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Last week I read an article for small businesses and recoiled in horror as my eyes lay on its introductory sentence:

“As a small business, if you have news to share, you should do so by continually sending out press releases”

As someone who has vehemently banned the use of press release, both when working in-house and now running Humm; I couldn’t believe the advice that was being issued to my small business peers.

Because nowadays, press releases just do not cut it. In my opinion, they should be removed from every marketing toolbox and replaced with far more effective channels.

Why? For this one simple reason – they don’t get read.

How many emails do you receive each day? I’ll take a guess at around 35 – 50. Now consider yourself a journalist. When I last spoke to my friends on this, they told me when they worked in the trades they received 150 - 200 emails a day. At the nationals, they can often receive in excess of 350 emails; the majority of which are press releases. What did they do – they deleted 80% of them.

PR is a valuable marketing tool however and should be considered as part of a wider communications strategy. It offers the chance to raise awareness of your business in front of the perfect audience. And, if you can earn your coverage rather than buy it, it positions you as a credible thought leader and trusted advisor on the subject.

So what do you do instead? Here are my four PR tips for small businesses:

1. Why do you want to send a news release?

First ask yourself what the purpose of the announcement is. Have you just won a new client? Did you host an event which delivered an interesting new angle to an industry topic? Once you are clear on this, you can then decide on the most effective way to share your message. Take the new client or product announcement. These are highly unlikely to be covered by a journalist therefore sending a news release is simply a waste of time, energy and money. However, if you switch it around and have an interesting client who has used your new product with tangible results, and you could introduce the journalist to this person then you’re more likely to achieve coverage because you’ve created a story.

Also, with so many avenues available for self-promoting content; it’s often better to post business specific news online and share via social channels. For time sensitive comments, such as responses to the Autumn statement, this is a great way to quickly share your viewpoint of the subject with your customers. Tag relevant magazines in the posting too making it easy for them to find and use your comments.

2. Nurture relationships with journalists

I invest a lot of time nurturing the relationships I have formed with journalists over the years; really understanding what they need from me as a PR professional. As a small business, if you want to be heard, you have to get to know those who will be writing about you. Follow them on social media, invite them to your events, take them for a coffee. Without this groundwork, your PR pitch will just be one of a thousand they receive that day...

3. Research the publication

For the greatest return, it’s a better to go for quality coverage over quantity. An article over five news snippets. Though to do this you need to get your pitch right. You should have a personalised pitch for every magazine you are approaching, even if the end message is the same.

Really refine your target list to around 10 publications who are best suited for the audience you are trying to reach. Then research the title. Be clear on what section you are pitching for; whether that’s news, letter page or features. Work out what stories get in and why. Then use this information to put together your pitch using the 3W’s - who, what, why. Here’s an example of a recent successful pitch to help:

We were sorry you couldn’t attend [name of business] launch of their research last week, however wondered if you would be interested in an opinion piece for the website which explored some of the debate on the day?

In particular the findings which suggest the leisure and charity sectors are woefully falling behind their industry counterparts when it comes to recruitment marketing. As such, many are experiencing poor application rates and high new starter departures.

The piece would argue that the lack of online recruitment marketing [the title was an online recruitment magazine] is resulting in talent silence; with the best candidates heading for the employer communications savvy organisations because they like what they see. We would then offer a range of practical tips and advice that in-house recruiters [the magazine’s main readerships] could easily implement to boost their online presence.

4. Follow up once, then leave it

One of the most irritating things is being chased. You know those awful sales emails which you ignore, ignore again and then get a phone call about. Let’s be honest, if you are interested you will let them know. The same thinking can be applied to PR pitches. Always follow up once, by phone where possible, giving the journalist at least a week to review your pitch (unless it’s time sensitive then allow 2 / 3 days). Before you do so, though, look again at your pitch and work out what could be missing so that when you speak with the writer, you can offer something additional thus improving your chances of securing coverage.

By Emily Perry, founder, Humm Media