Business development · 13 May 2019

Why your small business needs PR exposure

For many SME owners, the world of public relations or PR, as it’s commonly known, 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?

Furthermore, what can businesses do when reputation-damaging events spread across social media like wildfire?

Well, PRs believe they can help businesses with both aspects, but let’s find out more about the industry first before we speak to PRs themselves.

This is the definition of PR as established by 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.

– In short, they argue that effective PR management can keep stakeholders on side, and the money coming in, according to the CIPR:

“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 communicate to consumers the goods and services a business provides, especially online

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.

In summary, the task of a PR professional is to protect the reputation of the business they are working for.

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.

But wait, there’s another convincing statistic from the CMI, namely that 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. Whether it’s articles or blog posts penned by business leaders about general business or political trends, such content whether it covered their actual business or not works to convince potential customers about their expertise and genuine passion for business as a whole.

In short, 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.

Why small businesses need PR: ‘No frills’ testimonies from PR SMEs

We have spoken exclusively to a number of SME owners in the PR industry who give their ‘two-cents’ on why business owners from across the sectors need the coverage and support that PRs can provide. Here are their answers…

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.

The first thing to do is to be clear on what your key differentiator is – your businesses’ unique selling point.

What makes you stand out? Why did you start the business in the first place – what problems did you seek to solve? Armed with that understanding, you then need to identify where your target customers are “hanging out”? What websites do they use, and which media do they consume? Knowing this will enable you to focus your messaging more effectively.

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

PR’s effectiveness cannot be understated…

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.

But, if they are serious about growing their business, building their profile and positioning themselves as a genuine go-to provider of choice within their market over the long term, then PR is the obvious choice.

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.

PR has no guarantees, the best strategies come down to knowing the media you’re approaching really well, understanding the story that works for them, and ensuring that they are relevant to the audience you want to get in front of. Where possible it’s also about experimenting with creative tactics to get noticed and covered.

The agency factor: A unique perspective

This is usually where paying for an agency or professional comes in – it’s our job to translate your business into easily understandable and memorable chunks of information, to build a story, and even help you shape your business to capitalise on PR.

We’ll do this by ensuring work with the press is complementary to all your other channels that communications touches on – events, speaking opportunities, social media, content marketing, and influencer engagement, to name a few.

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.

As a Founder, PR is a fantastic way to highlight your expertise. Remove your ego from the equation if you do decide to try PR out – the best stories take time and relationship building is crucial.

Smaller publications become powerful in numbers, so don’t expect the BBC straight away, build a narrative and the coverage that gets you there.

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.

Gaining widespread recognition as a thought leader is key to building awareness of, and trust in, an entrepreneur’s organization or product, and can catapult them and their business onto a higher level.

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.

Bringing interesting entrepreneurs to the attention of a wide range of media outlets is hugely rewarding.

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.

It’s important to establish which are the most beneficial sectors of the media and the key individual publications for your business to be featured in.

It’s crucial to find a PR agency that really takes the time to understand the client, their business and their book so they can identify the most effective hooks and angles for the media.

This helps to create a hard-hitting press release about the business (and/or the entrepreneur’s book), and an engaging press profile about the individual.

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.

An article in a newspaper or magazine can increase credibility, as readers who already trust the source will find they automatically trust the contributors.

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.

Whereas big business PR seeks to protect and position an organisation, campaigns for smaller businesses tend to be all about brand awareness and establishing a reputation for excellence.

PR coverage can help entrepreneurs stand out from the crowd and be seen as outstanding at what they do.

Gaining exposure on media channels consumed by its desired target audience boosts the chances that a business will be seen by the people who it wants to do business with and helps establish credibility through expert endorsement.

There are various ways an entrepreneur can gain exposure for their business.

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

The PR industry exists because it is actually quite difficult for smaller businesses to gain attention through the media. There are an awful lot of businesses fighting for a share of voice and the mainstream media tends to focus on the big businesses that people already know.

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

If you can master the art of doing your own publicity you have your own free resource that you can tap into at any time to build brand awareness, elevate your industry expertise, attract lucrative brand partnerships and ultimately drive revenue and sales for your business.

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.

If you are looking for investment you want more than your Facebook page to come up when your name is googled.

Through my own client portfolio, I’ve seen significant increases in sales, paid-for brand partnerships, inclusion in industry white papers, speaker bookings for international conferences, book deals, podcast invites and paid for branded content opportunities come through publicity.

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.

It’s not a journalist’s privilege to be writing about you and your business. It’s yours – you are getting the free exposure so don’t be a snob about who you will/won’t be featured by.

Obviously, if it doesn’t fit your target audience and has no benefit for your business objective then don’t do it but I’ve seen some of the most lucrative sales and engagement come from the smaller more niche audiences. Size isn’t always everything.

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Annie May is the Features Editor at Real Business and Business Advice. Following her graduation from LSE, she embarked upon a freelance career in current affairs journalism. Annie has written on subjects varying from African history and contemporary politics to community business and current affairs news in London. At Real Business and Business Advice, Annie is passionate about highlighting inclusive and diverse business disruptors and organisations for our evolving readership. Annie believes in fostering community inclusion and has volunteered for organisations such as Fairfield House, a UK based Rastafari centre and a senior citizen association for ethnic minority men and women.