Public Relations, or PR, is one of the most ignored marketing tool by entrepreneurs and small business. Why? I think it is because many don’t understand what public relations is, how it works, or how to get it to work for their business.
This is a real shame as PR can not only give a company good local exposure, it can also play a very important role in growing a company online presence. With the proper usage of keywords and proper online distribution it can pack a strong positive punch.
Perhaps the place to begin our discussion is by defining Public Relations.
What is Public Relations?
Here are a few definitions:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
“public relations success requires
a deep understanding of the interests and concerns of each the client’s many publics.
This definition could apply to any marketing effort, not just public relations. Another definition comes from Entrepreneur, which defines public relations as:
“Using the news or business press to carry positive stories about your company or your products; cultivating a good relationship with local press representatives”.
This definition is far better in that it most accurately describes the domain of Public Relations, which is via print and news.
For me, the role of PR is to get people to talk about your company and to communicate a desired image through free publicity. Advertising typically focuses on the promotion of products and services reinforcing the desired image and does so with paid media.
I don’t view PR as a stand alone marketing tool. Many in PR might disagree with me, but in my experience the biggest bang is when advertising and public relations work together, which is why savvy marketers use both public relations and advertising in a campaign.
Some business owners think public relations is free so they can skip advertising. As we all know, nothing is really “free”. Public relations firms are expensive and with good reason. There is value in the time and talent involved in crafting the releases and stories so they get past the editors and into print; in the building of the relationships with the various media; and in crafting a public relations campaign that delivers. This time and talent costs money. Further, few editors or station managers will allow the PR to be a pure product or service promotion. They will point you to the advertising department.
There are some instances where public relations is preferred over advertising. Crisis management is one great example. When a crisis is occurring, one needs to get the information out quickly before a negative story have a chance to influence various audiences. Such situations often require interviews with the CEO or upper management. PR is used in such situations because it can turn on a dime. Advertising requires more planning and time for execution.
A most recent example would be the Toyota recall. Public relations was used as the primary communications tool while the story was unfolding. Press conferences, press releases could be crafted and distributed quickly to dilute the negative impressions of the safety recall. Immediately after the crisis, the Advertising department picked up the objective and has incorporated Toyota’s service reliability into its current ads to reinforce this quality and safety message.
Another advantage PR has over advertising is the perception that it is more credible than advertising. This misconception is particularly true in the online world. The reality is both are designed to promote the company in question.
There have also been some significant PR snafus. There is the notorious example of BP’s mishandling of its accident in the Gulf of Mexico; Facebook’s hiring of a public relations agency to try generating articles that would criticize the privacy practices of its rival, Google; and how Netflix lost hundreds of thousands of members.
The reality is that when PR is well executed, it can generate a lot of business and leads for those entrepreneurs willing to use it as a marketing vehicle. It is not difficult to craft a sound press release and creating strong relations with the media, be it local, national or industry related, is always a good thing to do. These resources can develop into trusted friendships over time that can produce more public relations opportunities down the road.
But the first step is to identify what PR opportunities there are for your small business. That’s what we will do next. Check in tomorrow and I’ll have a list of about 20 PR opportunities. One or two of them is certain to give you some good ideas for your small business. I’ll see ya then.
Oh, and if you’ve had any positive or negative experiences with public relations or if you have any specific questions, share them below.