What is PR and does my small business need it?
PR is a catch-all term that means many things to many people. In this post, I explain in fewer than 1,000 words how we 'do PR' – specifically for small businesses – here at Tartle Media HQ.
All our clients are founders of small businesses and startups who, when they first started working with us, had had little to no exposure in the media before. Some of them needed to reach business audiences, while others needed to target consumers, or both.
The work is, happily for us, diverse. This week we've been finishing off a business book on the psychology of productivity that we've been writing with one of our clients for six months and, for two of our clients who do business in the US, we've just published their latest columns on Forbes, which we ghostwrite with their input.
Meanwhile, we've also been planning our next LinkedIn content marketing campaign to reach the US healthcare sector, and we've submitted an op ed on sustainable travel to the Financial Times.
The difference between working with small and big businesses (and I've done both) is, of course, budget. Big businesses can spend thousands of pounds on surveys that inform beautifully-designed industry reports or can be turned into meaty press releases. They have media-trained experts, entertainment budgets, dedicated in-house PR managers to support their agencies, and customer data that can be mined for stories.
For our small business clients, we have to find other ways of getting coverage, without the big budget. This requires creativity, a nose for a story, and a flair for the written word. And it's perfectly doable.
Placed features, opinion editorial & blogs
About 50% of our working day is writing, including subjective pieces like blogs and opinion editorials, or responses to existing articles for broadsheet letter pages*. Why? Because op eds are fair game for businesses of all sizes: while not every business can afford to produce data that can be turned into stories, having opinions is free, and encouraged by all media publications.
Positioning our clients as thought leaders in their fields builds their credibility. This can also be achieved through speaking at events.
*The most contentious angles get the commissions!
Reacting to news, research & reports
A good way to a) get coverage and b) position clients as experts is to jump on breaking news and reports and issue a comment to the press. Speed is important here – we do this within 30 minutes of news breaking – but so too is the quality of the writing. Small businesses are up against big names who you can be sure will be issuing reactive comments of their own, so the quality of the quote matters. That is why punchy soundbites and strong opinions are not optional. In short, no fence sitting.
We monitor social media to see what journalists are writing about. If we spot something a client should be commenting on, we draft a snappy quote, get sign off, and send it over. Have a go at this yourself by following #journorequest on twitter.
Although most small businesses can't offer us data, most of them will either have case studies, or will be able to find them through social media and their personal contacts. Journalists use case studies to inform their stories, or even drive them. The quid pro quo for finding a strong case study for a journalist is that our comment is also included in the article - provided it is relevant, insightful and useful.
There are regular media slots – online, in print, on radio and podcasts – in which journalists profile business founders with interesting stories to share. We hunt them down and put forward our clients.
There's a growing case of 'press release fatigue' among journalists, so wherever possible we prefer to write tailored emails or give them a call.
That said, there are still certain exceptions that warrant press releases. The first is to announce something to your sector, such as a new business win or a merger, particularly if it requires a collaboration between two businesses. The second is if you're issuing the findings of a survey, and you need to present the data in a palatable way, with the most interesting stats first.
Entering awards can be a great way to gain exposure, although I've lost count of the number of business owners over the years who have asked me to 'inform the press' they've won. The answer to that is a polite 'no' because, unless it's a Nobel Prize or the Man Booker, it's not newsworthy to anyone other than you, your mum, and your business network. But being shortlisted and winning an award is great exposure in itself, particularly when the award organiser's various marketing channels will feature you. Our clients big up their wins with a flurry of social media activity, blog posts, adding the awards banner to their website homepages, and in newsletters to customers.
PR doesn't stop when we've secured the press coverage. We advise linking to the coverage from your company blog and LinkedIn pages, flagging press mentions in newsletters and on homepages, creating a press page on your website, and using the best pieces in sponsored social media campaigns.
For our B2B clients, we run LinkedIn sponsored content campaigns to make their press coverage go further, and be seen by the right audiences.
Do I need PR?
Press coverage not only boosts exposure, it also builds trust and credibility. Any businesses that want people know they exist, and are great at what they do, need PR.
Do not do PR if you...
.... are only interested in getting backlinks. Although many will, some media publications do not link. While there is overlap, SEO and PR are very different disciplines. The latter is about reputational control, building trust and credibility, while both will expose you to new audiences.
.... aren't willing to devote some time to the process and making the relationship work, especially at the beginning. A good PR agency will just get on with the job, but they will need your thoughts on different topics and breaking news, and they will need fast sign off if they are to get you press coverage. Obviously, the longer you work together the less time they'll demand.