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Essential PR tips for small businesses

What is PR?

Defined by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, PR is “the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

A good PR campaign builds brand awareness through unpaid, organic contact between a business and its audience. It’s all about someone who isn’t being paid to promote the business or product, genuinely saying that they love it and recommend it.

A great example in today’s world is in the world of influencers. If a business pays an influencer to promote their product, that is a paid advertisement and not PR. However, if the business sends the product to an influencer to try out, and the influencer likes it and posts about it, that is classed as PR.

When a person or business is featured in a newspaper or magazine as a story, expert, source etc. (not in a paid advertisement) that is also PR. Similarly, appearing on a talk show or on the news is also classed as PR.

The overall focus of PR is to build reputation, trust and a good reputation with the general public. You will often hear of celebrities and politicians having PR managers, which is usually to help build positivity around them and to minimise the impact of any scandals or crisis’ that may occur.

The rise of digital has impacted PR heavily. It is now easier than ever for professionals to help businesses achieve their PR goals, with the range of avenues and opportunities now available. However, it also means they need to be much more reactive. Everything now moves at a fast pace with 24/7 news and social media, which means maintaining good PR can take a lot of skill and quick thinking.

Why is PR good for small businesses?

Small businesses should use PR as a marketing tool as early as they can. It’s common to think that in order to ‘do’ PR you need a good agency or manager, which costs lots of money. It can also be thought of as something that ‘just big businesses’ use. In fact, that’s not the case at all particularly as doing PR yourself is free (excluding the time it takes you).

It can be especially valuable for small businesses because it gives credibility to your prospects. Great marketing is one thing, but having other people talk about your brand and how much they like it will make much more of an impression on your potential customers. Trust is key in today’s age of fake news, fake reviews and endless choice, and what better recommendation than an impartial person who loves your brand and product?

So, what do you need to know and think about to get started with PR in your small business?

1. Know your message

Large companies usually work hard to have good brand recognition. This means consumers immediately know their brand, what they do and what they stand for when they see an advertisement. One of the keys when you’re a small business starting out in PR is to consider what you want consumers to think about you. You are attempting to build a relationship with them and familiarise them with your company. So, before you start any PR, answer the following as clearly as you can:

 
  • What do we do?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • Why should people care?

Having clear answers to these questions will help you to create a PR campaign that isn’t confusing or inconsistent. Without consistency in your campaign, and without a crystal-clear message, consumers are unlikely to trust your brand or understand what you do. Larger companies who already have this brand recognition can afford to play around with advertisements more, because the brand knowledge and understanding is already there.

2. Know your target market

As with any type of marketing, you need to know who you’re trying to engage with. Think about your target audience in general and come up with your ‘perfect customer’. Think about what age range or location you target, the relationship status or gender that would be most relevant. What hobbies would your ideal customer be interested in? Be as detailed as you can, as this will help you across all marketing and sales efforts, and especially in PR. 

If you know which media outlets or influencers are the best fit for your audience, you can approach only them which will save you valuable time. You’ll also be able to write your stories in a way that should appeal more to your ideal customer, by understanding what makes them tick and what they care about.

3. Be patient

Unlike printed advertisements or digital marketing, PR is much harder to track. Businesses often ‘try out some PR’ and a month or two later find that nothing has come from it and that it doesn’t work for them. This is quite short-sighted, as PR is a long-term strategy which takes 3 months at the very minimum, usually more 6-12 months to really impact the business. 

It’s not an immediate way to boost your sales, even if you have a successful campaign that sees your small business featured heavily in a national newspaper. That’s not to say you won’t make lots of sales if your campaign goes well, but don’t rely on or expect it. Think of it more like planting the seed for future customers. You are building your credibility, making you look more reliable and familiar. When the time comes that a consumer is ready to buy, they may choose your brand subconsciously because your solid PR campaign has built up trust and recognition. 

4. Be ready

Although your small businesses should use PR as soon as it can, you also need to make sure that you’re ready for the results. You may get lucky and have a boost in sales – so do you have a plan/ stock/processes ready if that does happen? You also need to make sure your website and socials are up to date, without broken links or old information as this will bring your credibility right back down.

If you do have a surge in business from a campaign, it’s vital that you don’t disappoint these new customers. If you’re a very new company, make sure you have the structure to look after them and can supply your product promptly with good customer service even at high demand. You can lose some of your hard-earned credibility and generate bad reviews if you’re not prepared.

5. Budget well

As a small business you have a couple of options to create a good PR campaign. You could DIY it, or you could work with a consultant within your budget. Although large companies tend to spend a lot of money and time curating PR strategy and implementing it well, you don’t have to in order to reap the benefits.

Usually small businesses have a smaller or non-existent marketing budget, so first you’ll need to come up with yours. Although you don’t need to pay for advertisements etc. you will need to work out the time costs to you or your staff, or how much you can afford to pay a consultant.

How to do small business PR yourself:

Successful PR often comes down to the relationships you can build with the media. PR agencies nurture close relationships with journalists, reporters and media professionals in order to get their stories promoted, which is something you can work on yourself. 

Reach out on LinkedIn, contact journalists directly and attend as many networking events as you can – but remember not to sell yourself too hard. You’re there to build connections and trust, be genuine and friendly and that will go a long way. Pair good connections with interesting press releases and stories and you’ll be away!

When you have a story and you’re contacting journalists or reporters to ask them to use it, try following these three keys points:

 
  • Be simple. You’re contacting busy people so long emails are much less likely to be read. Keep it to 4 or 5 sentences if you can and explain your story as clearly as you can. If they’re interested, they’ll ask for more info so you don’t need to include the whole thing in your initial request.
  • Be persistent: Emails fall through the cracks, especially when you’re a busy journalist with lots of messages asking to cover a story. Try a couple of times if you don’t hear back on the first contact. But do take a hint. If after 3 attempts you still have no response, they probably aren’t interested in your story and are too busy to let you know. Wait until you have another story to pitch them 
  • Say who you are. Unless you’re Megan Markle or Piers Morgan you should briefly explain to them why you’re worth listening to. What makes you uniquely qualified to be an expert, or what makes you stand out? You can include this in your signature or just as a footer rather than in the body of the email if you run out of space.

How to use a PR consultant for small business:

Rather than doing the legwork yourself you could work with a PR consultant if you have the budget. Because every pound you spend on this needs to be worth it, you might want to meet a few consultants and having a chat about how you could take advantage of their expertise within your budget.

This could mean that you hire them to work with you on a PR strategy before you start, to work out where you should try and get stories published, what your message should be and what kind of stories you should work on. You could even work with a consultant periodically, to assess and correct course if needed on your own strategy and stories.

Using a specialist can be a great way of getting started, because you’ll begin with expert advice and direction rather than figuring everything out yourself. 

6. Know your worth

Most media outlets love promoting small business successes and find their stories much more interesting than those from large companies. The lack of exposure that a small business has is actually easier and more fun for journalists to work with, so don’t let that put you off.

7. Find the right media outlets

Think about newspapers, magazines, influencers or celebrities who are of interest or already have contact with your target audience. Look at the profile you made of your perfect customer and decide what that person would read, listen to or follow – that’s where you need to be. Focus your relationship building with people who give you access to these platforms, whether that is the influencer themselves or a reporter. It’s important that they understand what your message is and why their followers or readers should care about you.

8. Good PR strategies prevent problems

Many small businesses rely heavily on reviews. Many have just a Facebook page instead of a website, and whilst this is not recommended for several reasons, it also means that a bad review or run of bad reviews can be crippling. When word of mouth is your main source of marketing, you’re reliant on it being positive. One upset customer can seriously damage your brand if they have a mind to, which can have a long-lasting effect on your reputation and credibility.

For slightly bigger small businesses, you need to consider problems that might arise from disgruntled employees, potential lawsuits or a faulty product. An existing PR campaign and connections can be the key to minimising damage from these if used correctly. 

Problems don’t have to be malicious either. Sometimes information that a client has said or has appeared online somewhere is incorrect, which can spread and lead to unhappy or disappointed customers. Make sure you have a plan to stay on top of what is being said about your business, and know how to correct inaccurate stories.

Conclusion

PR for small business isn’t something that is out of reach or hard to do, it just needs some time and effort, relationship building and planning. Whether you have already built up a good reputation and high levels of trust or you’re looking to do so, without PR you’re keeping yourself in the dark. You’re also leaving yourself open to the possibility of ruined credibility and reputation.

We wish you the best possible fortune getting started with PR in your small business, and if you need any advice, want to chat to an impartial expert, or want to meet some PR agencies just come along to the Northern Business Expo at Manchester Central on 17th & 18th March. It’s free, and aside from being the biggest business event in the North of England it’s also one of the best places to network. Start building your media connections here and attend some of the free PR seminars too. 

Just get your free ticket online here, then come along! Aside from PR, you’ll also find unparalleled advice on Digital Marketing, Sales, Funding, Leadership and Employment, and all the resources you need for business growth and inspiration.
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