If you have ever seen a television drama series, the public relations character is usually a serious-looking government representative fronting a packed press conference. The journalists are shoulder-to-shoulder, and there are spotlights, microphones, and television cameras galore. The topic matter is dead serious – either an alien invasion or a toxic waste spill – and the entire world is hanging on each sentence.
In reality, public relations (PR) is only like this for governments and massive corporations. In the small business trenches, PR is more focused on the little battles, with attempts to get your name out there with media releases and through social media.
Using something like Twitter or Facebook can be great for this if you are willing to commit the time and resources into updating them on a consistent basis. If not, sending press releases about your latest product releases, business news and promotions can often be more effective – assuming you are able to garner some coverage.
“I think the most important thing to do is to identify who your target audiences are. Who do you want to communicate with? What are your messages going to be? From that you can then determine what are the best channels to get your message out there,” says Christine Kardashian, director of Dash Public Relations.
For Kardashian, the idea of promoting a small business through PR is one that hits close to home. She launched her agency as a one-woman show on April Fool’s Day in 2008 and had to get the name of the new venture out there.
“When I first established the business three years ago, as part of my business plan I included a PR plan, and did a bit of a launch campaign. I put out a press release. I also did target pitches to business and industry media as well as some news media, with a couple of different angles,” explains Kardashian.
“One was more small business-oriented, and the other was a bit more light-hearted. Given my surname, there was a show that was gaining popularity at the time and I was able to relate to that. I kind of leveraged off that and I was able to get some really good clips.”
When you are considering your own campaign, Kardashian says you need to approach it with the right mindset.
“With advertising, you can control the message, but with media, it is more independent – from an editorial perspective,” she adds. “You need to understand the outlet that you are going to be targeting, and the journalists and what their beat is, and what interests them. Then put together a media release. It’s not hard to do but there is a certain level of expertise when it comes to writing the release.”
How does it work?
Handling your own PR from a small business standpoint can be looked at from two angles – social media and press releases. When it comes to press releases, the goal here is to get your business name mentioned in the media – whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or online.
This is achieved by putting together a press release – which is basically just a word document or a PDF describing what your news is, along with a few quotes. This is then sent across to a few journalists relevant to your business with the hope they will pick up the story and you will get some coverage.
Press releases actually form a big part of how journalists obtain news, and in many cases, they will be thankful if it’s relevant to their news outlet. If you send something completely irrelevant though, then it’s likely to be ignored.
“It’s pointless sending your press release to an FM music radio station if it’s about financial planning,” explains Sue Papadoulis, public relations expert at Bliss Communications.
Papadopoulos has seen both sides of the coin, having worked as a journalist for 10 years and in PR for another decade. She points out that often even PR professionals will send through stories without really understanding the publication they are sending it to.
“The basis of what I teach people is that any small business owner can get publicity because every small business solves a problem for someone. A chiropractor solves back problems, so you might have something in a press release that gives advice about exercises you can do to help lower back pain,” she explains.
“Then you have got something that is of interest to the media because you are solving problems for their target audience. [A lot of businesses come to me and they] think the media is going to be interested simply because they have a great new thing. I know from experience that the media isn’t interested unless it’s going to interest their target audience.”
Understanding the publication
When Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, decides to create a spectacle and dangle a shiny new toy the company is releasing, the world pays attention and the news basically prints itself. The same is not going to be true when a small business releases a product – short of a cure for cancer – simply because the reach is not as far.
The best way to get a response from your press release is to send it to the appropriate news outlet. In order to do that, it takes a little bit of clicking around on Google to find magazines, online-only sites, and newspapers relevant to your business. Local news outlets should always be high on the priority list, along with trade publications that deal with your niche. It’s also easier than targeting television.
Jules Brooke, who co-founded Handle Your Own PR with Simon Heyden, explains that it’s just a time-based investment. She says that if small business owners go online and Google a whole bunch of magazines, they can grab the journalist contacts in the contact us or about us sections.
Another option is to purchase a media list – which Brooke’s company sells – but you must be careful that these are up to date and working. As always it’s a case of weighing up how much time you would be spending looking up relevant publications, versus the actual cost of a media list.
You can still handle your own campaign, and hire a PR company to simply write the release for you, but you need to make sure you don’t pay through the nose for it.
There are a number of PR companies that specialize in small businesses, and they will fall over themselves trying to sign you up for various services, but the important thing is to be clear with what you want. Another option is to take a training course and learn the basics of press release writing from PR experts.
Bliss Communications’ Papadoulis stresses the importance of having a really good storyline that concentrates on solving a problem, as well as a press release that is short, sharp, and to the point. She believes that the document should not be more than a page to a page and a half long.
“I tell people to have their press release in such a way that a 12-year-old can understand it. It’s not the time for long-winded sentences. It’s short and sharp and if a 12-year-old can understand what you are saying then you have a good chance of capturing someone’s attention,” she adds.
“The other thing that I teach is a big part of getting media coverage is working to make the journalist’s life easier. Make sure you are reliable, that you are available and accurate – write a good press release that can just be copied and pasted – and see yourself as a resource for the journalist,” continues Papadoulis. “The journalist holds the balance of power, as they are the ones that can give you the coverage.”
The biggest lesson to be learned is that it can be done. While it may seem daunting at first, it’s very achievable to handle your own PR campaign.