Social media often gets all the credit for helping small businesses promote themselves without spending on expensive advertising or marketing campaigns. Despite the popularity of social media marketing, there's still a place for good old-fashioned public relations for companies of all sizes.
Jason Keith, a small business blogger and senior communications manager at Vistaprint, believes that small businesses need to realize that solid media results can be achieved through diligence and research.
"The best public relation professionals are trusted sources for media members and deliver key interviews, story ideas and content proactively. But there’s no reason why, on a local level, small business owners can’t take steps to get similar results and build up relationships with local media that can pay dividends on a consistent basis," Keith said.
You may not have the time or resources to hire a public relations consultant, so here are five things that you should know about public relations.
Become a source.
If you want to get meaningful media results, research local publications that reach a local readership, including local blogs. Keith recommends emailing reporters to let them know that you are willing to be a source for them in the future.
"Check in with them from time to time, let them know about local business issues that might be of interest, and even weigh in on some local events or issues with your own opinion. If you continue to give good ideas, information and content to reporters, they will eventually include you in a story and give your business good exposure," Keith said.
Small businesses can also sign up for free services available to PR professionals such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a free service which sends emails daily from reporters around the country looking for sources.
"Oftentimes, they are looking for small business sources, so it can be an easy opportunity to respond with your point of view and get some free publicity. A few seconds of reading can mean a big placement for your business," Keith said.
A low-cost, low-effort way to increase your profile is by attending business conferences. Anthony DeFazio, president of DeFazio Communications, LLC, encourages attending conferences both within your industry as well as within your local market.
"Business journals typically produce and manage business conferences on various topics. Match up your industry with those scheduled events," DeFazio said.
Attending conferences is also a key opportunity to network.
"The local media is trolling through those events to find stories. It's another way for you to make a personal impression and start building relationships with reporters. You need that credibility to attract customers, partners and to grow your business," DeFazio said.
Develop sponsorships and partnerships.
While public relations can be overwhelming, it's important to remember that your customers are not your only audience. Kate Perrin, chief executive officer of PRofessional Solutions, LLC, a public relations staffing agency, said that it's important to think about the message you're sending to your neighbors, former employees, vendors, suppliers and even your competitors.
Perrin has never done paid advertising, but one of the best things she has done for her business is sponsorships.
"I serve the PR community, so I sponsor programs. My company name is always out there. The end users know our name," Perrin said.
Perrin also recommends sponsoring charity events, local kids sport teams and business meetings.
"Also, you can partner with local businesses. There are a lot of community and educational organizations you can become partners with that will be great for success," Perrin said.
Create a calendar.
One of the best ways to stay on top of your public relations message is to get prepared. Patti Spaniak, public relations, marketing and business development consultant at Patti Spaniak Consulting Services, recommends developing a key message and then creating a media hit list for opportunities.
Another way to generate news is to think about what your business can do from month to month.
"Create a calendar for 2012. In each month, list something about your business. If you're a tax accountant, you might forget that tax day is six months out. That's when you should start your PR campaign. A calendar will help an individual think in terms of opportunities each month," Spaniak said.
Focus on marketing techniques.
Susan Wagner, president of Susan Wagner PR, finds that many small businesses misunderstand public relations.
"They think of it as setting up great media events or having a huge story to take out to media outlets. It's not about that anymore," Wagner said.
When Wagner reaches out to the media, she focuses on inbound marketing techniques and traditional media in a smaller way.
"I do lots of letters to the editor and article marketing, which are both really effective on a modest budget. You can send out releases on free newswires, which ups your appeal to Google. Also, I think content marketing, like eBooks, white papers and PowerPoint presentations, are ways to reach out to your audience in an inexpensive way," Wagner said.
Wagner also warns about haphazardly spending the money that you do have.
"So many small businesses go after self-promotion when they have a little bit of money. That doesn't work. PR can be executed effectively on a modest budget. There are dozens of inexpensive resources that you can leverage, but you have to have a plan with realistic goals and a realistic budget," Wagner said.