Public Relations & Your Small Business

The practice of public relations is often misunderstood, thus overlooked by small business owners. There is an assumption among small businesses that PR exists only to serve corporate giants who are looking to dodge impending negative fall out of their reputation, following a catastrophic blunder on the part of their company. While public relations is the key to maintaining a company's image and reputation, the bulk of work in this industry is dedicated to facilitating success rather than evading disaster. And now more than ever, a growing number of small businesses are seeing the benefits of well-run PR in the success of their overall marketing plan.

Public relations is the means by which your company becomes known and stays known among your target audience. Consistent exposure to your company through press releases, by-lined articles and special events (to name a few) can have an enormous long-term impact on the success of your business. Small businesses that implement effective PR campaigns have the ability to become known as a leader in their industry, as well as their community. While there is no price that you can put on that type of exposure, PR is also typically more affordable and cost-effective than many other widely used methods of public exposure.

Creating a Brand with Public Relations Public relations should be the first component of any small business' marketing plan. It is the catalyst that will draw your audience's attention to you and all of your other marketing efforts. PR is the seed that establishes your brand within the minds of your potential customers. Once they have an image to attach to your company, that image will resurface every time they come into contact with you. Successful implementation of PR should be the precursor to any ad campaign, web marketing or product promotion that your small business performs. By first creating a brand, you are producing a captive audience for future messages of all sorts.

PR establishes you as an innovator and expert in your field by exposing your audience to the information via a third party. Americans get their information from the media and there is simply no substitute for having your company appear among the top stories of the day that are of interest to your audience.

There are basically two types of information in the media: news and advertising. For a price, you can have your company appear in the paper or on TV and radio every single day if you desire, through advertisements. But at the end of the day, it is a message that you created and paid for, and your customer knows it. And who is going to believe a message that says "I'm the best. Just ask me!" Because ads come directly from the company and are so self-serving in nature, they lack the most important influencing factor on brand building: credibility. Advertising there is little credibility to an ad because the message comes directly from the company and is clearly self-serving in nature. The other way to gain exposure through the media is to be featured in the news. Unfortunately, reporters and writers aren't just following you around town, waiting for you to do something great that they can write about. But they are constantly looking for new and interesting concepts to pique and hold the interest of their readers. That is where PR comes in.

Why Do You Stand Out in a Crowd?

Establishing yourself in your industry comes down to a single question. What makes you different? After all, if you are the same as everyone else, there is no motivation for the media to cover your story, or for your audience pay attention to it. If you are having a difficult time identifying your unique characteristics, then develop a component of your business that nobody else is offering.

Using your unique, industry-specific insight, educate the public on things that affect their daily life. Become the only accountant in your city who offers free monthly tax seminars to the public. Establish yourself as the first manufacturing company in your area to implement a new technology that increases efficiency or cuts down on pollution. Create an internal environment that interests the external world, and you will have developed the starting point of your PR process.

Implementing a Successful PR Plan

Public Relations, like any other facet of your business, is a very focused discipline that requires the skills of a professional for the best results. Small businesses often don't have the financial means, or the need, to staff a full-time PR or Marketing professional. But that doesn't mean that PR tasks should be delegated to people in-house with absolutely no experience in the field. There are many firms all over the country that specialize in managing the entire marketing mix for small business clients for considerably less cost than a full-time employee. Implementing your PR plan with one of these firms gives you a tremendous leg up on your competitors and provides a greater probability of success for your PR and marketing efforts.

Once you have established the distinguishing characteristics of your company, your marketing firm brings insight to the process of determining who the target audience is for your message. Who are your past, present and potential customers, and what would be of interest to them? Once they have helped you determine your audience, you are able to tailor your message and the presentation of it to suit their needs.

By nature, stories that appear in print and in radio and television are required to be newsworthy. Sometimes, from an insider's prospective, the line between newsworthy and blatantly self-promotional is extremely difficult to detect and adjust for. There isn't a newspaper in the country that will print a press release that simply states all that you have to offer to customers, even if you think it is important. But that's not the goal of a press release anyway. That's what ads are for. Press Releases should focus on news, and outline you as the primary credible source for the topic of the story. Establishing credibility is the primary goal of public relations efforts. That will pave the way for the placement of additional marketing pieces down the road.

Working with an outside firm also offers several other advantages to your small business. PR professionals are in constant contact with media outlets of all kinds. Once your press release, article or special event has been created, a Public Relations expert knows how to get it into the hands and on the pages and airwaves of the key publications and broadcast outlets that your audience is getting its news from. Working with a firm also brings the advantage of an outsider's perspective of your company and your industry as a whole. They can help you identify and accentuate positive perceptions of your company in your audience's mind. They also know how the message can be tailored to shed negative perceptions that may exist among your target audience.

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of using an outside firm to establish your public relations is their understanding of PR as a crucial part of the entire marketing mix. Many firms that cater to small business promotion do so through a variety of methods. Most wear the hats of Public Relations Manager, Marketing Manager and Advertising Manager for their clients. PR is a vital aspect of your company's promotion because of what it does for the other components of your marketing plan. Variety is the key to creating a lasting brand for your company. A well written, well distributed press release will get your name in the paper. But a few strong press releases, combined with advertisements, publicized special events, and a state of the art website will get customers in your door and build a lasting impression of your business in their minds.

The Keys to Small Business PR

Companies of all sizes have identified the benefits of public relations in their marketing system. Perhaps your company has tried implementing PR into your mix as well. There are a few things to keep in mind that will make a huge difference in the success of your PR activities. By differentiating yourself among your competitors and in your location, PR will help you to shape a brand and create a lasting image in the minds of your audience. However, the best way to yield success from your public relations efforts is to work with a professional that brings experience to the table and knows how to get results. Finally, Public Relations is component of the process of marketing. A single press release alone will get you little or no attention from your key audience. But through consistent implementation of a marketing plan, PR is able to establish you as a leader in your field and your community. Patience in the process is what separates the success stories from the failures in public relations implementation.

KolbeCo Marketing Resources is a St. Charles MO (St. Louis) based marketing and public relations firm. Scott Kolbe has over 10 years experince in the sales, marketing and public relations world.

Scott Kolbe
KolbeCo Marketing Resources

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