- Public relations involves generating media coverage, social posts and in-person engagements for your business.
- While marketing involves a business directly reaching out to consumers, and advertising consists of paying for exposure, PR does neither but complements both: It persuades other entities to help tell your story.
- Tools you can use to run your own PR campaigns include press release distribution services, journalist databases and social media analytics suites.
- This article is for small business owners looking to do their own PR.
When you were starting your business, you probably encountered lots of advice about how to market and advertise it. Chances are that such suggestions overlooked a different yet complementary way to tell your company’s story: public relations, aka PR.
When you run a PR campaign, you earn media coverage, social media mentions and in-person engagements without paying the entities involved. The only person you might employ is a publicist, who wouldn’t pay people to cover you because that would be unethical. But you can also do PR by yourself – for free in some cases. Here’s how (and why) to do PR yourself.
What PR is (and what it isn’t)
PR, short for “public relations,” involves strategically communicating with the public to establish and build a beneficial image and reputation for your business. It typically encompasses securing press coverage, social media posts and in-person engagements. In the event of negative coverage around your company, PR can also include crisis communication.
PR typically involves someone else telling your story and, in some cases, interviewing you to do so. Conversely, marketing entails promoting your products directly to your target audience via email newsletters, online content, SEO and more. The key is that you or someone you hire creates these materials and distributes them. One of the differences between marketing and advertising is that with the latter, you pay for priority placement in spaces where people look for products and services.
PR, marketing and advertising are all approaches to gaining public exposure. PR, though, is more about building a reputation through other entities highlighting you. Marketing and advertising are more about promoting yourself directly in spaces your customers frequent.
Key takeaway: PR comprises efforts to earn coverage or in-person engagements without paying the entities that provide them. Advertising involves paying, and marketing encompasses you, rather than someone else, telling your story.
Benefits of PR
PR can benefit your small business in the following ways.
- Brand awareness on a tighter budget: When the media covers your company because it’s newsworthy or because you can offer an expert opinion, it generates free publicity for your product or services. While it’s typically unethical to pay for media coverage, sponsored content – a form of advertising – offers a lower-cost opportunity to garner notice. Just make sure that you disclose the content is subsidized.
- Better marketing and advertising: Public relations isn’t marketing or advertising, but it is a natural complement to both. Think about it: everything works together. If you saw a bunch of ads for a company you’d never heard of, wouldn’t you research that company? Then, if you found abundant positive coverage about the business, you’d be more likely to buy from them.
- Damage control: Certain PR tactics can help you wrestle back control of damaging narratives around your company. That’s not possible with marketing or advertising, which simply promote your products. That said, PR isn’t the same as online reputation management (ORM), which involves responding to negative customer reviews and eliminating negative content.
- Permanence: Eventually, ads outlive their paid period of high presence, and all marketing campaigns eventually come to a close. The media you earn through PR, though, doesn’t go anywhere. Any internet search relevant to your brand, products or services could potentially find this media. That means lots of possible opportunities to engage consumers with your story.
There’s only one major drawback of PR: It can be extremely time-consuming. At first, you’ll likely receive more silence or passes on your pitches than responses or interest. Even if you do embark on a highly successful campaign, individually pitching people time and again can be a monotonous, lengthy process. That becomes easier with PR tools.
FYI: PR is great for low-cost brand awareness, damage control, and a more permanent brand presence that bolsters your marketing and advertising. That said, without the right tools, it can be extremely time-consuming compared to marketing and advertising.
11 DIY PR tools
These tools will help you get started on your own in-house PR campaigns:
Help A Reporter Out (HARO)
Share your expertise and get free publicity. Help A Reporter Out, commonly referred to as “HARO” by media folks, gives you direct access to reporters, bloggers and journalists from all types of publications and media properties who are looking for sources with your expertise.
Sign up as a source and HARO will send queries from journalists to your inbox in batches throughout the day. If any of the queries is a good fit for your expertise and business, pitch your response and qualifications directly to the journalist by email for a possible interview or direct quote.
Cost: The Basic plan is free. The Standard, Advanced, and Premium plans cost $19, $49, and $149 a month and offer more features, such as keyword and text alerts.
Find the right journalist and blogger to tell your story or become a source. Muck Rack allows businesses to search its database of journalists and media contacts. Features include media monitoring, inbox alerts, direct email pitches to journalists, and media list creation and organization.
You can sign up as a PR pro by requesting a demo. Start searching for journalists by name, keywords and phrases, beats, outlets, Twitter accounts, hashtags, media properties, and other categories.
Cost: Request a demo for pricing information.
Maximize your reach and attract new business online. PRWeb publishes press releases across the web on search engines, blogs, major news sites and websites – no tech or PR skills necessary. Write an effective and engaging press release for your business, announcement or event (PRWeb offers a library of resources to help you do this, including free tutorials and press release examples). Add video, keywords, extra distribution channels and other optional features. Plug your press release into PRWeb’s template, hit “Submit,” and it will appear on PRWeb’s network. [Related: Writing Press Releases That Actually Get Read]
Cost: PRWeb starts at $99 per press release.
Find leads and discover your biggest social media influencers. Hootsuite is a social media management tool that lets you manage multiple social media accounts in a single dashboard to help automate social media marketing while increasing engagement. Hootsuite can also help you monitor top content, likes and shares, traffic sources, and other metrics with reporting modules like Facebook Audience Insights and Google Analytics. Simply sign in with your social media credentials (such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, or Apple) or your email address, then set up streams for each social media account.
Cost: Hootsuite plans range from $49 to $739 per month, with custom enterprise pricing also available.
You don’t need fancy software to track your business’s media placements and mentions – Google Alerts lets you monitor your presence online and find out where you appear on the web, what people are saying about you, and how your PR campaigns compare to that of your competitors.
You can create an alert by entering a search query – such as the name of your business, competitors, industry and other related keywords – and setting up the frequency and types of alerts you wish to receive. These Google Alerts are then sent directly to your inbox.
Cost: Google Alerts is free to use.
LinkedIn is a great place to connect with colleagues and even find a job. It’s also an excellent resource for finding journalists, budget-friendly PR reps and other professionals who can help you get your PR campaigns off the ground. Use LinkedIn’s search function and filters to find journalists, publications and PR professionals. For better search results and to contact non-connections, purchase a Premium account. Learn more about how to use LinkedIn for business.
Cost: LinkedIn is free, with premium plans starting at $29.99 a month.
Online PR Media
Online PR Media combines the best of traditional media practices with social media and multimedia to get the most out of your search engine optimization efforts. It has a quick and easy submission process, with tips for writing effective press releases and editors that review and approve every submission before it goes live. Sign up for an account and the system walks you through writing the press release. The site has a page for guidelines that help ensure you develop and submit a quality press release with a high chance of approval.
Cost: Online PR Media is free to use for an online press release and $22 for social media press releases. There are extra fees for add-on services.
This is one of the few sites that offers social media features outside of a paid plan. PRLog‘s free features include social sharing, automatic Twitter and Facebook posting, and embedding widgets and code. They also provide analytics for free. To get started, create an account and post your first press release. The system is intuitively navigable, once you get used to the design, and there are a variety of ways to customize it. PRLog’s partnership with PR Newswire distributes your release on their online network for a fee.
Cost: PRLog is free to use.
With CoverageBook, you can see the results of all your pitching and use them to inform your future DIY PR work. Paste the URLs of all online mentions you’ve earned and upload screenshots of print mentions to get started. CoverageBook will distill the results of your coverage into a dashboard that correlates your PR work to shares, views and inbound links. You can also analyze the impact of any individual piece of media coverage.
Cost: CoverageBook starts at $99 per month.
Brandwatch‘s social listening tools can help you understand what the online world is saying – whether you want to understand trends, get better ROI, or monitor negative press coverage of your business. The service can provide historical and real-time data insights, consumer analysis, and other social listening functions.
Cost: Contact Brandwatch for a quote.
Business Wire can distribute your press releases to hundreds of thousands of publications across 162 countries. You can also rotate quotes in your press releases and create release summaries for display on search engines. Twitter sharing is available, as are numerous interactive media inclusions in your press releases. Plus, the moment your press releases go out, you’ll see what’s working – and you can use those insights the next go-round.
Cost: Business Wire starts at $475 for a 400-word press release in most U.S. state, city or metro circuits.
Marci Martin and Sara Angeles contributed to the writing and research in this article.