PR is a dark art and PR professionals invest lots of time and energy creating media opportunities for their clients. But it’s possible to attract attention on a budget without a big city firm behind you.
You know you should promote your business and you might even have done some marketing. You probably coughed up far too much money on business cards, flyers or a website and you’re not even sure if you’ve had sales from them. You’ve heard of PR but you’re not really sure what it is or how it’s different from marketing.
Public Relations (PR) to put it grandly is about reputation management. People have opinions about your business as a result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. You can promote your business to the world so people have a positive view of it.
Some of the ways this can be done are by writing articles for the media, organising, attending or speaking at events, building relationships, creating promotional items, sponsorship, supporting charities and good causes and conducting research.
PR got itself into a bit of hot water some years back with the invention of self-proclaimed ‘Spin doctors’ and it suffered as a profession. However, at its finest, PR is a third-party endorsement of your product or service. It’s akin to a business referral with the added advantage that it is very public.
PR works alongside marketing and advertising – and is often more cost effective. A carefully crafted article in a newspaper or on a website written by someone else talking about how helpful, useful, funny, your product is, can be worth the equivalent of thousands of pounds of advertising.
‘But aren’t big PR agencies still really expensive?!’ I hear you cry. Well, yes they can be.
Having worked in the industry for more than 15 years I’ve seen many large agencies professionally slurp down the hard-earned cash of small businesses. Having worked in Third Sector and not-for-profit organisations (as well as large multi-nationals), I believe that small budgets force you to be more creative.
The best way for you to be cost-effective is to start by being really clear upfront about your goals. Identify what you want to get out of it. What is the quickest win for you?
Think about who the audience is that you want to attract. Where are your customers? Where do they go? What do they read and listen to?
Once you’ve done that, you can work on your activities. Here are a few cheap ways to do it:
People love stories. Have a great backstory to your business. What inspired you to start your business? Who have you helped and what was the impact of you helping them? Think of a couple of stories about your business and start sharing them with people. If they are real and from the heart, people you tell are likely to remember you more.
If you feel confident, pick one newspaper or magazine your potential customers read and identify a journalist who writes about your industry. Then use your compelling stories about your business that they would be interested in.
Think about things that you’d tell people down the pub – they are usually the stories that work best. Then contact the journalist (by email as they are time-poor) and see if they are interested. And don’t be put off if they don’t respond. Just keep trying.
Don’t join expensive groups that charge a fortune and feel unnatural. Use Social Media as a way to build connections and arrange one-to-one coffee meetings with relevant people. Ask people you know to introduce you to people they think might be a good connection for you.
LinkedIn is an invaluable tool for small businesses. Join groups relevant to your industry. Join groups where you think you potential customers will be. Scout out your existing contacts connections and ask them to introduce you to anyone you think you might be a good contact for you. Use Twitter to look for potential customers and search for relevant hashtags.
Ultimately, just help other people. It sounds basic but it’s the best form of PR. If you help other people – whether they are journalists, other small business owners or friends, they are likely to return the favour. I don’t mean work for free, but connect them with your contacts, help them find sources and stories, share useful information and always, always be courteous.
And if you still can’t be bothered, outsource it to a small, local, hard-working PR firm.