Do-It-Yourself PR Essentials for Small Businesses

Even the most short-staffed of businesses can increase the visibility of their brand, product or service—and it doesn't take having a person on staff who is dedicated solely to public relations to get the job done. It just may take some extra time, hustle and motivation—nothing new to anyone involved in operating a small business.

Most of all, it takes some essential, do-it-yourself PR know-how, and to that end PR News spoke with Kathleen Henson, CEO & founder of Henson Consulting; Lucy Allen, executive VP and chief strategy officer for Lewis PR; Beth Monaghan, principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing; and small-business owner Lauren Pietrocarlo of Dogs Deserve It LLC, a Chicago-based pet care service. Here are their nine PR essentials for small businesses with no dedicated communications staffers.

  1. Be a presence in the social network your audience frequents: For restaurants, it might be Facebook, for a B2B company it’s probably Twitter and/or LinkedIn. Monaghan recommends focusing on the network with the most impact and building a connected community there before going wider.

  2. Be strategic and creative: “While tried-and-true traditional PR tactics are effective, it is especially critical for a small business to be simultaneously creative and strategic,” says Henson. Innovative thinking will help you achieve great PR results on any budget.

  3. Be a connector (and use those connections): Be aware of who is sitting next to you, whether it’s at a networking event, school play or charity function. “Even if it is not immediately apparent how these people could help your business, keep in touch—you never know when having that person’s phone number might come in handy,” says Henson.

  4. Be a problem solver: Seek out information, identify what your company’s true needs are and find an effective solution. At first glance it may not be apparent, but sometimes a problem can turn into a business opportunity, says Henson.

  5. Focus your PR efforts: Larger players have to spread themselves across multiple topics and audiences—don’t try to cover the same ground. “Pick a few of your most crucial markets, channels and influencers and focus your efforts on them,” says Allen. Pick a topic that you and you alone can be the expert in and own it.

  6. Show your personality. Small companies often try to mask their size by putting on a veneer of corporate formality. But as a small, independent organization, you can enhance your chances of getting noticed by displaying some personality. “Capture your spokespeople on video, talk about your culture, do something unique to demonstrate your management philosophy, invite a reporter to your customer events,” says Allen. Prove to reporters that you have charisma and drive and are doing something truly different.

  7. Make social media your best friend: As the owner of her own dog-walking business, Pietrocarlo says she is constantly tweeting, updating Facebook and blogging. “The key is to always remain relevant in the media by consistently using these free mechanisms,” says Pietrocarlo. “Social media can be a business owner's best friend if used correctly, and can result in new business.”

  8. Draft talking points: Every time you speak or meet with a potential client, go back to the basic talking point you’ve prepared. “I treat every meeting as a media interview, because you never know who you'll impress,” says Pietrocarlo.

  9. Create and distribute persuasive collateral: Have brochures, business cards and company marketing collateral with you at all times. “I always try to drop off my materials to at least one dog-related business that I may have overlooked in the past,” says Pietrocarlo. The more presence you can have in the market, the more clients you will be able to garner.

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg