Public relations (PR) provides a way for small business owners to gain positive publicity for their business. Small business owners usually want their public relations efforts to impact their customers, although getting PR within your industry can also be a good thing. If you’re looking for investors, that’s another group to keep in mind as you develop your PR plan.
According to PR Newswire, “A consistent public relations program will help build general awareness of your product, service or brand…This visibility also tends to make your business appear larger and more established than it may be, which may help you secure partnerships, customers and funding.”
Top PR Tips for Small Businesses
Even if you don’t have the money to hire an agency, there’s a lot you can accomplish on your own to get people talking about your business. How do you create a good buzz? Here are a few suggestions.
Form relationships with the media.
Put together a media list and keep it up to date, adding notes as you come into contact with people. Meet the reporters who cover your town, your industry, and whatever’s important to your customers. This includes local newspapers, radio, and television stations, and online information sources such as Patch.
Influential bloggers are another great source of publicity, so if you own a restaurant, get to know the local food bloggers. If you sell kids clothes, the mommy bloggers should be on your radar. Trade papers and magazines are essential if you’re in the business-to-business sales arena.
Pitch to the media.
There’s no point in curating all these great media relationships if you don’t pitch stories for the media to cover. How do you pitch a story successfully? Give relevant, newsworthy information that’s helpful to them. Read that again: helpful to THEM—not self-serving for you.
You’ll be a more valuable and trusted source when your message is informative, not salesy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t promote your business, but do it in the context of general news and information. Think about what your business has to offer that a reporter or feature writer would be interested in and offer to help. For example:
- If you’re an accountant, write an article that explains this year’s changes to the tax code. Offer to become a reporter’s go-to person for tax season.
- If you run a retail store, put together a holiday gift guide and invite the TV news crews in for a live presentation.
- When the summer barbecue season arrives, your restaurant or specialty food market can offer recipes and entertaining tips.
Hold an event.
The point of holding an event is to have an excuse to invite customers and the media. The media is the most important element of your PR campaign since any coverage you get will help spread the word of your business beyond those who actually come to the event.
Consider throwing a ribbon cutting party for your new location, or a workshop demonstrating your newest products. If you’re a retailer, have an event in your store, like a fashion show featuring this season’s hottest looks. If your business is food related, then hold a cooking demonstration with a chef.
Become a speaker.
Offer to speak at clubs, community events and whatever functions your customers are attending. When you’re in front of a group, you’re automatically the expert on the subject at hand, and the audience is very open to your message. Again, keep your talk informative, rather than making it a glorified sales pitch. Your knowledge and expertise will do the selling for you.
If your sales are primarily to other businesses, offer to speak at industry trade shows, conventions and association meetings. Send out invitations to your speaking engagement so any interested media can attend.
Help with a charity or philanthropic cause.
Find a cause that’s meaningful to you and your customers and do something to help. Not only does it help your image to be a good corporate citizen, it simply helps, which benefits everyone. Most likely, the group you’re benefiting will send out their own messaging about your involvement, but you should do so as well, looking to draw attention to such a worthy cause.
Can you donate goods or services? Do so. How about holding a canned food drive at your location? Offer raffle prizes to the PTA for the school fashion show. Sponsor a Little League team. Donate a percentage of sales to an organization for a night.
Write a proper news release.
When you write a press release, make sure it’s actually newsworthy, tailored to your audience, and using correct spelling and grammar. There are many “how-to” tutorials online, but two good ones are this press release how-to from PR Newswire, which breaks down the format, and this press release tutorial from email marketing company Constant Contact.
Use social media.
Social media is publicity you don’t have to rely on anyone else for; you can generate it yourself. That makes it one of the first PR outlets you should master. Read our introduction to social media to learn about the major platforms and how to use them, then make sure to highlight coverage of all of the ideas we talked about above as part of your effort.
Create an online marketing plan.
Elsewhere online, frequent any message boards or community forums your customers are using. Post helpful messages answering questions.
If you write well, start a blog. Platforms like Blogger are very easy to learn and use. Wordpress and Tumblr also have many fans. As you write, you increase your chances of showing up on the major search engines, making it easier for people to find you.
Create a PR plan for your business.
You should plan your publicity the same way you do the rest of your business. Sit down with a calendar, map out the seasons, holidays or other events that impact your industry, and think about how your business relates to these happenings.
Sometimes, your PR effort may be in response to a news event you can take advantage of; for example, a doctor can offer expert advice about the flu outbreak in town. At the same time, be mindful of what’s going on outside of your business and when not to seek publicity. If a major news story is breaking or something else is consuming the attention of the media, hold off on your news until things quiet down.
Simply put, a good public relations effort can be a very cost-effective way to help your business grow and be successful.
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