When small businesses draw up their business plan they almost always include a marketing strategy. However most of them fail to implement a Public Relations strategy. The reason for this is because many small businesses fail to recognize PR strategies even though they‘re around us all of the time.
Marketing is advertising your company to promote sales. While Public Relations is establishing credibility. Having a PR strategy can be more effective than a marketing one since most people don’t trust promotional tactics and can “see right through” them. Essentially, PR is building trust and establishing a positive reputation.
Historically, PR relies on a third party or authority figures to endorse your company in a positive way. Nothing screams credibility more than someone else talking about how great your company is, instead of you shouting it to the world. It comes across unbiased, therefore, more trustworthy.
Public Relations is considered “earned media” since it cannot be bought. Therefore there’s no valid excuse for you to not be implementing a PR strategy - especially since it shouldn’t cost you anything (unless you pay a PR agency). Utilizing this will save you more money that you would typically be spending on marketing.
While PR is more difficult to measure it’s outcomes compared to marketing (because there’s no direct call to action), there’s no doubt about the long-term benefits of developing a plan. Essentially, you’re crafting an image or reputation to insert your business into your targeted market. Ideally, you should be integrating both a PR and marketing plan into your company's goals.
PR activities must be used in coordination with solid business objectives. Before creating a plan, you need to take a step back and outline your objectives, company culture, core values and your target audience. Essentially, what do you want your reputation to be and who do you want it to appeal to?
A great way to “get your head in the game” is to look at your outline through the eyes of a journalist. What is the key message that would be delivered about you in a news related platform, speech, blog, etc?
Next, look over your Business Plan and identify potential media opportunities in it’s timeline. These could be your business/product launch, expansion activities or new services that you offer. Schedule these in your calendar or write them down so that you can reference them throughout the year. This will give you the initial structure for your planning your PR activities.
As we mentioned earlier, PR is about getting a third party or credible source talking about you instead of you talking about you. This is where a little bit of networking will need to come into play. But before you can start reaching out to people or organizations, you need to research who exactly to network with.
Start by researching organizations that are related to your industry. For example, there are many associations related to the vape and marijuana industries. Make a list of these. Add websites and blogs applicable to your industry as well. And finally, research local reporters that have covered similar topics in your area.
At this point in the timeline, your individual expertise should come into play. Remember, PR isn’t about directly pushing sales. It’s about providing a story and useful information that appears unbiased. This is what you have to offer these channels. So once you’re ready to make contact, keep this frame of mind.
Now you should be ready for media outreach. Call or email theses contacts individually and schedule informal meetings with them where you can discuss your outlook on your company and the industry or how it relates to your community. Your opinions should be informational and useful industry data in a journalist's eyes.
At the first point of contact you shouldn’t necessarily push your own agenda. You are starting the relationship building process. Their job isn’t to promote your business - they’re not in marketing. The street goes both ways. The key point here is that you’re making yourself a resource to these professionals. If they ever have a story related to your industry or local regulations, they may want to contact you for input from a local business owner or industry leader in the area (YOU!). These relationships will pay off in the long run.
Now that you have a strong sense of how you want to present your company, and now that you’re dialed into the industry and community, it’s time to start executing PR campaigns. The following are some excellent ideas to get yourself started.
Look over your media list and find websites that accept guests posts. Contact the editor to pitch your idea. Your purpose of the article will be to provide useful information to the readers. But you do want it to be laced with your key message and objectives. Though no direct call to action should be provided, your contact information and approved bio can potentially drive traffic to your business - but most importantly, it’ll establish your credibility.
Research conferences, webinars or trade shows and nominate yourself as a keynote speaker. You will need to be proactive about your timing since these events are planned months in advance. This speech will have the same effect as the contributing articles as listed above.
Bloggers and social media gurus are always looking for more content. It’s what drives them. This is probably the hardest part of their job. So reaching out to them for a guest post or interview with them will give them great satisfaction.
Staying active in your community makes you an integral part of it. Participate in local charity events and make yourself known to the community. You should be updating your social media and website to let others know of these endeavours. This builds trust and displays that you’re not a self-serving company ready to make a dime off of anyone. It shows that you have something valuable to offer to others and it will strengthen your customer’s loyalty.
Putting case studies out to the media does require customer/relationship participation but it’ll benefit your business immensely. A great example of this would be a story about someone who quit smoking and turned to vaping, specifically your vape shop. Or how your coffee shop supplies fair trade coffee and donates a percentage of profits to a charity that promotes the rights of workers.
And finally, there is crisis planning. Crisis planning a series of set responses you have to negative scenarios - whether it be about your business or the industry in general. Run through all possible points of conflicts and craft your own responses to them. Safeguard these responses by running through these scenarios with your staff so they know how to handle these situations in an operational way. This way you can continue to control your reputation and credibility. Afterall, you don’t want all of your hard work to go to waste.
We hope that this article has been of benefit for you. We‘ve been helping small businesses succeed since 2004 and provide them a variety of resources. To check out more helpful tools and tricks, check out our industry page for your business to see how you can continue to grow your business and reach your optimal potential.