Few things can be labeled “easy” when it comes to growing a small business. Managing the day-to-day business operation, training employees, overseeing finances and keeping customers or clients happy doesn’t leave small business owners with much time to think about promoting their company’s own good works. But why then, do I continue to make the case that small businesses must consider public relations as an indispensible element of their business strategy?
After working with dozens of small businesses during my career, I know that targeted, thoughtful and focused communications campaigns can have an enormous impact on a business’s bottom line.
When done right, public relations is about much more than just getting “ink.” Smart public relations is about sharing impactful stories that lead to meaningful connections and opportunities. It’s about clearly understanding what you want your business outcomes to be, and using communications to help you get there.
So how do you get started? Here are five tips:
Make Yourself Relevant: Many small businesses owners are so focused on their own company that they forget about the competition for media coverage. Breaking news happens every day, long-planned feature stories will get bumped and reporters will be pulled to cover different areas—even if they’ve given you a verbal commitment to write about your business.
Find a Buddy: I’ve seen many small businesses, including my own, find success during trying economic times by teaming up with another organization in the community, such as a nonprofit, to extend their brand and get in front of new prospective customers or clients. I also believe that businesses thrive when they can show a commitment to community.
Control and Coordinate your Message: The stickiest stories—the ones that have impact, drive sales and increase engagement— rarely appear in just one media outlet. They pop up in several places, and their collective effect can lead to tangible benefits for your business. Keep in mind that the media is one way to put forth your message, and it’s one that you can’t completely control (see Tip 1).
Offer Special Access: A longtime reporter at The Washington Post rarely accepts an invite to cover an event unless it includes some sort of special access. The same holds true for many industry-specific reporters across the country. If you’re a restaurant, offer to give a member of the media an hour with your chef roaming through the local farmer’s market, and if you’re a manufacturer, invite in a key reporter to see your process firsthand. The “insider view” is quite valuable, and if you haven’t offered it up yet, find a time to bring someone along for the ride.
Don’t be Afraid to Experiment: Experimentation can be scary because your desired outcome is never guaranteed. But trying something outside of your company's comfort zone can pay off in dividend. A few years ago, we helped a Washington, D.C.-area hair salon achieve the highest monthly revenue the business had ever seen by setting up a smart incentive program that drove people to stock up on products.
To inoculate yourself, you must clearly make a connection for a reporter on why your story matters—and why now is the time to write it. Focusing your pitch to align with other breaking news events will help you increase your odds of getting covered.
At C.Fox, we helped an art gallery team up with a highly respected arts high school, and created a promotion in which 5% of each purchase benefitted the school. Not only did we pull in a new wave of clients, pleased to support the gallery because it supported their alma mater, but we also helped the gallery realize one of its highest revenue months in history.
However, all of your internal channels (from Twitter and Facebook to your company blog and newsletter) provide ripe opportunities for you to control, and reinforce the same positive messages about your expertise. Beginning tomorrow, make a point to proactively comment on blogs, retweet messages that align with yourcompany's core principles and draft insightful blog and e-newsletter content to share with friends, followers and those you may have not met yet.
The tactic wasn’t something the salon had done before, and we weren’t certain of the results, but taking the chance paid off in a big way. Now, the promotion has become an annual tradition, and clients actually anticipate it.
PR rarely changes a business overnight. But, if you are willing to devote the time and attention to setting tangible communications goals, coordinating your efforts, experimenting along the way, and collaborating with others, your business will surely reap the rewards.
Carrie Fox is the founder and president of C.Fox Communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her and the agency at @carriefox and @cfoxcomm, respectively.