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The 10 commandments of small business PR

Good PR is the most powerful of all sales tools, but it’s also the most elusive. Follow these expert tips to get it right.

Coverage in magazines, newspapers and blogs gives you exposure and word-of-mouth that money can’t buy. It’s attention that’s been earned, not paid for, and people take notice because it’s content they want to read. Your business can establish a reputation, a voice, and a familiarity to customers as a result.

In short, coverage delivers currency – with both customers and the media. If you’ve struggled to get the media interested in talking about your business, it could be that you’ve got your PR strategy wrong.

Do-it-yourself PR

While there’s no shortage of PR professionals ready to lend a hand, the great advantage of PR is that it’s something you can do yourself if you follow some sound rules.

As the business owner, nobody is more passionate and knowledgeable about what your business has to offer than you are – and nobody should be more adept at telling its story.

If you want to succeed in your PR efforts, take the following as gospel.

1. Thou shalt think strategically

The first question for any PR strategy is this: What is the point? How is PR going to help your business, and where does it fit within your business objectives?

From media campaigns to events and customer newsletters, PR activities come in all shapes and sizes. To achieve the most return on your investment, plan and ensure that your activities will reinforce your objectives.

2. Thou shalt be in it for the long term.

Repeat this phrase: not all publicity is good publicity!

Awareness of your business is valuable, but what matters most is its reputation. Building a reputation takes time. You must foster connections with both the public and the media. Don’t be impatient. If your competitor seems to get all the good media opportunities, it can simply be that they’ve been at it longer. Work at it, and opportunities will come your way too. There are ways to shortcut the process, and ‘PR stunts’ can have a place, but think carefully about the image your businesses wants to project – are you in this to be George Clooney or the Kardashians?

3. Thou shalt tell a story

In the public’s imagination, how your business came to be, what it does and what it represents are all a product of one thing – storytelling.

Telling your story effectively is the best way to resonate with the media and the public. Why? Media and consumers alike are drowning in information. Good stories that are authentic, personal, relevant and come with a clear message can cut through the noise and get you heard.

So how do you apply story telling to your business? It all starts with injecting a more human voice, using your own personal stories to provide context and perspective. With blogs, the approach could be a simple as: (a) I faced a big challenge or dilemma, (b) I overcame it through these steps, (c) I therefore achieved these results, and (d) an optional call to action.

Your story is your most powerful asset, so think carefully about the tale you decide to tell.

4. Thou shalt build relationships

Relationships are at the heart of all PR and, ultimately, PR is about your business’ relationship with the public and your customers. But if you want to do that via newspapers and magazines, then building relationships with journalists and editors is vital as well.

Again, this takes time. Journalists don’t want to write about your business or products simply because you exist. You need to let them know how your products are different, what makes you stand out, and, most importantly, why their readers will care. As the business owner, you are best placed to respond to these questions – it’s all about how well you can communicate the answers.

5. Thou shalt offer real value

If your PR is to be successful, you must offer genuine insight.

What customers crave is a business that understands their situation, needs, and the solutions to their problems. Unless your new widget does something amazing, readers aren’t interested in the fact that your business sells it. They are interested in which widget is best for them, how they can better use the widget they already have, or what they should think about before purchasing a new widget. Use your expertise to help them with these questions, and you can guarantee that amongst the widgets they next consider will be yours.

6. Thou shalt be bold

The only thing worse with saying the wrong thing is saying nothing at all. Don’t be afraid to make a statement. From press releases to campaigns, you’re entering a (very contested) marketplace of ideas, and the more interesting and newsworthy your communications, the more you’ll stand out. Creativity is good, as is out-of-the-box thinking.

At the same time however, thou shalt also be careful. Many a business has shot itself in the foot with a PR mistake. If you’re going to run your PR yourself, find someone with good judgement to use as a sounding board.

7. Thou shalt support editors

Editors know their readership and know how to reach an audience.

If your hard work pays off and an editor would like you to write something for their publication, be sure to deliver what they’ve asked for, not what you wish they did. If they change something you’ve written, don’t complain (unless they have you saying something you didn’t). If you’re easy to work with – and deliver great content that’s on brief – you can be sure that they’ll be calling you again.

8. Thou shalt go social

Social media is a great PR tool, and a very powerful way to engage with your customer base. A huge number of brands and businesses are developing big followings. Again, strategy is vital. Decide first what your business wants to achieve before considering how social media can help. At the very least, use it to broadcast your press releases and product announcements and to promote events. If you fail to get a story up in a newspaper or magazine, publish it yourself. Just remember that social media is a two-way conversation.

9. Thou shalt be calm during a crisis

PR is not just for the good times, but also for the bad. If a journalist is going to write an adverse story about your industry or business, going silent won’t stop them – in most cases it’ll only make things worse.

Instead, take the opportunity to explain your side of the story. You don’t have to answer every question a journalist puts (it’s okay to say that you don’t know an answer, or that you can’t respond for a particular reason) but every answer you do give should be the truth. Fabrications will only be fodder for another adverse story down the track.

10. Thou shalt be available

Journalists work to tight deadlines. If you can’t respond quickly, they’re likely to pursue comment from somebody else. By no means do you have to be at their beck and call, but if you’re responsive, they’re more likely to seek you out for expert comment when building their stories. A journalist actively seeking your comment is a best case scenario.

Summing up

PR is a cost-effective way to produce leads and drive growth while building a reputation with customers and within your industry. If it makes strategic sense for your business, be sure to make the most of it.

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Caroline Shawyer

Caroline Shawyer

Caroline Shawyer is the founder and managing director of The PR Group

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