prFor many small business owners, the reluctance to commit to a strategic, sustained PR programme is often founded in a negative experience. Perhaps you’ve found it hard to shape your business’ story in a way that’s gained real traction with your target media. Or you’ve become frustrated with a PR agency not delivering the acres of FT column inches they promised you at the original pitch.

As a seasoned PR (a journalist contact recently called me a “PR mum” which I confess, took me aback) I cringe inwardly – ok, outwardly – when I come across examples of sloppy, ill-thought out PR. Firstly, it doesn’t serve the client. And secondly, it doesn’t serve the journalists we’re working so closely with. And it certainly doesn’t help the reputation of the profession.

When executed well, in a targeted, sustained, intelligent way, PR can be transformative for a business and an incredibly powerful channel. Here’s the low down on the difference between good and bad PR.

• Good PR ties back to your business goals

This has to be the starting point for all PR. How does it impact your business? Understand what you want to achieve from PR then tie your strategy back to these outcomes. For most businesses it’s raising brand awareness to drive sales, strengthening profile to attract great talent or for a shorter term objective, perhaps a specific event. Ultimately you want to educate your audience so they connect and engage with your business.

Good PR is not about coverage for coverage’s sake. Sure, a piece in the Telegraph business section is great for brand awareness but if your customers read the Mirror, it won’t inform, educate or influence the behaviour that will have a positive impact on your business. Coverage for its own sake has the potential to be perceived as just fluff, and quite frankly, the world doesn’t need more of that.

• Good PR is about building strong relationships

Relationships are at the heart of PR. In fact the very definition is to “manage reputation by communicating and building good relationships with all organisation stakeholders.” From a PR perspective your key stakeholders are the media, your customers and other influencers. Take the long-term view, connect with journalists on Twitter, engage in conversations with them without an immediate agenda, follow and support their work. In this way when you do have a story you’d like to share with a journalist, they know who you are and already have some context about your business. If you do use a PR agency or consultant, they will build these relationships on your behalf.

In the same way, PR fails occur when organisations don’t manage their relationships with their publics effectively. This is often the case in so-called crisis communications situations. Granted as a small business it’s unlikely we’ll encounter incidents on the BP oil spill level however with social media, an unhappy customer on Twitter can cause real damage to a hard-earned reputation. There really is truth in the expression “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” The key is to respond to any issues as quickly and honestly as you possibly can whether this is a customer or a journalist. Even if you have nothing new to add to the conversation, keeping the lines of communication open will help towards rebuilding trust and good will.

• Good PR is thinking how your story helps the journalist

This is so often overlooked by businesses. We have built our businesses up, we live and breathe them, we spend our lives in them. Of course we find them interesting. But why does this touch other people and why should a journalist be interested? The fact your business exists is not a news story.

Journalists will need a genuine story or an angle, so think about your pitch from their viewpoint. Is your story the first of something? Have you spotted a customer behaviour that captures a business trend? Is there a piece of new industry legislation coming through that impacts your industry you can comment on? It’s a shift to understanding what journalists need and how you can help them.

Good PR is not “I think my business is great and I want you to cover it.” Rather, how can I help you? Tying back to my earlier point, by connecting with journalists online, understanding what themes they cover and the type of stories they cover, you’ll already be a step ahead.

PR is a discipline that must tie back to your business goals. Get it right and you can uplevel your business, punch above your weight, and shape a great reputation. When it’s done less well, you risk isolating your customers, stakeholders and influencers. Be focused, be consistent, be genuine and invest the time in building those relationships.

By Antonia Taylor,