For SME owners, the world of public relations or PR can seem like a service they simply don’t have time to consider. After all, running a smaller business means being at the coalface at all times, which leaves little time for wider strategic thoughts. But can the industry offer SMEs more than they initially imagined? Let’s find out by talking to PR business owners who offer us balanced remarks and reflections about the benefits of the service.
How does the PR industry define itself?
With almost all businesses worth their salt having multiple social media channels to promote their goods and services across, the question remains, how do you ensure yours stands out against the crowd?
The definition of PR from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, (CIPR):
“Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.” – CIPR
A key point PRs make to justify their usefulness to businesses is that maintaining a good reputation has a direct correlation to the ability of a business to attract and retain funding. That’s what PR support is about, securing and maintaining company reputation – whatever happens.
“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.”
Why should SMEs care about PR?
PR assistance can be useful to SMEs in two major ways. Firstly, an effective PR strategy will let consumers know that your business exists. Whilst this may sound obvious, with SME owners and senior staff being so busy running the business at an operational level, there is usually little time left over to think about a company’s wider reputation in the media and especially over social channels.
A good PR strategy can improve communication to consumers
This involves helping a business with their social media presence and getting the business, ‘in the press’ such as ensuring news stories are promoted and published by journalists in industry relevant publications which are read by your core customers.
Once a PR has helped a small business establish a strong reputational presence, their job is to ensure that this reputation endures for the long-term. This includes managing situations when things go wrong, and ensuring that customers stay loyal to their brand.
Why reputation matters most
If you think about it, the overall reputation of a business is what matters most. A good overall reputation can ensure commercial success in the long term, and by extension, a bad one can mean a loss of sales and clients.
Statistics show that content curated by PRs is more effective than advertising
According to 2017 statistics collected by the Content Marketing Institute, 80% of business decision-makers prefer to extract information about a company from associated content, such as published articles about the company from other parties over a straight up company advertisement.
The idea behind this is that third-party content about a company seems a more trustworthy source than a pushy ad created by the business themselves. Whilst a journalist may have penned the ‘third party piece’ about a said entrepreneur and their business, it was a PR, who, employed by the business, sold in’ the content idea to the third party publication in the first place.
As many as 70% of consumers prefer getting to know a company via articles over ads too. Again, it’s clear that both potential stakeholders and consumers want a more genuine, less targeted approach to engaging with a business.
How PR penned content can lead to engagement and sales
Even as far back as 2016, it was clear that B2B buyers were looking to read more authentic forms of content from business leaders, some 96% in fact.
Gaining sales these days is about human emotion and connection. Reading interesting third-party content convinces customers that a business is about more than just a hard sell, which makes them all the more attractive to buy from and work with.
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Managing Director, Clearly PR
There is a misconception that only established businesses and well-known brands should engage in PR. But this is a fallacy, the reality is that irrespective of size or how long the business has been established, it needs to ensure it gets its name “out there” as often as possible to the right people.
Essential for PR is to show, rather than tell your audience something they didn’t already know. By diverting away from what every other Tom, Dick, and Harry is talking about, you instantly stand out – providing, of course, you can back up your perspective. To do this and get it right involves putting some real effort in. Some of the most effective and high impact tactics that can be used are:
• Writing a series of blogs for your website that aims to address some of the key challenges and pain points faced by your target audience
• Creating whitepapers and classic how-to guides
• Using social media
• Seeking out speaker opportunities at key industry events
• Targeting publications that carry the sort of content that your market will be interested in reading
Several studies have shown that 80% of consumer purchasing decision is made before making contact with an organisation. So, it perhaps comes as no surprise that 81% of marketers agree that “earned” media (i.e. PR) is more effective at building awareness and driving new revenues. This is versus “paid” media, such as traditional advertising and direct marketing.
Naturally, for entrepreneurs, the focus will be on the bottom line – how much return on investment will be generated from their PR activities? If the entrepreneur is looking for immediate returns, they will be better off running an advertising campaign.
Cathy White, Founder, and Director, CEW Communications
Public Relations means getting key messages about your business, product or service, across to your target market via a publicly available channel and managing your reputation.
It’s an earned form of media, which means securing an online story or a quote in an article comes down to your value and the personal judgement of the journalist – you can’t pay for this form of marketing, and ethically you shouldn’t.
The agency factor: A unique perspective
PR can be used to help everything from being noticed by the right investors or commercial partners, to helping to grow your brand awareness to attract anyone from new employees to influencers. This is where PR can often be incredibly valuable for startups, from the beginning it allows you to create a public narrative about your journey as a business, and build momentum over time in order to get noticed by people that can make a dramatic difference to your business.
Ella Davidson, Director & Founder, The Book Publicist
PR can be an invaluable tool in building awareness of and credibility for an entrepreneur’s business. There are lots of different approaches to PR and it’s important to find the one that best fits your needs. We get approached by experts and entrepreneurs, some of whom also have a book, who want to be positioned as thought-leaders in their field.
PR increases an entrepreneur’s sphere of influence and a strong media profile helps customers understand their value and look to them as a leading expert.
Entrepreneurs should look for a PR agency that has strong relationships with business publications (print and online), the national business pages and inflight magazines as well as HR, management and marketing press. The PR team should then be working to boost the entrepreneur’s profile and share their insights through interviews, thought-leadership pieces, advice articles, and speaking engagements.
James Taylor, Founder, and Managing Director, Roaring Mouse
PR for entrepreneurs and scale-up businesses requires a subtly different approach to that of large organisations. While blatant product pushes are often viewed skeptically by journalists, the media is interested in genuinely game-changing innovation, and trade and business publications will write news stories demonstrating customer adoption and business expansion if they are packaged correctly.
More often than not, businesses that are prepared to provide insight into the challenges their customers face will also gain good PR exposure. We do lots of work with research companies to generate these compelling insights and help clients create thought leadership articles that demonstrate their expertise.
PR bridges the gap between SMEs and breaking into the media
A good PR agency will help a growing business create a PR campaign that focuses on the audience and the messages it wants to portray and then works with the business to create opportunities to convey those messages.
You need to commit to a proactive PR campaign and dedicate time and effort if it is to make an impact. The companies and entrepreneurs with the best reputations and media presence have worked hard to achieve them.
Lucy Wern, Founder, The Wern
Unlike advertising, which only lasts for as long as you pay for it, PR leaves a permanent imprint. This is important for any entrepreneur for a multitude of reasons, it can improve your SEO, making your business found more easily by your customer and new business leads.
The reality is that we tend to invest in brands and businesses that we have an emotional connection with. So, seeing the face behind the business is key and now more than ever its essential for business founders and key stakeholders in the company to build a personal brand to help sell their services.
More than ever we are seeing the CEOs of progressive companies become the face of the business and entrepreneurs are in a more agile place to be doing this for themselves, so there is no excuse. And it isn’t about having a little black book of contacts or a rolodex (oh hey 1995) it is about telling a story. Not an advertorial on how great your business is but maybe about an interesting HR policy, a business innovation, a trend, lessons learnt on the way up.
A brilliant pitch on something that is genuinely interesting will beat a well-written advert synopsis to your best mate that works at the FT. And lastly, yes 100% entrepreneurs should be doing PR but don’t have an ego about it.
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