By Emma Leech, 2019 President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations
Running a small business is exhilarating, 24/7, and can be all-consuming. PR – good PR – is exactly the same. Passion, ethics, commercial acumen and creativity are at its heart.
Bill Gates once said: “If I was down to my last dollar of my marketing budget, I’d spend it on PR!” In my early PR roles, I quickly saw why Bill was right. Take the bridalwear firms I worked with. Editorial featuring their gowns was great for sparking customer interest, but my original clients were predominantly working in B2B – they sold into bridalwear shops, not to customers.
While the editorial coverage delighted the people at head office, it wasn’t having an effect on sales until I came up with the idea of sharing the coverage with the shops themselves, for them to use with customers in a face-to-face situation. The halo effect of buying a gown featured in one of the glossy magazines of the day had an impact on sales, and ensured that the shops themselves bought more from our manufacturers – and remained loyal to them.
Every organisation depends on its reputation for survival and success. Customers, suppliers, employees, investors, journalists and regulators all have opinions about the organisations they come into contact with – good or bad, right or wrong.
These opinions will drive their decisions about whether they want to work with, shop with and support these organisations. In today’s competitive market, reputation can be a company’s biggest asset – the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd and gives you a competitive edge. Effective PR can help manage reputation by communicating and building good relationships with all organisation stakeholders.
PR is an important part of brand-building, reputation management and awareness raising. It’s crucial to building trust, but it can also contribute in real time to your bottom line by showcasing your product or service to the right people and driving sales. It works best when you build it into your strategy from the start. Align your activity to your business goals and set your metrics and KPIs early.
In another example, I was responsible for developing product placement strategies for baby products and fashion companies. The idea was to tag-team TV appearances on popular shows with a focused campaign that allowed people to discover the brands for themselves, and build customer demand through that association. It worked on both counts, with coverage on the BBC and ITV having a clear impact on revenue.
If you’re just getting started, the following tips might be useful:
Think about who your audience is. Where are they? What do they know about you? How can you reach them? What would interest them?
What’s your story? For small businesses, this is a great place to start, because it will help you focus on what will interest your audience
Be authentic. Learn from others, but don’t copy
Be smart with your objectives. It’s important to be realistic – not every story makes the headlines, and don’t forget that reputation management includes mitigating and managing bad news as well as good.
PR has a lot to offer small businesses. Give it a go – you may be surprised!