11/10/10

By Claire West

Small businesses have so much to gain from PR…the problem is most are blind to their PR value or don’t embark on it because they can’t afford a PR agency. Here, Louise Findlay-Wilson — creator of PrPro — who recently spoke at Fresh Business Thinking LIVE! — explains why smaller companies are ideally suited to PR and shares some simple techniques for companies keen to crack the fame game.

PR is a powerful weapon. It separates your business from the pack, demonstrates expertise and showcases your products and services to an audience you might otherwise never reach.
However, only a fraction of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) seriously attempt any kind of publicity. So why don’t more SMEs ‘do’ PR?
Ironically PR’s own reputation is part of the problem. It’s seen by many as a dark art; something that demands huge chunks of time, is hard to measure and harder still to do unless you have an agency or freelancer onboard.

Our research among around 170 companies suggests cost (35%) and a lack of PR understanding (25%) are the biggest barriers. Almost one in six thinks PR is “just for big firms” whilst 11 per cent cite time pressures.

Smaller companies have a natural talent for PR so it’s criminal more don’t adopt it as part of their marketing strategy. For a start, small businesses are much more nimble than large corporate, where media messages have to go through numerous tiers of approval before being issued. Often that means they miss the PR opportunity, but SMEs can react swiftly and seize the exposure.

The owner or chief exec of an SME is also far more accessible to the media than the CEO of a major corporate. And when the media does reach him or her they’re more likely to say something useable; they are more likely to shoot from the lip, have an opinion and have a compelling story to tell. An SME’s news won’t be diluted by committees or corporate guidelines.
In short, PR is the natural domain of the small and medium-sized business and any SME that doesn’t harness its power is missing a huge commercial trick.
PR is a multi-faceted discipline — but for most businesses, especially those new to the PR, getting the media to talk about them is often the priority. So I’m just going to touch upon the basics of this. So how do you ‘crack’ the media?

Be Familiar
Familiarise yourself with media that matters: the media your customers and prospects read, listen to or look at online. And if you don’t know what media your customers and prospects value…ask them! If they’re a business, look in their reception areas, or check out the media that sponsors the exhibitions they attend. Then get familiar with that media; understand what it covers, its style, key writers, and any special sections, and think about where you could fit in.

Back to Basics
Prepare your basic stories (launch of a new product / award win / special anniversary / company development / interesting case study etc.) in the form of a punchy press release. This should be no more than 300-words in length and be to the point — don’t waffle. The key is to apply the ‘who cares’ rule. Editors always have their readership in mind so if that audience isn’t likely to care about your story then don’t waste your time writing it!


Be Opinionated
Don’t simply concentrate of corporate news — think about what your customers care about and that you can legitimately have an opinion on. What’s topical; what’s challenging or threatening your customers? Your big competitors will be bland bland bland! So be contentious, obviously don’t be libelous but also don’t sit on the fence — the media isn’t interested in mundane opinion. And stay abreast of feature schedules in your target media that you might be able to contribute opinion or expert comment towards.

Create News
You can also create your own news by hosting an event or running a poll. Putting a poll on your website or on Linkedin is so easy and free — yet a couple of carefully constructed questions will give you the bones of a great news story. Running a competition is another way to secure media exposure — but make sure it is relevant to your business. Or if you want to promote your expertise why not deliver a seminar, write an ‘expert guide’, or make a prediction.

Join the dots
Have some joined up thinking — if you get some online exposure — tweet about it, link to it, use it in your social media activity so that all of your audiences are exposed to your growing fame.


Persist
Importantly, don’t give up. I’ve heard people say they’ve tried PR but it ‘didn’t work for them’ — in reality they’ve issued one, often bland, press release which didn’t get picked up! By definition PR is the planned and sustained communication to the audiences that matter; it’s not really something you can dip in and out of. You didn’t give up trying to drive because you were bad at it on the first attempt. You knew it was important and so you persisted until you cracked it...The same is true of PR — it’s important, so master it!