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Perhaps the most impactful but ignored form of promotion amongst SMEs is PR. Usually only a small few are brave enough to delve into this murky world from the onset, with PR strategies only becoming more commonplace when businesses grow much larger. This is usually because only a few startups are experienced in the art, and larger businesses can afford to pay a professional to do it for them. But what about everyone else?
The first hurdle is understanding the difference between marketing and PR- don’t worry, I’ve come across many marketing professionals that struggle with this, too. The two are very different. Marketing gives you guaranteed space to say what you want in the hope audiences will pay attention. With PR, you’re seeking a journalist’s endorsement to win credibility for your business- and access to a guaranteed and attentive audience. PR only works if it is newsworthy.
When I asked a friend why he didn’t use PR for his small business, he said he had thought about it, but wasn’t ready to invest time and money into something he didn’t see a guaranteed immediate return on. I can see a lot of small businesses getting stuck here because time and money has to be spent very wisely. My friend is right though- there are never any guarantees with PR. It is always a risk as you’re dealing with a medium that you don’t control. While entrepreneurs are no strangers to taking risks, they need help understanding how PR applies to their business and the benefits it offers before they’ll make the leap.
PR can, often at no cost at all, put your business in front of much larger audiences (and potential customers) than SME marketing budgets will allow. It can also give you space to deliver a much more detailed and meaningful message to help you win over customers. Magazines and newspapers can have readerships in the hundreds of thousands- a radio interview with a local station can be the equivalent of you addressing a large stadium full of people. News sites and forums also have great captive audiences. All of this can be got with just one good story about your business. Journalists, presenters and bloggers have a very loyal audience that trust their opinions, and so, as well as the exposure on offer, your business can gain instant credibility that can turn into sales.
Another barrier to kicking off a PR strategy for a business is simply not knowing where to start. The best way to do this is to identify your target media and familiarize yourself with the stories they like to cover, and then try to see where you might fit in. If you’re new to PR, you might not think you have a story to tell– I’ve worked with thousands of SMEs and I can guarantee that you do. Remember everybody likes an underdog, and that includes journalists. Local media are always keen to champion smaller businesses to show vibrancy and innovation in the local economy, and the same goes for specialist trade media. If you’ve just started up, have a quirky business, recently expanded, supplied a famous brand, or exporting overseas– all of these things can be newsworthy.
Business sections of the big national media titles are always looking for SMEs to use as case studies to bring their stories to life; stories work best with a human angle, which is harder to achieve with large enterprises. Many will also have a dedicated entrepreneurs section running “How I Made It” stories, so the simple fact you’ve set up a business makes you a potential candidate to be featured.PR is a very nuanced way of profiling your business that requires its own focused strategy. A ton of coverage from a big PR campaign is great, but one well-placed feature can lead to a jump in sales, or that one big order that takes your business to the next level. I understand it might look like a daunting task, but once you get over the fear and take the plunge, the rewards can be huge. My best advice is to smart small, and start local– you’ll get results sooner, which will give you the experience and confidence to move on to bigger things. I’m yet to meet an entrepreneur who has tasted PR success and not wanted more. Good luck!