I was invited to be a panelist on the Designhill webinar about PR for small businesses today. It was like “Old Home Week” with panelists I’ve known for many years and shared a stage with at many conferences. So, it was a great opportunity for the attendees to get advice from a group of PR experts. And we had fun.
These are the questions and my answers.
When is the best time to do PR?
It is always the right time to do PR. If you are not already doing it, start right away. The purpose of PR is to create a favorable climate in which your business can grow and prosper. PR should be the first thing you do and it should be done every day. In Ries and Trout’s book Positioning, the battle for your mind they said, “PR starts the fire, marketing and advertising fan the flames.” Once you have awareness and interest you can fan those flames and move people down your funnel. The top of the funnel is filled by PR.
Every small business owner is concerned about the bottom line. How to make more sales, be more productive, cut costs and increase the ROI. That, after all, is what business is all about – profit.
In this drive to make a profit the focus tends to get stuck on marketing, sales, production and income. Of course those things have to occur. However, there is another part to the sales funnel that most small business owners either don’t understand or ignore – public relations.
What does PR do? It makes the company known, accepted and understood. That means that the people you come in contact with – in person or online – will already know who you are and have an affinity for your brand. PR fills up the top of your sales funnel. It does this with great content, brand stories and by building trust.
People today have access to a wealth of information. Most prospective customers have done 70% of their homework by the time they contact a company to make a purchase. They’ve browsed online, looked at product reviews, been to your website and read comments from your current customers.
It’s during this phase of their journey that you need to connect with them and draw them into your funnel. There are many ways to do this, as you can see in the graphic below. All these actions are PR functions. It’s immensely easier to sell to someone who already knows who you are, trusts your brand and likes your product.
PR is an arranged and ceaseless effort of setting up and keeping up the goodwill of any association or individual. What do you think are the vital factors for a PR person to carry?
Every company should constantly monitor their business environment and be aware of any situations, positive or negative – that could affect the image and/or the goodwill of the individual or the business.
One method is to monitor and listen to online conversations relevant to your brand. There is a difference between monitoring conversations and listening to those conversations. Monitoring tells you the what – Listening tells you the Why. This is a good article on the difference.
There are many social media management tools you can use to do this – I prefer https://www.Sendible.com
There are other factors in the environment you need to monitor, so you can spot threats and opportunities that could affect the image of the company. This is called Environmental Scanning. Here are some helpful links about that.
Networking is a critical component of PR. What are some networking tips.
That depends on whether you are a local business or have clients and customers all over. Local business networking still thrives on personal connections – Join the Chamber of Commerce and other relevant groups. There are usually industry groups you can network with.
Networking online is very efficient and rewarding, if done right. LinkedIn has groups for almost any type of business, interest, or profession. Alignable has local groups you can connect with. Look for local groups on MeetUp.
You can create your own groups on social media and build a community of engaged followers. Or you could leverage other people’s groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. For example, if your business is helping chiropractors learn management skills to build their practice you could join the LinkedIn Chiropractic group – it has over 20,000 members. Read this article about leveraging Facebook Groups.
Once we have the network in place, we must maintain it. Share some ideas on how to keep the network alive, especially for small businesses.
PR is a communication function. It’s not a “one and done” activity. You must show up, contribute to the conversation, respond to people who show interest, and feed the relationships.
For example, create a group on LinkedIn or Facebook and take an active part. Post high-quality content that has value for the members. Watch the responses so that you can strengthen the relationships.
Building relationships is not about what you need. Reach out, offer help and something of value first. Be generous and giving. Listen to to others and find out what they need and want. It will come back in unexpected ways.
PR specialists communicate with the target audience directly or indirectly through media with an aim to create and maintain a positive image and create a relationship with the audience. Share some tips on how and where to find the right platform or the right target audience for smaller brands.
No matter how large or small your business is, the way to find your target audiences is the same:
- Make a list of everyone that could have an impact on your business – not just your customers. Start with employees, financial institutions, local government, and so on. The media is a target audience.
- Drill down into the attributes of the people who would be interested in what you do. Don’t just say women, or mothers. Get very specific. Women between 35 and 60 who are interested health and wellness and alternative natural therapies.
- Research what platforms and media each audience prefers. For example, the largest segment of Facebook users is 25 – 44 and slightly more men than women. Older generations are growing faster on Facebook and in the over 45 age group there are slightly more women than men. And despite all the controversies, Facebook still remains the most-used and engaged-with social platform.
- Instagram’s sweet spot is 25 – 44 and there are more women than men.
- Discover where the reporters and bloggers you’d like to connect with find their stories. Many reporters are on Twitter and LinkedIn. Use HARO to find stories reporters are working on.
The platform will depend on where your target audiences are most likely to see your messaging.
Example: A financial service company (a small business) in NY State discovered that one of their target audiences was women over 50 who were interested in investment and retirement planning.
The PR campaign goal was to reach 10,000 women in this area with an annual income of more than $100,000 and create awareness of the company and their services.
They created a Women’s Guide to Retirement Planning booklet – available for download.
This was promoted on the homepage of their website, a landing page for the download was created with a form to capture interested names and emails. Articles and press releases were written and pitched to influencers and the media in the target area that cater to that demographic. These pieces all had a link to the website or the landing page.
All aspects of the campaign used similar creative so that the message was consistent across all platforms.
Result: Web traffic increased time coincident with this campaign and they received more than 1600 downloads of the Guide.
Small businesses face stiff competition when it comes to competing for attention. Share your thoughts on how PR can maintain a favorable image and build a beneficial relationship for the brand.
In many ways this is true, but a small business is often in a better position to adapt and move faster than a large one. The Internet and social media have leveled the playing field and now even tiny brands can reach their audiences on the same terms as Fortune 500 companies.
I recently built a Facebook community for a small business that operates in a narrow healthcare niche and we have attracted over 20 000 really engaged followers in just under 2 years. The budget for this campaign is $300 a month for Facebook ads, $25 a month to a fiverr.com graphic designer, $49 a month for Sendible. And they paid $500 a month for strategy and measurement.
Influencer marketing trend is one that has gained momentum in recent years. How do you think a small business can leverage influencers specially when on a low budget and tight PR strategies?
Working with influencers has always been a part of PR. There are now many more influencers thanks to the Internet and social media. A small business will discover that working with micro-influencers is way more effective than those with millions of followers.
For example, in one campaign for a small business in Chicago we reached out to micro influencers and those with major traffic and followings. One DIY Design blogger with 30,000 followers resulted in more traffic, visibility, and sales than being featured in the top design blog, Apartment Therapy.
How do you strategically navigate PR efforts that will bring the most awareness to a small business?
Just as you do with every activity in your business, your PR campaigns should be based on a strategy. Without a goal and a strategy to reach that goal, you can’t plan and execute the campaign. And you certainly can’t measure results.
If our major PR goal is awareness then you should establish what level of awareness you have now, what you want to have after a specific time. Then plan your PR campaign and activities so that you can achieve that. This way you can measure success and course correct, if necessary, as you go along.
A strong PR campaign creates a recognizable message across multiple media platforms. Suggest some different types of campaigns a PR can run.
- Raise awareness
- Education on a topic. The pandemic has highlighted the lack of knowledge about good nutrition and how it affects our health. One smart small business has launched a website, a Facebook page, and a podcast offering nutrition education. They also train Nutrition Coaches and the course has everything you need to launch a new telehealth business.
Also, share basic hacks and strategies to run effective campaigns for small businesses.
Refine your brand “story.” Every business has a great story. Find your ‘why.’ A concrete cutting company in the San Francisco Bay area scoffed at the idea that they had a story. This is often the case with a small business. You are too close to the business to conceive that there is a story there. By talking to his customers I found out that he is considered to be an artist and is the only person large construction companies will hire if there is a difficult job. He was tasked with doing the seismic retrofit of Stanford University’s main quad – a very difficult job that had to be done with delicate and innovative solutions. When that story was told it generated a ton of interest in the community and the media.
Customize your messaging. Deliver clever, innovative content to influencers and the media. HerRoom.com started a series called What is she Underwearing. They linked it to the changing fashions each season and based their content on the styles shown on the runways. They created a fashion series of what underwear would be best suited to each new fashion style – it was a hit with fashion bloggers and reporters.
How can small businesses create effective PR campaigns on a low budget?
Get creative and get smart.
Identify core issues and develop content around those issues – a business that caters to Moms with children under age 5 could identify early childhood education as a hot topic. This could lead to several PR campaigns that would be well received by potential customers and the media.
The world has changed, which brings terrific opportunities for PR and communications teams to tell their stories in new, interesting ways that support both long-term relationship growth and brand visibility alike. Share some stories with us that will help small businesses to build a clear PR Strategy.
2020 was the year we embrace the Internet. With everyone online all the time, video became more crucial than ever for PR success. Video is the fastest growing medium on the Internet. Video has increasingly informed consumer decisions and connects businesses with their audiences.
92% of people online say visuals are the most influential factor affecting their decisions and that almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store.
Learn how to make great videos and how to use them effectively in your PR campaigns.
The events of 2020 directly impacted the media and public relations industries. How do you think the PR is poised to meet the changing media landscape, especially for small businesses?
Digital is now an essential part of PR. Small business can use this to their advantage.
Learn how to tell your brand story visually. Ensure that the visual you use actually extends and enhances the viewer’s experience of the story – don’t just slap a stock photo on an article.
Create excellent quality content and provide that content to the right influencers and media, so that it will be seen by your target audiences. If you don’t have the capacity in your small business, hire a team of freelancers (DesignHill, Fiverr or Upwork) and have them do the work for you.
I hope this has answered some of your questions about PR for a small business. If you have any other questions please email me and I will be happy to help.
sally at meritus media dot com.