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The power of word of mouth PR (and why the sweet potato never speaks of its own sweetness!)

The kumara never speaks of its own sweetness - PR tips

This blog post has been written by Jennifer Bell, Managing Director of Feather and Fern PR.

Once upon a time, I held a senior communications position at New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, the country's government export agency. I have some great memories from that role but one thing that will always stand out is how switched on the CEO, Peter Chrisp, was when it came to public relations. Without fail, if he was in our Auckland office and passing by the communications desk, he would glance over, smile and say:

"The kumara (sweet potato) never speaks of its own sweetness."

So, what was he talking about exactly? Well, he was describing public relations at its finest - harnessing word of mouth and third-party endorsement to establish and develop a brand's reputation. Many people that are new to public relations assume that the aim is to have your name up in lights, media releases with your brand name splashed across the headline, a stream of radio and TV interviews for your CEO. But, while it might feel good to be shouting about your business from the rooftops - it often doesn't get you the results that you're after.

Think about your own reaction to brand messaging, particularly in this day and age when we're being continually bombarded with advertising and influencer marketing from every direction. We skip the ads when we're watching TV, we install ad blockers online, we delete promotional emails without even reading them. We're tired of being told why we should be buying more stuff. However, it is still different when the recommendation comes from someone that we trust - whether that is a friend or respected journalist.

Of course, generating third-party endorsement is easier said than done. If you are providing a quality product or service then your reputation should develop quite naturally - but it can be a slow process. You can speed things up significantly by tapping into the power and influence of regional and national media. Identify the types of publications that your existing and potential customers are likely to read, and introduce yourself and your business to the relevant editors and journalists. That can be difficult, as it's not always who you think! We use a brilliant piece of PR software called Vuellio, which enables us to research and draw up super targeted media lists, along with our own networks. This means we don't miss anyone.

Once you know who you should be speaking to, keep them updated with anything that might be of interest to them. Make sure you read their publications and stay abreast of the topics they're focused on, and send them personalised story pitches (exclusive, if possible) to give your brand the best chance of staying top of mind. Media releases are useful but not always necessary. One of my best pieces of media coverage recently resulted from a direct message I sent to a journalist from The Times via X/Twitter. A few words convinced her of the story's potential and a few weeks later, we had a double spread in the paper.

It might feel like a hard slog at first, but developing relationships with media will pay off. Once you have had a mention or two, your brand should also start benefiting from the 'snowball effect.' Coverage often leads to more coverage, as journalists within the same media outlets, as well as competitor platforms, start seeing your name.

A good rule of thumb is to stop thinking about what you want to get out of your media outreach - instead, put the journalist at the centre, and consider ways in which you can genuinely help them with their jobs. Be honest, open, and friendly with them, and they will likely become one of the best, and most effective ambassadors your business has ever had.

If you would like to learn more about creating a public relations campaign that will cut through the noise, drop us a line at


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