The new small business column from the Region Chair of FSB NI, Brendan Kearney
Brendan (pictured) has been self-employed for the last 42 years mainly across the catering industry.
For the past seven years he has led a private medical insurance brokerage and currently employs 17 people Brendan has been involved with the FSB over the last 20 plus years at various levels between branch, policy and regional levels within the organisation. This month Brendan talks about the importance of PR for small businesses…
It’s a new year and a perfect opportunity to look at activities and plans that small businesses often don’t take the time to consider or invest time and resources into. I’m talking about how you do your public relations – do you understand the ins and outs of PR, what it can mean when it works for your business and how it can be an effective tool to raise you above the noise of competitors and larger businesses?
If you don’t already have a PR plan or targets in place for 2019, I urge that you take a bit of time out of your schedule before the end of January to look at the opportunities that exist that could be better employed by you and your business.
You often hear “we let the product speak for themselves” or “I’m not in to self-praise” but good PR is crucial today when so many consumers are following the more convenient online route to buying goods and services. What is good PR? At a basic level it is development of and management of reputation and creating opportunities to tell your story.
Public relations is the way in which you handle communications with your range of stakeholders and how your messages are portrayed can rely heavily on the content and channel you use to deliver those messages. Equally the “who” will deliver the message is important, this spokesperson for your company should be articulate, confident, level-headed and be versed in all the facts before making any statements or answering public questions on behalf of the company, often investment in some sort of media relations training can be work out beneficial in the long run.
Good PR can be the simplest act of handling a complaint in a way that even if a customer has an initial issue, they can still go away with a positive view of your business and avoid the dreaded negative “word of mouth” damage that can impact reputation. On a larger scale it can mean the organisation of an event that may generate publicity such as the coveted “newspaper column inches”, the TV interview and, a more recent phenomenon, the viral social media post.
You may be one of the lucky companies who has an in-house PR and Communications expert or has externally contracted a PR company who have the networks to get your name “out there” and messages heard. But it is imperative to understand that every single employee of your small business is, in a sense, a PR ambassador for your business.
Consider the reputational damage of an employee saying derogatory things about the company or its products to a potential customer, just as there may need to be health & safety, IT, and security policies within your company, you should also consider a PR and Communications policy. You and your employees are so often the unpaid adverts for the company, so it is justifiable to develop policies and strategies around positive communication, PR and ensure that they become part of the job description for every employee.
We live in a world where customers can review businesses at their fingertips, you want your reviews to be positive and to address the negative ones in a way that doesn’t further damage your image.
Another part of PR is Crisis Communication and how you might handle some of the scenarios that would be considered a crisis for your small business. It is good to sit down and brainstorm what these potential crises might be and work out the messages and PR tools to counteract negativity and diffuse the situation.
Preparation, like in all other business operations, is imperative in this case. You must be proactive, transparent, and truthful and indeed learn from how other business peers handle it effectively or poorly.
This is the tip of the iceberg - there is a world of resources online about PR and for FSB members, invaluable resources and materials available on within their members section of the FSB website. On March the 7th, FSB Northern Ireland will hold their heat of the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards - a perfect PR opportunity for small businesses across Northern Ireland.
There are 11 different categories and entries are welcomed until midnight on Friday 25th of January. You can enter the awards by visiting www.fsbawards.co.uk. The awards are a great way to increase your media footprint, with many of our winners in March will be invited to the UK final on the 23rd of May in London. In 2018 one of our NI category winners, Environmental Street Furniture, went on to win the Product & Innovation Award in London. Throughout the year, they have enjoyed coverage across all forms of media, and received numerous invitations to other events and high-level engagements as the company profile has been raised through positive PR.
The awards are a perfect publicity opportunity to start your PR plan for 2019 as a small business in Northern Ireland – you must believe that you, your business and your service or product are the best, forget the “self-praise is no praise” idiom and maximise your PR potential by believing you have a good story to tell and know how to tell it.
Entries for Northern Ireland’s FSB awards end midnight Friday 25th January – visit www.fsbawards.co.uk