There’s a slightly upsetting chicken and egg situation with Public Relations as a marketing tactic for small businesses. I come across it all the time and it’s this:
Conjure up an internal image of a PR agency, and you’d be forgiven for thinking sparkly office, blue sky thinking, expensive champagne lunches and power point presentations.
It’s not something which many small businesses have the inclination or the budget for, especially when their marketing funds are limited and money can be better spent elsewhere.
But the problem is one of perception – the view that PR is the sole preserve of big businesses who can afford big agency fees. It’s a self-perpetuating myth which drives the opportunity away from smaller companies. I’ll never forget hearing Deborah Meaden on Dragon’s Den saying that unless you have £30k to spend on PR it’s a waste of time. QED! I have clients who have spent a tiny fraction of that amount and achieved new sales as a direct result of the work I have done for them.
Of course, the end result of an effective PR campaign is media coverage – media these days meaning online press as well as traditional print coverage. Work backwards, and how do you get the press to publish something about your business? The answer, by giving the journalist something which they and their readers are likely to find interesting. And what’s that? It comes down to storytelling.
Yes, people like reading stories about big business, about who’s doing what, about new developments and about scandals and controversy. But they also like stories about the little guy – inspiring success stories, human interest pieces about people doing amazing things, articles about those flexible and nimble companies at the cutting edge of innovation, about the start-ups which are going to become the next Renishaw, Facebook or Virgin.
So the next time you write off PR as a marketing tactic because – I hear it all the time – you don’t think you’ve got anything to talk about, as yourself a few questions:
- Have you won any big contracts recently?
- Made any appointments?
- Moved into bigger offices?
- Completed any significant projects?
- Won an award? Received any funding?
- Achieved growth? Taken on an apprentice?
- Merged with or acquired another business?
- Overcome any personal adversity?
- Done something truly innovative?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you’ve got a story to tell! Either in your local business pages, or a trade title, or a small business publication. Apart from anything else, most journalists are swamped by the same old stories from the same old businesses put out by the same old agencies. They love to hear from new businesses! It makes their publications fresh and makes their readers – most of whom are involved in small businesses anyway – feel that they’re relevant.
An extra tip – supply good photos! I’m not talking a lo-res job from your iPhone (although it may do for online use). If you’re putting a proper press release together, spend a few quid and get a professional to take a good quality picture which helps tell the story. Or get a mate to do it for free. Either way, the combination of a good story and a great photo is something that journalists, who are a) pushed for time and b) inundated with the PR fluff which puts such a strain on the journalist/PR relationship, will be extremely grateful for.
The benefits? More than you can count. Even the much-derided local papers (tomorrow morning’s fish and chip wrappers) not only have huge readerships in print, creating powerful word-of-mouth publicity, but these days have massive followings online too, greatly helping with your search engine presence. And more often than not they’ll also have a business website which they’re affiliated with, as well as sending out a digital daily newsletter. So you’re getting much more than one hit, and a highly credible one too when compared with a paid-for advert.
What else? It’s something you can boast about on your website and in your other marketing collateral, giving you a feather in your cap against your competitors. And it will be well-written copy which you can use for newsletters, blogs and so on, too.
PR’s not a marketing panacea but it should definitely be considered as an important part of your marketing mix. And although online marketing and social media are changing the game there’s still something about a dedicated news website which adds credibility to your cause and which also suggests a sense of permanence and gravitas which can be a problem with social media and its constant self-reinvention.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the story you have to tell. Don’t put yourself down! Be proud of what you achieve in business and have the confidence to tell people about it. It’s a competitive world out there and, if you want to get publicity, it’s not a place for the shrinking violets.