Public relations (PR) is the art of working with the media to share company information. Should PR efforts be part of the small-business marketing package? Yes, but only when there is news of value to share.
Some businesses treat press releases as if words alone have value. There is a place for public relations in a small business’s marketing plan; however, strategy and know-how are necessary to make press releases an effective marketing tool.
While a release about your new company may stroke your ego, will it help build the business? Will it attract new customers or open opportunities? Will any of the news outlets choose to publish it? Is the new business the first of its kind or the first to offer a product or service in the area? Is the contract unique? Does the certification add benefit to the community?
Some believe that bad press is better than no press. Maybe, maybe not. But no press means invisibility.
The acid test is the “so what” factor. If only your mother would be interested in hearing it — it’s not news. If the news impacts your customers or others in your market space, then you’ve got the beginnings of an effective press release. However, it requires creativity to craft a compelling release. Moreover, it is important that your press release is in the proper format and sent to the appropriate media contacts.
Small businesses that handle their own PR efforts are prone to numerous generic goofs. Some tips for avoiding these typical blunders:
- Know and understand the publication or outlet that you’re trying to reach.
- Know the appropriate contacts at the outlet.
- Do not send multiple releases to one outlet.
- Do not send a press release without news to report.
- Do not bury your news at the bottom of a release.
- Do not call to follow up on the release without new value to add to the call.
Do not send a vague pitch or press release to a mass audience — you should target all communications to the appropriate audience. Ensure that your release is accurate, contains valuable information for a specific audience, and is delivered in a succinct manner.
Some business owners mistakenly believe that PR equals press release. It’s not about the release. It is all about relationships. If you don’t have them already, hire someone who does.
A good PR consultant will plan communication activities and develop a strategy to get your organization’s messages out. Clients should understand, however, that hiring a PR consultant means more work, not less. By bringing in a consultant, you’re broadening your business activities. Entrepreneurs must wear many hats, and an effective PR campaign may require more demands on your time than you probably have to spare.
Even with a PR consultant, you’ll need to participate in the process. Talk to the press. Strategize with the consultant. Review progress. Understand the plan and work to achieve the objectives. The consultant can and should provide an independent perspective and opinion.
He should determine which publications should be targeted, finesse the messaging, do the pitch, and help the business owner set realistic expectations. He should keep the business owner informed throughout the project regarding campaign progress and results so that expectations match reality.
Public relations consultants can help a business to identify their key competitive strengths and translate them into key messages that are woven into all internal and external company communications. A consistent communications strategy can help a small business appear more trustworthy and established.
They can also identify journalists who are interested in your industry, and often, their established relationships with journalists can help you to gain coverage for your business more quickly than you might be able to do on your own as an unknown entity.
If you opt to do PR yourself, know that mail and fax are no longer acceptable to most press. E-mail communication is the preferred method.
Short, direct e-mail with the news contained in the body of the e-mail message. A link back to a company’s Web site for more information is also useful. Always include a contact who can answer questions about the announcement and provide additional information.
Public relations should be part of your marketing plan, and more important, part of your overall business plan. What message do you want to send?
Carol Parenzan Smalley is an educator, innovator, and entrepreneur. She is the creator of and instructor for Creating a Successful Business Plan, an online course offered by colleges and universities around the world.