I work in PR for a medium sized firm. I also recently opened a small retail business with my girl. It has been a month and we have had success with our PR campaign. I thought it might be useful to share info about what we’ve done and why. Hopefully it helps your small business.
If I am unclear, or if you think I am out to lunch, leave a comment. This post is meant to spark discussion and maybe save you money on the cost of folks like me. IT IS DIRECTED AT SMALL BIZ OWNERS WITH NO FORMAL PR TRAINING. The idea is delineating tactics that work, that anyone can do, with the goal of getting coverage for small businesses.
Each day I become more convinced that paid advertising is for big budget, big name brands. If you’ve got money to buy ads you should think about doing it. But, since you probably don’t, a PR campaign (and social media, which I will consider part of a PR effort for purpose of this post) is likely a good option because it can be done with little cash expenditure.
Costs of PR and Pros
Despite low to no cash expenditure, PR for small biz ain’t free, because your time ain’t free. It is a business function, like any other and uses resources, like any other. If you have cash to hire an agency or someone like me, then do it. Again, I am going to asssume you don’t, since PR pros are not cheap. Some people claim that you should stay away from media/bloggers etc if you cannot afford an agency. These people are DEAD WRONG.
Different goals but one overarching goal
Similar to any effort you engage in as a business owner, begin by asking “what is the purpose of this initiative?” Once you figure that out delineate clear goals for your PR campaign and metrics for them. In a PR context, this may mean saying “I want XX number of media placements over the next month.” That, though, is not an end in itself.
The placements should DO something for your bottom line or they’re worthless. Yes, establishing a causal linkage between X and Y is impossible in this case but you may see a correlation between media placements and traffic through your store, to your website or more inbound phone calls requesting info, etc. All things that should, by conventional logic, help your sales.
In the end, the purpose of positive media exposure is more interest and traffic that results in more sales, not getting your beautiful mug in front of camera so the world can experience your hotness. Don’t lose sight of this.
Social tools and their uses for PR
Charlatans everywhere are now yelling about how social media changes everything. It doesn’t. But it has given YOU, the small business owner, immense power to connect with key opinion and tastemakers in your space. I want to talk about the use of social media to get placements in traditional and new media spaces. So , to be clear, this is NOT about “building a community” – I am going to talk about how you use social media to get into the newspaper, on TV, in relevant blogs etc.
Listening and compiling intel
Let’s assume you know nothing about who in the media covers your space. Pre internet you would have had a tonne of work to do to learn this info. Now, however, things are much easier. Arguably the most powerful thing about social media and the internet more generally is the ability they give you to LISTEN and watch. If you’re unclear on how to listen on the internet go here and do what Chris Brogan says). With a google reader, google alerts and a service like Tweetbeep (google alerts for Twitter) you will get LOTS of info about who is saying what about your space.
Listen passively first and identify as many of the key “talkers” as you can. Make a list and keep detailed notes on what these individuals talk about, when they publish and what their slant is. You can also include contacts. Again, these notes needn’t be Dostoyevsky epics. Here is an example
Jane Doe – Lifestyle Reporter, the Montreal Gazette – email@example.com T: 514 666 6666 (Gazette newsroom, main number)
* Writes “the Retail Detail” columnn that runs each Saturday in business section
* Seems to value in store interactions more than what products are in a store. So we NEED to make sure our interactions are friendly
* Very into store design – has referenced the fact that she loves architecture numerous times
* Has critiqued stores that could not serve clients in perfect french in the past.
You can get good, actionable info on the 5-15 key players in your space in a matter of 3-4 weeks. It need not take more than 5-10 hours of work or about 30 mins a day-ish.
Getting noticed – for the right reasons
The next step involves getting noticed and being what Julien Smith and Chris Brogan call “one of us” (aka – one of the “tribe”). Because you have listened and compiled intelligence you need to contribute and SHARE the work of others before you pitch your own stuff. This means:
* leaving meaningful comments on a few blogs each week – try to leave at least 4 per week for 4 weeks before you have to approach a blogger or journo with an ask
* sharing articles that you think a community will care about on social networks (at least one per day)
* retweeting your identified influencers’ posts and mentioning their Twitter handles when you do (there is no rule but do it at least once a day)
* mentioning your identified influencers on follow friday
* interacting with bloggers and journalists on Twitter via using @ replies. If @joesmith writes a great article in the paper and is a guy you want to write about you, but you disagree with parts of it, strike up a conversation on Twitter with him.
* linking to their blog posts in yours
Social media makes it easier than ever before for influencers to know that you exist, that you read their ideas, and that you like them. Each of these was a real challenge for PR pros for years. Connecting with certain journalists was hard, making sure they knew that you knew about them was harder and promoting their content in a way that they could see you doing it was next to impossible. Twitter now allows you to do this regularly and easily. WHAT A PR TOOL!!!! You can do all of this with one retweet click! Edward Bernays would freak.
Another great way to ensure journalists and bloggers know about you (and know that you read their content) is to link to them in your company’s blog. Links are currency on the internet – especially where Google is concerned. A blogger will be notified when you link to one of their posts and a Google analytics (which is widely used by media/firms/bloggers) will tell them which sites are “referring” people to their content. So, if you blog, LINK a lot . You will be noticed and will be doing the linkee a favour (assuming you are not linking to something to illustrate it as an example of all that is dumb in the universe). Check this out for an example of link love posts.
Linking is a great way to start building the relationships that you can later call in favours from – favours such as “cover me.” Again the principal is help before asking for help. It is simple, give and you are more likely to get. Just like mommy told you when you were little.
Events and getting media to write about you
Events are a great way to get media coverage, PROVIDED the event gives bloggers and journos something of value to write on. At our media launch for FAIT ICI we created an event that was about more than just the opening of another organic store in Montreal. Instead of saying “come to a store opening” we staged an “information session” about how the challenges and benefits of producing organically in the province of Quebec. It was a BROADER, more WIDELY interesting story. We had 4 suppliers (two food, one skincare, one gifts) and on hand to conduct interviews with us. It worked great – we must have got 5-6 good placements out of the event. The lesson is simple – unless you have a hardcore following, great relationships with media or something truly revolutionary to say (i.e. something that is HARD news) make sure you really consider the DESIGN of an event. We were just a store. A cool one, yes. A new one, too. But a store nonetheless. Give journalists more to write about and you will get more of them out to your event.
Information and swag
Journalists and bloggers need to information to help craft a story. If you want media coverage you need to have a few things on your website that our easily findable.
* A contact for media to call that is EASILY findable
* A backgrounder (written in plain, stripped down language) about your company
* Images and multimedia content that reporters or bloggers can use.
You can have a lot more – in fact online newsrooms are a sub-industry of PR. But make sure you have AT LEAST the above.
You should be ready to give away product as well. Much is made of swag these days. But please, don’t let a writer leave without giving them a sample of your offerings. If you wanna go overboard, you can. Journalists and bloggers, similar to most of us, like stuff. You should not HAVE to give away so much swag that a fleet of semis is required for transport.
PR pros tend to make public relations sound like a voodoo priesthood – incredibly complex and reserved for the few. Indeed, PR is a craft and requires real skill. But YOU can get publicity for your small business absent people like me. It takes clear goals, good intel and an understanding that you have to give to get. More than anything getting publicity for your small biz takes time and effort. New media have made your task easier though.
May the force be with you oh entrepreneurial Jedi!