Hi – I’m PR and I’m going to be your new best friend…

Right – let’s get this straight: you’re running your business, you’re up against competitors, you’re trying to get more sales and clients and you haven’t considered using PR?

If this describes you, all is not lost. But with the current so-called “credit crunch” (since very few want to use that word – recession), all the business advice is don’t cut back on the marketing and public relations.

If you think marketing is a luxury, it isn’t. If you think public relations is an additional business luxury you can do without, well – slowly expect your business to be left behind while your competitors bask in the glow of being featured in the press, talked about in online forums, and attracting more sales and clients because they – your customers – remember seeing something in the media and thought “Let’s check them and see if they’re any good…”

Getting press coverage isn’t hard but what sometimes can be hard is that PR takes a long-term approach and is not a one-trick pony. To illustrate the point, do you really think that David Beckham would be the high-profile, global celebrity that he is – along with his ex-pop star wife – without PR?

Although PR is often thought as a business activity solely for big companies and celebrities, there’s much that you can do yourself if you take a DIY approach. But first off, you need to ask yourself – before you go bothering the media and the press – do you have a good “story”?

What makes you different from your competition? Can you devote a regular amount of time to using PR tactics to promote your business? Indeed, can you be a bit of a “show-man or woman” about your business without disrespecting the opposition? And more importantly, do you know who comprises your target audience and what type of media they take? Answering these questions is important because at the very least, it focuses on what needs doing for your business to attract media attention of the right sort.

As already mentioned, there’s much about PR that you can do yourself if you’re on a tight budget. If you’re good at networking, get going at establishing your relationships with journalists working for local, regional trade and national publications (don’t forget- journalists love a good story!) and learn to nurture those links. By nurturing, this means respecting their pressures and deadlines, giving them good solid stories (or failing that, good solid quotes if you’ve managed to position yourself as an expert in your particular industry) and making their jobs much easier to do.

Gaining a reputation among journalists as a helpful source of information is like having money in the bank – not least because your (and by default your company) reputation will be spotted by others looking for fresh industry voices besides quoting the usual suspects.

Many businesses rely on press releases as the sole means of raising awareness – and then moan that PR doesn’t work. The point about PR is it’s very much a long-term business activity and definitely a long-term marketing strategy; a quick fix when your company’s in trouble it is not. A single press release cannot be expected to stage a full-blown campaign and yet many entrepreneurs expect PR to be instant. Newsflash: it isn’t!

Press releases have traditionally been the starting block of many media campaigns, but there are other ways of raising that profile. Some like public speaking may take some practice before getting right (or more accurately, comfortable) but there are much easier options to take if you’re not quite so brave to take the spotlight.

A useful way of getting notice is to simply write “Letters to the Editor”: this option gives you a chance to voice your opinion on a subject or topic close to your heart and be a little bit controversial as well. It also gives you the opportunity to be involved in your local community and to be seen by every reader interested in local affairs.

Other options include:

Running competitions. How many of us can resist the idea of getting something for nothing (or almost nothing)? Run a competition with the local newspaper, and not only are you attracting readers to you (and of course the newspaper as they’re not in this for nothing either!) but you’re attracting the right sort of clients that you sell your services or products in the future. Make sure, however, that you and the newspaper are absolutely on the same side and are clear on what the partnership is all about.

Sponsoring a local football team (doesn’t matter if it’s adults or children, although children – if they’re cutely photogenic – are more likely to capture the editor’s attention as a “feel-good community-orientated story”. Spin-offs from this include coverage if they win matches, get promoted to the next league up the following season, if they play abroad – you get the picture.

Running a survey and publishing the results: this option tends to work better during the summer when news desks can be quite slow and editors are short on decent news stories. Don’t be surprised if some of the nationals pick up your story: they often look to local newspapers for anything that’s different and quirky.

Maintaining a regular business blog : ideally attached to your business website. However, with this option, remember that content is king and needs regular feeding. It’s no good starting a blog if you don’t have the time to maintain it with good quality and regular content. If you do start a blog, it will get picked up by news feeds and search engines….

And while we’re on the new media angle, don’t forget active participation. There probably isn’t a person on Earth who hasn’t heard of Facebook but there are other social networking sites that are more business-orientated such as LinkedIn, Ryze and Ecademy, perfect breeding grounds for letting other people know you’re in business. With that said, please don’t forget your own website as many visitors, including journalists, will check you out online as an initial port of call.

If your writing’s good and you’re an expert in your industry, why not submit short articles (up to 500 words if it’s going online) strategically on the web using sites such as ezinearticles.com – but don’t forget add a resource box. What’s a resource box? It’s the box that contains all your contact business details – how else do you expect customers to get in touch with you?

If you’ve always thought you could be a TV star (and these days, most people want to be famous but unfortunately it’s just for being famous – no real talent!), there’s loads of opportunities for that special guest appearance on the small screen. But be warned: going up for filmed opportunities is not for the faint-hearted, especially if it’s something like “The Apprentice” or “Dragon’s Den”. Always check if it’s the sort of programme you actually want to appear on – if you get past the audition stage. If you are that lucky, lucky person to get as far as being filmed (bear in mind that lots of footage hits the cutting-room floor), you have no say in how the programme’s edited and just to make absolutely sure of where you are in the pecking order, you have no say (nor much comeback unfortunately) in what you’re made to look like – ie. stupid…

Options aside, if you plan to take a DIY approach to PR, ensure that you allocate regular time for this activity as it will ultimately pay off. If, however, you’re too busy with the daily running of the business to spend time on DIY public relations, then this is probably one activity you could outsource to an outside PR agency or an independent consultant. Before taking this step, ask business colleagues or associates if they can recommend anyone and as with everything else, establish a good working relationship and have open communication on both sides as it will save a lot of trouble in the long run.

In itself, PR is not hard – except of course, God forbid, when trouble comes knocking: that’s not the time to discover you should have had in place a PR strategy to deal with those media enquiries since the press love a good “bad” story – the British press are notorious lovers of scandalous stories which have the elements of sex, drugs, money and wrong-doing.

In summing up, the actual value of PR for start-ups is this: you spend time thinking, acting and looking like a company with credibility that can compete with competitors who may otherwise win your customers just by shouting a little louder and clearer than you – and remember, as a key business tool and/or skill, PR is going to cost you, whether you’re able to do it yourself or outsource it to a reputable pair of hands.

Good PR can save and enhance a business whereas adverse PR can do the very opposite – think Gerald Ratner. After all, if you’re in business, ask yourself this: how much is your business reputation worth? And secondly, can you afford to lose it? Now, there’s something to think about….

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About the Author: Caroline Lashley is the Founder, The Editor’s Office, Bulletpoint PR Training and online blog & ezine, SBUK (www.sisterbusiness.biz ). For written content, email Caroline at theeditorsoffice@yahoo.co.uk ; for PR enquiries and training, email bulletpointprseminars@yahoo.co.uk or to check out SBUK, it’s www.sisterbusiness.biz !

2 Replies to “Hi – I’m PR and I’m going to be your new best friend…”

  1. As a staunch advocate of PR for small businesses, I wholeheartedly agree that PR is the number-1 way to boost the visibility and grow sales for small and emerging businesses.

    However, I’m always cautious to create the distinction between personal publicity of the Max Clifford variety for celebs who’ve fallen behind on their mortgages, and real public relations for businesses looking to communicate their uniqueness to their customers.

    All the world’s most successful and worthy brands were created (over time) using PR, often on a shoestring budget and I’d hate business owners and would-be entrepreneurs to confuse genuine brand-building PR with no-talent-show fame-seeker publicity!

  2. Hello Mike,

    Thanks for stopping by to read my rather lengthy article on PR and also for your comments! Granted, perhaps there is a distinction between the celebrity/Max Clifford style of PR and the “real public relations for businesses looking to communicate their uniqueness to their customers” but the main point I had hoped to make was that PR needs to be constant and consistent, not just a “one-trick” pony to announce your arrival or indeed to get your company out of trouble….. and many of skills used by both celebrities and real companies are very similar!

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