Public relations has roots in ancient Greece, where philosophers like Plato and Aristotle wrote about the power of writing to sway public opinion.
In the modern era, newspapers and magazines dramatically changed the way PR content was created and shared.
Today, the continued rise of social media, search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, and chat messaging services is requiring PR to adapt and evolve. Brands that don’t stay on the front line of change risk being left behind.
One of the most effective ways to drive PR is by leveraging free services to increase customer awareness. But offering free services can backfire if you aren’t careful.
Here’s what you need to know when using free services in your PR campaigns.
How to Use Free Offers in a PR Campaign
The challenge of using free offers in PR campaigns is that “free” tends to draw out the deal-seekers. These are folks who are either not in your target market or who have no intention of actually buying what you have to offer.
To use free offers effectively, you need to have a plan to limit the campaign to your core audience and limit the amount of effort you invest in delivering the free services. It doesn’t matter if you are struggling to adapt to the changing work environment of COVID-19 or are in a business that is thriving, like finance and trading. Planning is key.
Create an Offer That Is Useful for Your Audience
PR is all about increasing your brand’s reach through carefully controlled content. This can mean working with journalists to talk about your brand or interfacing with community organizations to support local programs.
Adding a free service to this can improve the effectiveness of standard PR efforts by giving potential customers a positive reminder of your brand. This can be in the form of consultation, trial period, or even a physical product. However, it is important to make sure your offer is sensitive and actually, above all, useful to your target audience.
Ensure your offer solves a problem faced by your audience. Otherwise, you might as well be handing out useless brand swag. Focus on helping your customers, rather than educating them or talking about your brand or product.
Make sure the platforms you use to spread your message are ones where your target audience hangs out. For example, if your target audience is between the ages of 16 and 22, they are unlikely to spend much time on LinkedIn.
Limit the Number of Prospects or Automate the Process
Free services are popular — after all, who doesn’t like to get something for free? However, free services can quickly eat up valuable time you could be dedicating to growing your business. Instead of offering a free service to everyone who comes along, work to limit the reach of your campaign to your target audience. For example, you might use paid ads to target very specific segments.
Creating a virtual tripwire can also help weed out prospects who don’t fit your target audience. For example, ask users to fill out a survey form before scheduling the free service, that way, you can tell if they fit your target audience. Users who aren’t committed are less likely to fill out the form, leaving you more time to focus on users that fit your target audience.
Alternatively, you can automate the entire process — that way you aren’t wasting any time on prospects who aren’t a good fit. Software companies often do this by offering a free one or two-week trial — users get to try the software, but the company doesn’t lose anything by letting people who don’t fit their ideal customer profile use the service.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Free services are great for getting attention for your brand, but they won’t drive sales if you fail to follow up. Following up shows prospective customers that you care about them, are interested in helping them solve their problems, and bring your solution front and center.
For example, if you offer a free one week sign up to an SEO tool, you might follow up on the last day of the trial offer to see if they’ve found the tool useful. If you offer a free financial consultation, you might provide a few tips and follow up a week later to see how those tips worked out.
People are busy, email gets lost, and life moves on. Follow-up is critical to making the most of this strategy.
Examples of Using Free Services in PR
What does using free services in PR look like in practice? The actual structure will depend on your brand and your industry. For example, an investment firm might offer a free consultation while a social media marketing brand might offer a dozen free social media templates.
Focus on finding something small that you can provide at little cost — but that offers great value to your audience. Your free service or product should be directly related to your paid services.
Here are a few examples from several industries:
- A business coach could offer new college graduates a free resume review.
- An SEO brand might offer free SEO audits of websites to local business owners.
- A local seamstress could offer free alterations for a local non-profit theatre company.
- A financial website could offer high school students a class about saving and investing.
- A data analytics company might offer free consultations to show prospective customers how powerful their data can be.
The key to effectively using free services (or products) in PR is to provide a solution for a challenge your audience currently faces. This establishes credibility.
Later, when you offer a paid solution they are more likely to trust you can help them. Try testing several solutions to find the one that resonates with your audience.