be hungry for content. Say mother’s day is coming up, every publication is likely to be posting mother’s day relevant stories, gift guides, mother-daughter stories. If your product or service is relevant, then it’s the perfect opportunity to connect with journos about this.

Start with your story

From Liz’s extensive experience, what works best is to start with your story. More specifically, start with the why. Unpack what motivated you – or your business founders – to start the business. What problem were they solving? Were they experiencing it themselves, or saw an opportunity to solve other people’s problems. How did it make them feel? Once you understand the motivation behind the business you’ll have the means to then articulate that into different messaging for your audience. 

At Canva, Melanie Perkins, the company’s founder, has an incredibly crystal clear vision. Her mission, that she sings from the rooftops, is about empowering everyone to design, regardless of their background, language, location, education level, Melanie is really set on getting everyone the tools to be able to design beautifully. Frustrated with the status quo, Melanie saw an opportunity to democratise design. This beautifully authentic message is just so simple, and is the beating heart of why Canva exists. It helps that Melanie is “one of the most authentic, genuine people I’ve ever met”, says Liz.

Embracing the F word

Whilst not strictly a ‘How to PR’ tip, Liz and Canva’s approach to feedback is hugely refreshing and something that we all should more eagerly embrace. Feedback is often considered as a really dirty word, but as Liz puts it “we have to always remember that feedback is done because someone wants this to go better”. Providing feedback to people is seldom done to offend, it’s about building them up, giving them information to fix something and make things better. The issue comes when the receiver isn’t expecting feedback, and they take it as an aggressive approach. Liz’s advice is to shift the way you think about feedback – in fact, seek it out. Proactively ask people for it so you can get used to the feedback conversation. If you’re on the other side of the table, wanting to proffer feedback, make sure the recipient is prepared for it- manage their expectations, work up to it. Then it will be far more positively received.

Feedback is an exercise, and just like running training or working out, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. By bringing people together for feedback sessions, they are conversations you can really find value in.

Canva nails this by having feedback sessions almost every single day. For companies where feedback only happens once a year the process will be more stunted – and it won’t have the opportunity to ingrain feedback into the company’s culture.

Why PR for small business is important

From understanding your objective, nailing your story and key messages to reaching out to journalists, there’s a lot more that goes into a winning PR strategy.

We hope you can use Liz’s points above to help you start crafting your first PR strategy.

Which tactics are you going to try first for your small business? Let us know in the comments below.

To read the full podcast transcript, or listen to the podcast with Liz, click here

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