Public Relations, or PR, is an integral part of business communication, relationship-building, and reputation management. Its purpose to businesses is to build mutually beneficial relationships with their audience using strategic communication with the media and influencers.
Why PR matters to SMEs
Raising brand awareness
Brand awareness is one of the single most important drivers in people’s purchasing journeys, with 75% of consumers citing it as a major influencer in their buying decision. And how is brand awareness built? According to Landor Associates, 45% of a brand’s image can be attributed to what it says and how it says it. How you choose to communicate your brand makes a difference to customers and therefore has a direct impact on sales.
Ensuring customer loyalty
PR also adds a layer of legitimacy to smaller brands and even those looking to become self employed. An element of media endorsement goes a long way to validating an SME and further enticing consumers to look you up. It also gets crucial information about your business out there for people to find. A blog post, a social media endorsement or a positive review by an external party all help you get found by prospective customers online.
Managing a positive reputation
Reputation is a big deal for all businesses, but especially for SMEs which often live and die by what people are saying about them. While customer reviews and recommendations help form your reputation, PR is a great way to proactively determine what is known about your business. It’s a way of taking your reputation into your own hands.
Establishing and reinforcing investor confidence
For SMEs who are still operating on investor money, PR can be leveraged to provide your shareholders with a positive message about how the company’s doing and what their investment is achieving.
Supporting marketing campaigns
PR and marketing are becoming increasingly intertwined, particularly where content is concerned. Whilst they remain separate disciplines – marketing is about driving sales; PR more about communicating with stakeholders – the two areas must work together to support each other’s efforts.
For example, if marketing teams are carrying out a big social media campaign around an exclusive product offer, then a PR task might be to support that by communicating it to influencer bloggers.
Your PR Plan
1. Do some initial research
The first crucial step in coming up with your plan is getting a baseline understanding of where your brand reputation currently lies. Without knowing this, it’s impossible for you to start thinking of goals and how to shoot for them.
2. Define your goals
As with all online strategies, the starting point is identifying what you want your strategy to achieve. Here are some examples of PR goals:
- Raising brand awareness among existing and potential customers
- Changing attitudes within your niche
- Changing government policy around your product/service
- Secure brand reputation with your stakeholders
- Improve communication with your shareholders
Your strategy needs to tightly adhere to these goals, and as you follow through on your strategy you must keep checking in that they are working towards them.
Monthly, quarterly and yearly reviews should help you to stay on track and tweak your goals and/or strategy accordingly.
Try this: Make a note of one or two primary goals you’d like to achieve with your PR strategy. Keep it safe and check back with it as you carry out your PR work.
3. Identify your target audience(s)
Before you build your PR strategy, it’s important to know your audience. Who is it exactly you’re trying to reach with your PR messaging?
Not only will you be keeping in mind your customers (both current and potential), you’ll also need to consider other stakeholders. What about your investors, your vendors and suppliers, government departments, industry influencers and news media?
Knowing your different audience types will help you determine the tone and wording of your PR message, and the media channels you need to approach to get your message out.
Try this: Write down a list of all your audience types and consider what it is about your brand that would be useful for each of them to hear.
4. Define your strategy
Your strategy, often confused with your tactics, is your plan of how you go about achieving your goals. Your strategy should include broad PR approaches such as:
- Building strong relationships with key influencers in the industry
- Speaking at top industry events
- Writing regularly for industry new sites/blogs
- Actively engaging with stakeholders on social media
- Working with marketing teams to communicate the brand across all company’s marketing and media channels
Try this: Once you’ve devised your strategy, check back at your goals and make sure they are aligned.
5. Develop key tactics
Your PR tactics are the tasks you’ll carry out to support your strategy in achieving your goals. From industry research to social outreach and writing articles for the media, every task needs to be outlined. Some top PR tactics for you to consider are:
Keeping your finger on the pulse
Key to PR success is keeping in touch with what your media contacts and your broader industry influencers are talking about. You should be signed up to your key influencers’ and journalists’ blogs so that their content is delivered directly to your inbox.
Try this: Spend the first 15-30 minutes of your day reading your contacts’ blogs, news items and social feeds. Where you can, comment and interact with their content, and share salient pieces across your social media.
Building relationships and grow your media list
An ongoing element of PR is to network and develop relationships with key influencers. Start by identifying these influencers and read their work. This helps towards the next step of reaching out to them to build a rapport.
Try this: Make a list of your target influencers and their blogs or sites they write for. Create a spreadsheet or database of your media contacts, their primary websites/blogs/social feeds and how best to contact them.
Developing a strong brand message
When you start reaching out to your media contacts, make sure you personalise each message to fit the media type you’re approaching. Avoid sending out blanket one-size fits all statements as they will come across as impersonal and bland.
Try this: Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. What do they want to hear about your brand? What can you say to convince them that you’re worth checking out?
Booking speaker events
A powerful way of getting your brand message out is for your founder/CEO to speak at high profile industry events. Often these are paid-for slots but the rewards in brand awareness can give you a good return.
Try this: Make a list of all the big industry events over the next 12 months and target the ones that would give you the best platform to reach your audience. Approach the event organisers well in advance to book your speaker slot.
Getting your product/service right before broadcasting
One thing you want to avoid is sending out statements about your brand before you’re ready. The last thing you want is for a crowd of eager customers checking out your website for a product that hasn’t yet been launched.
Using social media
Social media is a simple way of gaining maximum exposure when you’ve landed a media piece. Not only should you be using social media to share your own PR messages, but you should be engaging with other influencers and media people to put your brand in the centre of the broader conversation.
Try this: As soon as a media article goes live, make sure you share it at least once across all your social channels, but also tag influencers to whom the piece might be particularly relevant.
Deciding on whether to outsource or keep in-house
This is an age-old question when it comes to PR and marketing, and there are arguments for both sides. Taking your PR in-house saves you time and money, but you need to be sure you have the skill set available. Whereas, for the extra cost, outsourcing will hopefully give you the peace of mind that it’ll be done by PR experts.
Try this: If you don’t feel confident with your company’s expertise then outsource your PR to an expert for a short time. You can use this time to learn about what they’re doing and take some key PR tricks away with you to bring in-house further down the line.
6. Test, tweak and repeat as per your goals
Setting aside some time on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis will allow you to check in with your original goals and make sure your PR efforts are on track. Before you start your PR campaigns you should have set up basic metrics to help you determine what PR success looks like.
- Public perception – surveys are a good tool to find this out.
- Google Analytics – look at traffic from media coverage referrals
- Social shares – how many people are sharing your media stories on social?
- Growth in media coverage – are you getting more stories out there month-on-month/year-on-year?
If your monitoring shows areas where your PR isn’t working, then simply tweak your approach and try again.
Your PR strategy isn’t something you do once and move on. It’s an ever-evolving process that requires ongoing effort to maintain. From networking to research, from tweaking your goals to measuring your success, from writing for news publications to sharing messages across social media, it’s a multichannel and ever-evolving landscape.
But if you follow a plan, with a solid set of goals and a sound strategy, then your PR efforts will be targeted and measurable, and will stand you in good stead for getting your message out there.