If you have a small business, it's time to start thinking about PR. PR, or public relations, is a key part of the marketing process, and often far more cost-effective than traditional advertising. And yet, says Deanna Simonian, many small businesses are still confused about what exactly PR is and why they need it.
The founder of Mediafy Communications, Simonian spent over a decade working with large brands before starting her own PR firm. In that time, she's found that any business can benefit from a good PR push – but many small companies don't know how to make that happen.
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Business News Daily talked to Simonian to find out seven things that all small businesses need to know about PR.
1. Public relations and advertising are not the same thing.
Paid advertisements are the way a company represents itself. A PR campaign, on the other hand, creates unpaid, organic contact between a business and its audience to build brand awareness.
"PR is about third-party credibility," explained Simonian. "This person is an unbiased person genuinely saying, 'I love this brand.'"
A sponsored post on Instagram, for example, is advertising. But when a company sends a blogger a product to use, and the blogger genuinely likes it and posts about it, that is PR. Being quoted as a source in a newspaper, featured in a magazine or appearing on a talk show are other common forms of PR. Sending press releases regarding company announcements counts.
"I think PR is creating the most positive image of your company that you can then share with the public," Simonian said. "Whether that's through traditional media or social media … PR means getting your name out there and building your business's image."
2. Good PR helps you define your brand.
"One of the most important things about starting a campaign is that having PR helps define the message of your company," said Simonian. "The first question we ask is, 'Why are you doing what you're doing? Why do people care?' … It helps fine-tune the message and keep it consistent."
Without consistency, customers won't understand or trust what your brand represents. A strong PR campaign creates a recognizable message across multiple media platforms. This is especially important for small businesses, which lack the name recognition of larger companies and corporations.
"When small businesses don't have PR, things are all over the place," Simonian cautioned. "PR keeps things consistent."
3. Good PR takes time.
Simonian often finds that small businesses are impatient for PR to produce instant results, rather than thinking of the campaign as part of a long-term marketing strategy.
"I think some small businesses think that results are going to be immediate," she said. "But good PR takes time … You need to give it at least three to six months to see the benefit."
When that benefit comes, it's not always in the form of instant sales, she added. "Just because your company gets featured in a big newspaper doesn't mean you'll instantly see a jump in sales. There are two types of PR. One type increases sales; the other builds credibility. It looks good and makes you look more reliable."
Creating credibility for your company is a long-term investment that builds brand recognition and creates trust. Eventually, it will pay off in increased sales and the long life of your company.
4. You might need to wait a while before you start a PR campaign.
One mistake that Simonian frequently sees small businesses make is starting a big PR push before they are ready for the attention.
Coverage in a national media outlet, for example, can produce high demand for products. If you aren't able to meet that demand, you may find yourself losing credibility or disappointing customers.
"I think you have to be ready for PR coverage," said Simonian. "It can create a lot of demand for certain products, and sometimes a [young] company can't keep up with that demand."
5. You don't need a large budget for good PR.
Large businesses often employ a dedicated PR team or hire a PR firm to create an extended campaign. But small businesses can create effective PR even without a large budget.
Simonian suggests hiring a PR consultant to work within your budget, even if that just means you spend a few hours working together to create a plan that you will implement on your own.
If you don't have the budget for that, it's still possible to strike out on your own. "Invest your time in creating relationships with reporters and media contacts," Simonian recommended. "If you're consistent and you're genuine, people will respond to you."
6. Media outlets love small businesses.
Small businesses often wonder if media outlets will be interested in covering them or mentioning their products when big brands are much better known. Many times, though, that lack of previous exposure works in their favor.
"I've worked on IBM, Toshiba, Coca-Cola, and I've worked with really small brands too," said Simonian. "I think media outlets find small business more interesting … they're big fans of the 'uniquenesses.' … For bigger clients, PR is more a matter of managing the press they're already getting."
Small businesses, by contrast, don't already have a narrative or perception attached to their brand, which gives media outlets and influencers more of a story to work with.
"It's a lot more fun to help create that image and share it," said Simonian.
7. PR depends on relationships.
Whether you're working with a firm or handling your PR on your own, focus your efforts on people who are already influencing your target customer.
"PR is figuring out ways to build relationships, whether it's with a reporter or social media influencer," said Simonian. "Look for people who have a lot of clout and build that relationship. Help them to understand your message and how their followers can relate to you."
Successful PR builds trust between your company and its customers. Building positive relationships with the right media outlets is essential to creating that trust. If that relationship isn't already there, you won't reach the right audience, no matter how many places feature you.