Often, small business owners think of public relations (PR) as simply ‘getting in the papers’. True, you do need to know which publications your audience reads and then work on being featured in them, but there is a lot more to PR than this!
So what is PR for small businesses?
According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), PR is ‘the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’ In other words, it’s not just about broadcasting what you do, it’s about branding, trust and relationships, too.
Building trust is a huge benefit that PR has over advertising. An interviewed by a journalist or a review by a blogger is an endorsement that you simply can’t get through advertising. However good your advertising is, it doesn’t have the same value as someone else talking about you. That said, PR works well alongside advertising, as ads can be used to reach new people, then PR can be used to build trust once they become aware of your business, product or service.
PR can be very cost-effective for a small business, too. While it still has a cost in terms of the time taken to create and distribute press releases and articles, there are no direct advertising costs. So PR can make your marketing budget stretch further.
Where to start with PR
First, think about your brand and the messages you want to get across. What do you want to communicate about your product, service or way of doing business? Once you’ve established this, make sure that those messages are consistent across all the channels you use to communicate with your audience, whether that’s in newspapers, industry publications, blog posts or social media.
Should you hire a PR company?
There’s no reason why you can’t start out by doing your own PR. After all, nobody knows your business better, or is more passionate about it, than you. Yes, a PR company will have a broad range of experience and contacts, but you will only need knowledge and contacts within your own industry to begin with.
In fact, a good PR company will be able to advise you if they are a good fit for you. Nancy Berman of Berman Communications says “We meet very smart, hard-working entrepreneurs with great ideas on a weekly basis, but quite often they are not ready for PR…although we hope that they ultimately end up here.”
However, eventually you may find your business needs the expert skills and contacts of PR agency, or that it’s simply more cost effective to let an agency do the work for you.