Small Business PR: Everything You Need to Know to Be Ready
Public relations for small business owners is totally possible on any budget. Here’s why: each small business offers a story that the media wants to hear and tell. We are living in an artisan era where makers, artists, and small businesses are celebrated.
The media’s interest in telling your story means that you don’t necessarily have to hire a PR firm. For many small businesses, hiring a PR firm is cost-prohibitive. We can’t all afford a monthly retainer to keep a team of professional publicists working for us around the clock. If it’s in your budget, great! But if it’s not, don’t assume you are excluded from getting the media attention you deserve.
While there is a certain finesse to PR, the truth is anyone can do it. I firmly believe small business owners can be their own publicists and effectively put a microphone to their business.
But before you jump right in, there are a few things you should consider if you want to make a good first impression. I’ve compiled every bit of information I have gone over with my own small business clients to make sure they are ready for PR.
Here’s the ultimate guide to be ready for small business PR.
What is PR?
PR is earned media. Your small business earns media when a publication, be it online, a newspaper, magazine, podcast, news segment, etc., writes or talks about your brand without you paying for it.
This is why you may have heard the phrase, “It was a PR stunt” referring to a company that did something just for the sake of getting the news to write about it.
This doesn’t mean that PR always has to be a stunt either. You can earn media attention just by having a good story.
How is PR different from other marketing strategies?
As a small business owner, you probably know it is a good idea to get the word out there about your business. But, I have a lot of clients come to me who are not sure why PR is any different than other marketing strategies or how it fits into everything else they are doing such as newsletters, social media, blog posts and paid advertising.
PR is different because you don’t control the message, the publication does. That may sound like a bad thing, but it actually can be leaps and bounds more effective than paid channels.
Unlike advertising, where the reader knows you wrote the message, media coverage is generally authentic and trustworthy. The writer is basically vouching for you. The publication adds 3rd party credibility to your company’s story, services or products.
And since they are typically covering your company for free, PR is a very cost-effective strategy for small businesses.
Why is PR important for your brand?
PR adds so much to your brand.
PR gets your brand exposure to new audiences
Every website, magazine, newspaper, news segment, podcast, and so on that publishes something about your brand is going to show it to their own audience. In the vast majority of cases, their audience will have new potential customers eager to learn about you.
Your brand earns 3rd party credibility from the non-biased coverage
I said it, but I can say it again. When someone else writes about your brand, it is more trustworthy than if you write it yourself. This is especially true the more respected or influential the publication is.
Your brand comes to life with stories and context
Ever see a purse online and think, “meh?”
Ever see a purse on a Kardashian and think, “Where can I get that?”
Okay, maybe the Kardashians aren’t your flavor, but in any case, you know their power. What is really happening there, is that the purse got a story and some context. It’s no longer just a purse you found online, it’s the same purse Kim was wearing on an outing with her kids.
Stories and context are super powerful selling tools. PR inherently gives a story and context just by being published somewhere trendy or being recommended as a gift, and it only gets more interesting from there.
PR shows your brand is relevant
People like to buy from the latest, greatest, and upcoming brands. Once you land a great media placement, you can leverage that attention to show your audience that your brand is fresh and interesting.
Do you have an actual product or service?
I know this sounds like a silly question. You are probably thinking, “Duh I have a product or service, why else would I be wanting to do PR to get the word out there about my business?”
However, you would be surprised by the number of times that people have come to me with an idea or the beginning phases of a business that they want to get media attention for. The media usually won’t cover this. You need to make sure that you have something that is actually available on the market.
Can a small business really do PR without a PR firm?
This is a question that I get asked a lot. Let me be frank with you. At a certain time, you are going to grow into a big business and have a lot of things to pitch the media. This is when you will hire a PR firm to take it off your plate.
However, when you are still a small business with limited resources, I think it is more than reasonable to do your own PR.
Because you aren’t really learning any new skills. PR consists of writing emails (you know how to write emails), doing research (you know how to google) and following up. These are all things that you already know how to do, you just have to think about them in terms of PR.
The only thing standing between a total novice self-publicist and a great media placement is learning a bit about how the media works and there are plenty of resources (even on this website) for you to learn.
What is the difference between PR for a product and PR for a service?
Some small businesses sell products. Some small businesses sell services. Both can do PR.
At the heart of it, you want to offer the media something. If you sell a product, offering your product makes sense. If you sell a service, you can offer yourself or a team member as a subject-matter expert.
PR for Products
· Let’s people know your product is on the market
· Gives context for how to use it, who it is for, etc.
· Earns reviews and recommendations
PR for Services/Experts
· Gives unique insights to current issues via quotes, interviews, and contributed articles
· Let’s the public know your company is an industry leader
· Adds credibility to the business
What is the difference between local and national media?
Yes, being featured on the front page of the New York Times is ideal. National outlets can give your brand major exposure. And if you sell to a nation-wide market, you are going to want to get in some big publications.
However, you can have a lot of success with local publications too! They are equally important for a lot of reasons. While national publications have more eyes, local publications are typically a lot easier to get into and have a more relevant audience.
This is especially true if you have a brick and mortar store. A local publication can bring a lot of people directly to your door.
Local publications are always for local businesses to cover. It’s really good to build your hometown fan base, rack up a few media features, and then go to national media with that extra credibility already behind you.
In general, I make sure all of my clients have a mix of local and national media attention in their strategies.
Do you have professional images?
Professional images are a big deal no matter what kind of business or brand you have.
If you are an expert or service-based company, make sure you have at least a professional headshot. This will come in handy when the media wants to interview your or have you write an article for their publication. In a lot of cases, they will want to include a photo of you in the article, they have very short deadlines, and you won’t always have enough time to hire a photographer. Have it ready before you need to scramble for something that isn’t high-quality.
The same goes for product-based businesses. Rarely will a publication talk about your product without showing a picture of it. You need high-quality photos of your product with a white background ready to go as soon as they are requested.
Does your website have enough information?
A reporter will visit your website before they ever consider writing about you.
You don’t need anything too fancy, Just as long as your website professionally presents necessary information such as your company name, location, and details about your products and services.
Since pictures speak louder than words, high-quality images can make a big difference.
If you sell products, make sure your product photos are the focal point of your home page. If you sell services, make sure your pictures are relevant to what you do.
As a rule of thumb, there are three things that I recommend a website have before you start pitching the media:
1. What you do
This is should hit the person over the head the moment they enter your website. What seems obvious to you isn’t obvious to other people, so make sure it is very clear what you do.
2. Pages devoted to your products or services
Make sure you have everything listed out and very clear. Don’t leave people guessing because that is when they might lose interest if they are confused.
3. An about page
If you do your about page right, it can be the thing that people remember. Your about page personalizes the brand and makes it possible to relate to your story.
Are you telling your brand story in the about page?
The background of the business can be just as newsworthy as your products or services.
By telling your brand story, usually featured on an about page, you help your company be relatable, memorable, and stand out from the crowd.
It's hard to write about yourself, but it is totally worth it. Start by answering questions like:
· Who are you?
· Why do you do what you do?
· How is your business different?
· What do you hope to improve for your customers?
· Why do you care?
Do you have an elevator pitch?
You need to have an elevator pitch ready to articulate your brand in a short, concise manner.
A lot of times as small business owners, we are very close to the brand, so we think everything is important. Before reaching out to the media, you should be able to talk about your brand in 3-4 sentences, really boiling down the most important information that makes you and your brand unique.
Are you able to give the media a sample?
It only makes sense that the media will want to learn more about your company first-hand before writing about it and especially before recommending it.
Before you seek out media attention, you will need to consider if you are able to take on the expense of sending out samples, showcasing a prototype, or inviting the press to try out a service.
Can you make time for PR?
If you want to be successful in PR, you need to make time for it. You may not be a fit for a specific publication today, but if you stay on someone’s radar, you’ll be their go-to when they are writing about something relevant to you.
Start with the expectation that you will need to spend a little bit of time, an hour or two, pitching yourself each week.
Be ready for the marathon.
Then, when you get a response, be ready to jump when they say jump.
Is your branding consistent?
Your brand is the lasting impression of your business. Consistent branding looks professional and establishes brand recognition.
Inconsistent branding can be confusing. When a customer sees a dark and moody brand on your website, they may not recognize your company if you have a light and happy brand on social media.
So, if you want to be known as a happy-go-lucky company, keep that tone in every customer-facing aspect of your business.
To start, make sure there is some cohesion in your website and social media.
Do you have a plan for an uptick in sales?
Congratulations! A major national publication has chosen to feature your product or service!
There is no guarantee if or how much revenue will go up with a press placement, but it is highly likely that you will see an increase in sales!
Don’t let them down.
Now is your chance to cash in on all your hard work. Plan for how you will handle a rush of orders, a phone that won’t stop ringing, or excited customers lined up around the block.
Think about what you will do if you run out of inventory, if you need more staff, or how many clients you can realistically take on.
Dream big, and plan for it.
When can I expect results?
This is a hard question to answer and honestly, there is no realistic way to answer it. You can send the best pitch ever, but if the writer is swamped with other topics, you aren’t likely to hear back.
Some small businesses will get a big win as soon as they try PR.
Some small businesses will need to send several pitches to get their first PR placement.
In either case, the key is consistency.
Are you ready to get the word out there?
You need to really ask yourself if you are ready to put yourself out there.
Yes, it is scary to pitch yourself, and it can open you up to criticism. However, at the end of the day, if you have ever asked yourself why your competitors are getting media and you aren’t, the answer is simple: they are contacting the media.
Sometimes it really is as simple as sending an e-mail, but you have to make sure that you are ready to do that.
So now that you have answered all the questions about your small business being ready to start PR, it is time to actually do that. Check out my website for the resources that we have for small business owners to get the word out there about their business.