What is PR and how does it work for small businesses?
When I talk to potential clients about PR, I find it’s the most divisive service I offer. Businesses either love it or hate it, often without really knowing how it works. It’s the marmite of the agency and freelance world.
When it’s done well, good PR raises the profile of your business in ways that money can’t buy. It can have a snowball effect on your reputation, online business and profits. Done badly – or not at all – it can have an extremely detrimental effect on your business.
PR can be a tricky service for both a freelancer or agency, and their client. There are no guaranteed results. Although I have a lot of confidence and proven results in my PR skills as a freelancer, there’s no guarantee of coverage. But I also can’t guarantee interaction with social media content that I draft for you. I rely on the skills I have developed over the years, do my research, and optimise for the best result. The same applies to PR.
What is PR?
As described in what I do:
Getting the word out to all the right people, in all the right places, plus managing your brand and reputation.
A common misconception is that it’s all about media coverage. It’s so much more than this.
PR is positioning your brand in the public domain. It’s monitoring your public image such as reviews and social media mentions. It’s communicating and protecting your brand and during a crisis.
There are different types of PR, including national, local, trade and digital. PR professionals may specialise in one or more of these. An agency might offer the full spectrum. It’s important for business owners to communicate with their PR team about which channels are most appropriate.
How can small businesses benefit from PR?
A good PR campaign, designed to get people talking, shows credibility. All businesses say great things about themselves and can buy advertising or sponsorships. But, when you have good PR, the world can see that others say great things about you too.
When we buy a product or service, often the first thing we do is do some research online. A business which is easy to find on Google, with great reviews on their website, polished social profiles for key staff members and recent interviews in the local newspaper has good PR. Contrast this with a business with no social media profiles, a sketchy website and a handful of mediocre Google reviews. They could have exactly the same product, but one is going to attract more customers.
Bad PR, which could be any combination of negative press, bad reviews or poor reputation, is as damaging to a business as no PR. Having nothing to say, giving all the opportunities to comment to your competitors, being difficult to find online – these are not good signs to your customers.
Do you need to hire a PR expert?
This completely depends on your requirements, expectations and budget.
There are huge companies with in-house PR teams using large agencies to support them. Marketing teams sometimes have PR included in their responsibilities. Start ups and freelancers are often a great fit for each other, as are SMEs and boutique PR agencies.
It’s quite possible to do your own PR. If you’re a business owner with time on your hands and a small budget, you might choose this route. I recommend the book Hype Yourself by Lucy Werner for anyone who chooses to DIY their PR. If you want to keep it in-house, your team can attend training, or you can appoint a PR mentor – there are many available. Just bear in mind this will need to fit in with existing responsibilities.
Outsourcing means you can pay someone to focus on PR. It can be expensive, but they get the work done and you get access to an expert. Working with an agency means having a team working on your PR, and they will often be able to provide a range of services and specialities (which is reflected in the cost). Freelancers are more likely to focus on particular sectors or skillsets and you get the flexibility of dealing with one person directly.
If you aren’t sure what would be the best fit, a good freelancer or agency will help you to work out your requirements.
Why is PR so expensive?
Outsourcing PR can seem expensive compared to other creative services such as copywriting and graphic design. And the main reason for this? Databases, subscriptions, monitoring tools and licences. These can add up to £100s a month just for one client.
Did you know that you need a special licence to share your own news coverage? Or that you have a “right to reply” to negative coverage? A good PR professional will be aware of the legal issues and regulations you might come across with the media.
A lot of work behind the scenes goes into locating the right journalist, tracking down your coverage and setting up your interviews. A PR can spend hours pitching a campaign, only for a major news story to break, and then nothing to show for their work.
If you don’t want to spend the money, you can absolutely be a low-key business. But without good PR you might find that you aren’t part of the conversation about your industry, your competitor is the go-to expert, and your voice is lost.
My background in PR
I wish more small businesses would embrace PR. I love PR because long before I knew what marketing was, I wanted to be a journalist. My work experience started at my local newspaper, The Newark Advertiser. Then I wrote for my university magazine. During university, I went abroad and worked for Honduras This Week for three months in between university semesters. I also did an internship at The Times and at a news agency in Leeds.
The reporters at each of these publications went out of their way to give me practical experience and advice. I was all set to become a journalist. Then the credit crunch happened, and I had a change of heart and pursued a career in marketing.
All this experience – seeing how journalism works and what makes a good story – proved very useful when PR became part of my remit as a marketer. My PR approach as a freelancer is very targeted. I prefer to work on proactive campaigns, I won’t approach any journalist without thorough research, and I’m clear on what is and isn’t a good story.
Working with me
If your business is in property, healthcare or tech, and you are looking for trade and local PR, we might just be a good fit.