Public relations is a funny beast and perhaps one of the least understood aspects of “marketing” for small businesses.

Generally speaking, public relations is not something you can just throw money at and expect to see results – although of course you can spend vast amounts of money on hiring a PR agency which will do the work for you.

But even then, it is not necessarily something which will yield immediate results. PR is, at its heart, about building relationships – and that takes time.

Public relations is about conveying a positive image of your business in a way that builds awareness and trust among potential clients.

It’s about telling your business story in a way that conveys your values and why people should care about what you are selling them.

It requires an investment of time and effort rather than money and is a long-term strategy which may not yield immediate results but instead will help your business reputation to grow over time.

You can also use PR to build your reputation in your industry, possibly with a view to forging new partnerships or recruiting new staff.

Here’s Plan B’s suggestions on way using public relations to build your business.

Start with a public relations plan

Like all other aspects of marketing your business, you should start off with a plan for your public relations. Focus on what you want to achieve from it, whether that is a more general awareness of what you do and what you offer or more specifically to drive sales.

You could start by sitting down with a calendar and pinpointing relevant local or national events or holidays that you can tie in with your business’s public relations.

But you should also remain flexible enough to take advantage of other stories or events that happen in your area. For example, a security firm could offer advice on improving home security following a spate of break ins or a toy retailer may be able to offer insight on what’s going to be at the top of kids’ Christmas lists.

Build relationships with the media

Evaluate the local newspapers and other traditional media outlets such as radio and television  in your area to see what kind of business stories they cover.

Build a list of contacts and go out of your way to meet or introduce yourself to the reporters who cover your town or your industry.

Keep your contact list up to date and add notes which will help you build a relationship with them and provide timely and relevant information to them.

But don’t stop there. These days there are so many more channels you can use to promote your business using public relations.

For example, if you own a local restaurant consider reaching out to food bloggers or if your business is related to children or babies get to know the mummy bloggers or online parent communities.

Also, trade papers and business magazines are a crucial public relations channel if you run a B2B business.

Pitch to the your media contacts

Once you have started building a relationship with your media contacts, now’s the time to start your PR drive.

The key here is to be a “giver” rather than a “taker”. Do not seek to be self-serving in what you pitch to the media. Instead provide them with something newsworthy and timely that is useful to them.

You need your message to be “newsy” not “salesly” if you are to become a valued source by the media. You can still promote your business but do it in a way that provides your contact with a news story, or information they can include in a wider feature.

For example, if you are an accountant, you could write an article that helps people understand and meet their self assessment obligations. Or, if you run a restaurant you could provide useful hints and tips or recipes for people planning a summer barbecue.

The key to these examples is timing.

For example, the accountant is more likely to see their pitch make it to print if it coincides with the self-assessment deadline in January. Likewise, the restaurant owner’s ideas on how to have a safe and tasty barbecue is only likely to receive a warm reception in the summer.

On the flip side, if there is a big story or issue dominating the news agenda you may wish for it to die down before you pitch your story, else it could face being lost or ignored in all the commotion.

The added beauty of providing useful content to the media regularly is that when your friendly journalist needs a source or a story for a quote relating to your business, you will be the first one who springs to mind. This will give you another opportunity to get your name – and more importantly your business – in print.

Hold an event

Another good way of raising the profile of your business is to hold an event which gives added value to your customers or potential customers. For example, a clothes retailer may hold a fashion show where customers get the chance to get a closer look at the latest collection. A restaurant could hold a cooking demonstration where the chef shows off some of the techniques and recipes he uses.

Although these events are a great way to build a relationship with those who attend, their real value is in any media coverage, as this will spread the word even further. Invite the journalists to the event, but if they can’t make it you can always provide them with your own report.

Write a press release

Journalists tend to be too busy to attend every event. You may find that unless yours is a “big” story, they may even struggle to find the time to pick up the phone to ask you for more details about your recent event, for example.

Here’s where you can be proactive in your public relations by preparing a professional press release which lays out all the relevant information in such a way that the journalist can almost “copy and paste” for publication.

Plan B has a comprehensive guide on how to write a press release – How to write a press release for your business – but the most important thing to remember is that it must be newsworthy and tailored to your intended publication’s audience.

Ensure your press release answers the questions, who, why, what, when, where and how? Good spelling and grammar also go a long way in ensuring your press release is taken seriously.

Become a speaker

Offering to speak at clubs, community events and other functions your customers are attending is another way of establishing yourself as an expert in your field and therefore build trust in your business.

When you are in front of a group you are automatically the “expert” on the subject at hand and the audience is open to your message. Again, it is important to keep your talk informational rather than making it a glorified sales pitch. Your knowledge and expertise will do the selling for you.

If your sales are primarily to other businesses, offer to speak at industry trade shows, conventions and association meetings. Send out invitations to your speaking engagement so the media can attend, or consider sending a press release and photograph afterwards.

Support a charity

Find a cause that’s meaningful to you and your customers and support it. By helping a good cause you are boosting your image (and that of your business) as a good citizen, whilst also giving something back, which benefits everyone.

You could consider donating goods or services for a fundraising raffle or auction your chosen charity is hosting, for example, or hold a fundraising event such as a coffee morning yourself.

You could also sponsor a local sports team or donate a percentage of your sales over a given time.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you let the media know. Send out a press release to the media and encourage the charity you are supporting to do the same, as well as let their audiences on social media know about your involvement.

Use social media

Social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are a great public relations channel for small businesses as you do not have to rely on anyone else to create positive publicity.

Experiment with the different platforms to see which one helps you reach your target audience and then let them know about all the other public relations work you are doing, such as supporting a charity or holding an event.

Visit Plan B’s blog for more articles on how and why you should be using social media to boost your business. 

Use other online channels

There are many other public relations opportunities available to your small business online.

Obviously your own website is a great vehicle for shouting about what your business is doing, but you can also get involved in online forums, message boards and communities relevant to your business or location.

If you write well, you could consider writing a blog, (read Plan B’s article Blogging for Business – here’s why you should start today) which you could either incorporate into your own website or use a platform such as Blogger.

As you write, you increase your chances of showing up on the major search engines, giving you a presence on the internet which will further help to build trust with potential clients and make it easier for them to find you.

Public Relations tie-up

Simply put, good public relations can be a very cost effective way of promoting your business.

Your biggest investment is likely to be in time and effort put into building relationships and you will most likely need a certain amount of patience to see your efforts begin to pay dividends.

If you are still struggling to see how you can start using PR to grow your business, but are not willing to throw thousands at a public relations agency to do it for you, another option is to hire a freelance professional.

They may be willing to sit down with you for just a couple of hours to thrash out a PR plan you can put into action yourself.

Or you could take them on a retainer, where they work on your public relations strategy for a set number of hours a month.

Plan B Marketing can help

Plan B Marketing provides a range of affordable retainer packages starting at just £250 a month for two hours a week. During those two hours you can decide on which marketing activities you wish to focus, such as writing a press release, designing a leaflet, scheduling social media or updating your website.

To find out more, email connect@traceysweetland.co.uk or call 07595 036454.

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