Do potential customers know about your small business and what makes it special? Do they know the story of your company and what makes your products or services unique? Do they see you as a thought leader in your industry? Do potential customers know and trust your brand? If your answer to these questions is no, then you most likely need to execute a public relations strategy for your business.
A good PR strategy will manage your company’s reputation in a variety of ways by pitching reporters, editors, and bloggers about all of the unique ways in which your company’s products or services help your customers. It can also establish you as an expert in your field through news articles, blog posts and other digital mediums. Your reputation can also earn trust among potential customers. These factors can lead to greater brand recognition, public admiration and, ultimately, more sales.
A reputable outside PR agency can do all of this for you, but most of them are extremely expensive and may not fit into the shoe-string budgets of many small businesses.
Should You Hire an Outside PR Firm?
Hiring an outside PR firm will certainly have its benefits, but will also be very expensive, as it will most likely cost your business several thousand dollars per month. If you have that kind of budget, you may wish to hire a smaller, boutique firm that will typically charge less than a large agency.
An outside PR firm should be able to handle media and community relations for you. It should also prepare pitches for the press, maintain a positive public reputation for your company and help you increase your online visibility. If you believe the price is too expensive, you may consider the fact that these boutique agencies are small businesses as well, and as such, need to charge a fair price for their services in order to survive.
If an outside PR firm doesn’t fit into your budget, however, Here are some steps you can take to solidify your reputation and draw in new customers.
#1 Prepare a Pitch
One of the benefits of hiring an outside PR agency is that most firms have a fat rolodex of influential editors and reporters and can reach out to them on a moment’s notice. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t promote yourself to the press as well. But, before you seek out reporters, you’re first going to need to come up with a compelling pitch – a story idea that you bring to the press.
For example, if you own and operate a retail store, you may want to pitch the idea of an article that covers “The 10 Best Ways to Find Bargains During the Holidays,” or if you own a restaurant, you may want to write a pitch about original Thanksgiving side dishes. Doing this will serve as fodder to engage reporters, editors and bloggers, all of whom are seeking good, thought-provoking content.
A pitch is just a few sentences describing an idea for an article, and shouldn’t take too much of your time. It should be focused and compelling, and speak directly to reporters, editors and bloggers on the topic you believe should be written about. Of course, include your contact information and offer to give them expert quotes or commentary
#2 Solicit the Press
Soliciting reporters and editors can be a tricky business, and this is where an outside PR firm may be able to help you. If you don’t have the budget for one, however, there are steps you can take to do it yourself.
Your search for reporters and editors should be targeted. Sending out a press release or pitch en masse via services such as PR Newswire is extremely expensive and will rarely bring you the targeted results you are looking for. Instead, think about the exact audience you are looking to reach, and then search for print and online publications that do reach them. This could include your town or city’s local business newspaper that’s widely read by members of your community, or a specialized, digital publication that specifically covers your industry.
Finding the contact information for the right editors, bloggers and reporters of those blogs or publications should not be difficult – they are typically in the masthead of the publication. You may want to pitch them an article idea, or, if it’s a local publication, an idea for a weekly column. Additionally, most publications do have an op-ed section in which you can write opinion pieces that will be published. Many national publications also list guidelines on how to author or contribute articles to the publications.
You can also use digital online service Help a Reporter Out (HARO) from Cision, which is free. HARO routinely sends out queries from journalists, editors and bloggers who are seeking commentary on a wide array of topics. You can search by subject and most likely find a query that matches your area of expertise, and you can respond directly to that reporter or request to be interviewed for a story.
#3 Get Involved in Your Community
If your budget allows you, a great way to gain brand recognition, public trust and credibility is to sponsor charitable events such as your neighborhood’s annual 5K race for a good cause, for example. You should also consider setting up a booth at any festivals that your neighborhood may hold. If you own a retail store or restaurant, you may also consider holding neighborhood events so that potential customers can see your business not only for the products or services that you offer, but as an important member of the community.
For example, if you run a small, gourmet coffee house and want to differentiate yourself from the local Starbucks, maybe you can have a weekly night of poetry reading or live music to attract customers. If you own a restaurant, you may consider holding a weekly tasting event or a “kids-eat-free” night to show that you relate to your customers.
#4 Create a Media Kit
One day you notice that your competitor is offering a new product or service. Although you may already offer a superior product, you see that articles and positive reviews are being written about your competitor’s product. How did this happen? The answer may be that your competitor has an online media readily available to the press, and you don’t.
A media kit, aka a press kit, is a set of tools to promote your business to reporters, bloggers and editors to assist them in writing articles about you when you have compelling news to share. Every small business, no matter the sector, should have one. Media kits typically include a comprehensive description of your company and what makes it different or compelling; your contact information; social media statistics and testimonials from past customers. Think of the “about us” page on your website on steroids.
#5 Be Active on Social Media
A great (and free) way to get your name out there is by hitting social media. You should create pages on various platforms specifically for your business, and include your media kit on it. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and others typically have chat groups or digital rooms dedicated specifically to your industry or profession in which you can comment and post your own thoughts. You should also use your page to regularly post compelling ideas or thoughts about your business in order to make connections, get advice from industry peers and further establish yourself as an authority.
If you are going to execute a PR strategy, there is one crucial ingredient that you will need: patience. Establishing a rapport with reporters takes time, and no matter how strong your story pitch is, it may be delayed or shelved due to changing news cycles. You shouldn’t allow that to discourage you, however, because in the long run, PR will bring your business credibility, public trust and ultimately, more success.