If you are a business start-up and you think PR is just for large established companies, then think again. If you are in business, you have a public – in fact you have several – and you also have relationships with these publics – so, like it or not, you have public relations. It makes sense to have a plan to nurture these important relationships and create a positive story about who you are, what you do and how this benefits the people who interact with you. Do this right and they will value the relationship and they will spread the word for you – there is no better business than by recommendation.
Ten Things You Should Do
- The right image. Image isn’t everything, but it is often the first thing that people see. Whether it is your stationery, brochure, web site, blog, social network profiles, premises, vehicles or even yourself, presentation influences the way people evaluate your business. Good presentation is an investment. Done right it can open doors. If you need more hints and tips on this, have a look at the PR checklists on this site for Corporate Identity and Branding for a few thought starters.
- Identify your publics and your gatekeepers. In every business the primary public that you have to please and delight are your customers. Other publics are your business colleagues and collaborators, your suppliers, business community, your business support network, your employees and, if you are big enough, your investors. Maintaining the trust, support, goodwill and enthusiasm of these groups is essential to your success. When you have identified these groups, ask yourself, “Who are the gatekeepers to these groups?” In the past this would be public media such as trade magazines, consumer publications, newspapers and broadcasters, but today there are other channels that are just as important like e-magazines, bloggers and social media.
- Micro PR. This is so often neglected. Micro PR activity is the daily, one-to-one, contact that your business has with its publics. The aim must be to make every one of these interactions positive. Consider, for example, the use of the telephone. Are inbound calls answered promptly, with a bright voice, a greeting and friendly, positive tone? Seth Godin, a marketing guru, once commented on the way big organisations alienate their customers with automated menu driven telephone call handling systems. As he said, “the only reason to take an in-bound sales call is to make a customer happy”. This is one area where because of personal involvement and commitment, small businesses can run rings round the larger competitors.
- What’s your story? Everyone has a story to tell. Whenever you meet a stranger, before long the question is asked “so what do you do?” If you are in business this is your opportunity (in the right context) to launch your elevator pitch – a 10 to 30 second summary of what you do. That’s micro PR in action. But wait a minute; you have more than one audience, more than one story and more than one way of telling it. Congratulations – you are starting to understand PR.
- Make your story simple and relevant to the audience. Now we have all experienced the other side of dumb-company corporate communication – the scripted sales call. They find a bunch of kids, pay them minimum wage, give them minimal training, give them a script and send them off with a list to make annoying and intrusive telephone calls. There is a lesson here – whenever you tell your story it shouldn’t sound like a monologue, it should be natural, lively and delivered with a style and language that is relevant and respects the other person.
- MacroPR – public media. OK, so now you have a business, you have a story – a portfolio of stories in fact – and you have the experience of telling them one-to-one to the people that matter to your business. Now you need to reach more people like that. You need the media. Identify the outlets you need. As a start-up, you may need no more than local media – the local paper, radio station, local web sites, blogs or local groups on social media. For traditional media decide on your story, think about the kind of news values that media like, write down the key points and prepare your pitch. Here is a tip: local media want to know three things: what’s the local angle? what’s the local angle? and… Now pick up the phone and ask for the news desk, business desk or whatever news category seems most appropriate. If the media you need are more diverse, then you are best sending in a press release, but the same principles apply – have a good story, with strong and relevant news values and tell the story succinctly with the key points first. If you need help with the basics of writing for the press than there is another useful checklist on this site: Writing Good Copy. For social media join locally focused groups and see how they are used before making appropriate positings.
- For many businesses private media – the ones that they own or have some control over content – are just as relevant as public media. The range is expanding all the time, but web sites, blogs, newsletters, e-mails and social and business networks (from Twitter on the one hand to professional networks like LinkedIn on the other) are all part of the private media universe. The same principles apply. You need stories that are lively, relevant to the audience and that make a positive contribution – whether this is to make a customer happy, or convey useful information.
- Keep it going. Once you have started, it is important to keep up the momentum. Ask your staff, ask your customers and ask your suppliers for material that will make interesting and useful stories.
- Keep it fresh. There is nothing worse than repeating an old story. Looking at a story from a different perspective. Keeping it fresh, topical and relevant will endear you to editors and readers alike.
- When words fail you. If you have a really good story to tell but don’t have the time or confidence to put it into writing then call in a professional PR person. PR companies come in alls sizes and shapes from freelance individuals to global agencies. Look for experience in your field.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- An easy trap to fall into. If you have a story that you find very interesting it is easy to convince yourself that others – editors, customers, and distributors will be equally enthralled. Take a walk in their shoes for a while, look at your story from their perspective. This may bring new insights so that you can rewrite and make the content more appealing to you editor and audience.
- Don’t pitch the wrong story. Another deadly sin is to fail to customise the message to the audience. It happens in pitching stories to editors and it happens in more personalised micro PR. Unless the recipient has a direct and relevant interest in the story, then do not put it forward. Better to do this than cause offence or become identified as someone who sends irrelevant information.
- Don’t forget the pictures. Send in a really good picture, not just a happy snap. If you need more help with this the following checklist may help: Digital Photography for PR.
- Don’t forget to say thank you. It’s back to micro PR again. If an editor accepts you piece, sends a reporter round to take details and a picture, then gives you a good write-up, it is only polite and professional to say thank you. Small tokens of appreciation can build strong relationships over time.
- Don’t spin. When you are really, really enthusiastic about something – like your new venture – the enthusiasm spills out. That’s fine, that’s human. However there is always a temptation to go into overdrive and then it becomes spin. So stick to the facts, don’t exaggerate, stay credible and you will win more respect for your message and your business.