Pamela Bartlett has been on a mission for the last 10 years, one that may have no religious overtones but nevertheless inspires fervor. That mission: to educate small businesses that PR should be part of any business plan.
Bartlett, VP of channels for Small Biz PR Report partner PR Newswire, has spent the last decade or so focusing on small businesses, and has found that there is a disconnect—small businesses often don’t understand what public relations is and think that it’s really just for big brands. In response, she has developed PR Newswire’s PR Toolkit, an educational resource for small businesses that has been integrated into educational sections on more than 100 partner Web sites. In the following Q&A, Bartlett discusses some PR tactics that all small businesses can put into play right away.
PR News: If a small business had the resources to focus on just three tactics to expand awareness, what would they be?
Pamela Bartlett: One, they can create solutions by way of content and educational information that people are going to want to engage with and, two, then leverage press releases to get that information out. I also think that social media is something that they should consider, but they also need to be cautious about that because we all know they’re also time intensive. So in time and money they need to be picky about what they’re engaging with and they need to think about what their goals are with social media. Are they trying to create leads and sales, are they just wanting to create awareness, are they trying to improve customer service, do they want to increase their networking opportunities? So depending on what the answers are to those questions, then they can determine what type of social media they want to use. The mistake a lot of small businesses make is that they just try to do it all, and they just do not have the bandwidth.
PR News: What can a small business easily do to increase the chances that their content will rank higher in search results?
Bartlett: First off, my recommendation is that small business communicators spend time identifying three to five keywords in their industry—words that people are actually using to conduct searches. And there are a lot of different free online tools to help with that—Wordtracker offers a free option. Headlines should include some of their top keywords, and they want to do that in the first 65 characters of the headline, and then they should try to keep their headline to 120 characters so that it could be tweeted. They’re also going to want to get the keywords in the first and second paragraphs of a press release. PR Newswire also has a service called Optimization Max that essentially tells us that the search engines like to see short releases, so if they should keep those releases to 300 to 400 words. And when you’re writing for SEO you need to avoid jargon and write for humans—use terms that people will search for and that they’re going to understand.
PR News: How has social media transformed the press release? Are they more important now because of social media?
Bartlett: I think so. There have been some huge shifts in how press releases are used—people are engaging with press releases and sharing them more than ever. Each month we have tens of thousands of news release users that are clicking on our engagement buttons on our toolbars. Also, when a press release goes out through our online syndication it can go to thousands of Web sites, and a lot of those sites also have their own engagement tools. So there are tons of options and ways that information can get out there.
PR News: What changes have you noticed in the news media’s expectations of press releases?
Bartlett: We all know that the media are stretched thin, that they don’t have the bandwidth that they used to, so a press release needs to make their job easier. So when our customers are developing press releases, we try to remind them to keep in mind who they’re writing for and what they’re trying to accomplish. And sometimes you’re not writing for the media—sometimes you’re writing for the end consumer. But if you are writing for the media you have to keep your message as concise as possible. You have to get to the value proposition as quickly as possible. Try to tie your release in with things the media is covering—that could be a trend or some type of seasonal tie-in such as back to school, Father’s Day, wedding season. Sometimes with press releases people get a little self-serving, but the media loves it when you can make the releases educational and solve a problem.
PR News: How can PR Newswire’s PR Toolkit help small businesses?
Bartlett: We have tips and advice, and we have educational articles from third parties so it’s not all PR Newswire-centric. There are also writing templates—we have diagrams, press releases that people can use, webinars and an FAQ section that drills down on the basics. If people want to be a little more sophisticated there are tools in there for them as well. There are many solutions there—you just have to dig in and take a look at it.
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