By Lindsay Yale on February 25, 2010
You can do it as well as the big guys
Public relations can be an effective – and inexpensive – way for a small business to market its products and services to customers, other businesses and investors. It’s also a great way to create more links to your website, which can help boost your company’s presence on the Web.
There’s more to the art of a successful PR strategy than sending out press releases and hoping they get picked up and turned into stories. You must build relevant and positive relationships with your target audiences, whether they are customers or reporters you hope will write about your company.
You can reach your audiences in a number of different ways:
- A news story in a paper or magazine
- A blog post written by an expert in your industry
- A post on your company’s own blog
- Your company’s Twitter account
- Your company’s Facebook page
Step by Step: PR for a Small Business
For those of you running lean and mean in this tight economy, the luxury of hiring a PR agency may not be in this year’s budget. Fret not. Here is a guide to creating your own PR strategy on a shoestring budget.
1. Identify your goals. Are you trying to drive more traffic to your retail location? Are you trying to position your company for purchase, or to attract investors? The first step to any PR strategy is to establish what you want to improve or change in your business.
2. Identify your audience(s) and their media habits. Once you know your goals, determine with whom you want to communicate, and where they get their information. Are they on Twitter? Or do they read the local newspaper?
3. Build a media list. Research which reporters and bloggers cover your industry, and get their contact information. Check out:
- Radio and TV stations
- Blogs and websites dedicated to news about your industry
- Regional and national magazines that cover your industry, or companies like yours
4. Set up social media accounts. If any of the audiences you want to reach use Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites, you should make sure you have active accounts in these networks and are sharing news and conversation with people there.
5. Identify what’s newsworthy. Maybe you have a new product to promote, or maybe you have a unique business story that deserves telling. Think about what’s going on in your company, and which groups of people might be interested.
Remember that, like a parent who thinks everything his child does is big news, your absorption in your company can skew your judgment. Reporters are often pitched stories of little interest to anyone outside the company that's pitching them. Here’s a reality check: If this story were about any company other than yours, would you want to read it?
An example of news that's worth promoting is Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's release about a new treatment for childhood cancer. Reporters who write about health, family issues, medical research and a swath of other topics could be interested in picking up this story. Articles about the hospital's new findings could be read by potential patients, new hires, grantmakers and other people the hospital would like to reach.
On the other hand, Mariposa Jungle Lodge's press release about its Belize vacation packages is not news at all. It's really just an advertisement. The company would be better off sending this material as a pitch to bridal and travel magazines, and developing an ad campaign.
6. Develop company messaging. Start with a company "boilerplate" - two or three short paragraphs that tell people quickly about your company: what you sell, what benefit people get from your products or services and perhaps a little history. Create a Frequently Asked Questions document – you’ll want this for your press kit, and you could also put it in the Press or Media section of your website.
Decide what you are okay talking about, and what you’re not. For example, if you’re a small private company and don’t want to disclose revenue, you might feel more comfortable talking about annual revenue growth in percentages.
7. Decide on a communication method. If you are announcing a new product or service, or any other major development for your company, consider writing a press release, a post on your company’s blog, or both. If the audience for this announcement is active on social media sites, make sure you announce your news on these sites as well. Include links to relevant pages on your website. That will get people to the right destination and can also improve your site’s ranking in search results.
For a feature story idea, write a personal note to a reporter explaining why they might be interested in a story about your company. Point to previous stories the reporter has written that are similar to yours. This helps the reporter understand that you aren’t pitching just anyone, and you’ll earn more respect. Plus, who doesn’t like knowing his or her work is being read, and read attentively?
8. Keep it consistent. Building a relationship on social networks or with members of the media means staying in touch! Once you have developed a list of things to promote and whom to promote to, make a calendar of when you want to make announcements.
If you get a chance to work with a reporter, keep him or her updated with new developments. If a customer engages you online, respond promptly and helpfully. Once people get a feel for your business and what you’re all about, you are officially executing a successful PR strategy.