Mike Nolan, co-founder of PressPlugs, gives us his tips on doing your own PR without a big company budget.

PR is a very powerful marketing tool

Done well, it can gain your business or yourself a huge amount of credibility.

It is for this reason that Bill Gates once said: “If I was down to my last dollar I’d spend it on PR.”

However, public relations following the traditional route can be expensive. Many small businesses have contacted a PR agency and then made their excuses, usually based on cost to conclude that PR is out of the equation for them.However, think again because there are many small businesses doing their own free or cheap PR very successfully and you can do the same.

However, before going any further it is worth defining exactly what I mean by PR, because in recent years the term has very much morphed into something very different than it was a decade or so ago.

There are many descriptions for Public Relations, but mine is to shape and maintain the image of a company, organisation or individual in the eyes of those they wish to influence.

Of course, prospective clients are those who we generally wish to influence, but also key influencers in your industry who are generally thought to be journalists and more recently, bloggers.

Journalists and bloggers are third party endorsements, so what they say is so much more powerful than you shouting about yourself! That’s why they are incredibly useful to you as a business owner.

I used to be a news editor on a daily newspaper, so I have seen both sides of the PR coin - where I am now trying to gain publicity for SME clients, and where I once used to be - a journalist/editor with PR agencies courting me to run many a tale about their clients.

So, really the main message of this feature is to get friendly with the influencers. By this, though I mean really stop and think what your target market is reading. Is it B to B trade magazines or is it the public? After all, thousands seeing your face in the local newspaper may be great, but if your target market is widget buyers, then you’re in the wrong place.

To put it in context, as a news editor I had all manner of people trying to curry favour with me, even one who after I published an article about them bought me my favourite football team’s shirt.You can bet when they wanted a story run next time they found me very accommodating!

Seriously though, it doesn’t just take a West Bromwich Albion shirt to get publicity. What helped is the articles they sent in were very of a good standard and fitted with the style of publication I was editing, so they’d obviously done their homework, and made it easy for me to publish because the quality of the copy was excellent.

If you are going to send articles/ press releases to newspapers and magazines they need to be well written. Write them like a journalist, where it’s about the story rather than an advert. Make sure you read articles that have been written by the journalist or blogger you are targeting, and make sure what you send them something relevant.

Unsolicited press releases need to have news content, which is of interest to the reader. For instance, a Harley Street surgeon talking about the rise in cosmetic procedures and the pitfalls of surgery is news, but if all he is going to talk about is how he is the finest surgeon in the city and come to him now for his special offers, then that’s advertising, and will never make it past the journalist’s inbox.

Finding key influencers and giving them what they want will make you a big friend. After all, if they like you and you make their job easier they aren’t going to turn you away, and they will probably call on you again.

It’s also worth remembering that journalists are human. They are busy, but don’t be frightened to talk to them. You aren’t cold calling, but hopefully giving them a solution to help them go home earlier- after all magazines and newspapers need fresh copy every single day.

In my journalistic days, for example, if I wanted to speak to a leading lawyer, so sought out local solicitors but if they didn’t reply to my phone calls or they didn’t see the value in being quoted in the local paper as an expert where 100,000 readers would see their name then it was there loss.

One did though and I rang him every time there was a legal tale, hence he has a really successful business.Also, remember that PR has to be an ongoing process. One big story is great, but you have to keep yourself continually on the radar of the press. Make sure you are constantly thinking about PR opportunities and stories where you can offer advice and ask the journalist their thoughts.

Good PR is a sure fire way to help you grow and gain trust that no amount of advertising ever can. It can be time consuming, but stick with it and if you ever get disconsolate just remember what Bill Gates said. After all he’s a man who knows PR’s power better than most.