You’re eager to make a name for your business, but getting in front of the right people (or, honestly, any people at all) can feel like a challenge.
That’s especially true for small business owners who don’t have large teams or endless resources to dedicate to marketing or public relations, commonly abbreviated as PR.
The good news is that reaching new audiences doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task—especially if you follow this expert advice for small business owners who want to handle their own PR.
What Is PR?
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
That definition can feel a little formal. Ultimately, think of PR as the efforts you make to spread information about your business to an intended audience. In practice, that could include:
- Contacting a local news station to do a story about an event your business is hosting
- Putting together a press release with information about a new product launch
- Pitching a story to a regional magazine about how you pivoted during COVID
- Connecting with an industry-relevant podcast to pitch yourself as a guest
Does that mean PR is the same thing as marketing? Not quite. While marketing is focused on promoting your business or products for the sake of increasing sales, PR is about establishing trust or expertise and cultivating a positive reputation for your entire company.
6 PR Tips for Small Businesses
Sound daunting? It can be. There’s a lot that goes into successful PR strategies and management, which is why larger companies have entire firms or agencies dedicated to that aspect of the business.
As an entrepreneur, you likely don’t have the budget to outsource your PR efforts to a team of experts. But fortunately, you can still heed their advice—starting with these 6 tips.
1. Update Your Assets
Before you start pitching your business to journalists and other outlets, it’s smart to make sure that your online presence is in tip-top shape. “Ensure all of your assets are professional and reflect the image you want to put out,” says April White, president and founder of Trust Relations, a PR agency.
Garrett continues that it’s also worth having a polished bio or paragraph about your business as well as a headshot ready to go. PR often moves quickly, and you’ll want easy access to those additional materials if and when you’re asked for them.
2. Know Who You Want to Reach
“If you’re doing outreach yourself, think about where your target audience lives,” explains Alana Simpson, a PR mentor who works with entrepreneurs. “Do they listen to specific podcasts? Then focus on that. Do they love specific online outlets? Focus on those. The real key here is being specific in your outreach. Don’t send a pitch en masse.”
Not sure where your target audience spends time? You can learn a lot by surveying your existing customers about where they get their information and the type of media they consume.
Once you think you’ve found a worthy outlet, you also need to confirm that your business or pitch is relevant to them. “Make sure the person you’re pitching actually covers what your business is about,” Simpson adds.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Like nearly any other business activity, you need to walk before you can run. While big goals can be motivating, you don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment either. Since you’re going it alone for now, set your sights on smaller wins to start.
“Doing your own PR is like going on a hike. You pick a hike based on your skill level. You wouldn’t hike a massive mountain without training first, right?” asks Simpson. “Even though Forbes may be your ultimate goal, start with smaller pubs and work your way up.”
4. Polish Your Pitch
A lot of PR involves proactively reaching out to journalists or other media contacts to pitch a story about your business. That’s an important distinction—you need to be pitching a unique angle or newsworthy information rather than a general rundown of your business.
“When pitching, always ask the question ‘how will access to this story [or] information help the journalist I am contacting?’ ” advises Mandy Menaker, the global head of PR at ClassPass. “If you don’t have fresh data, useful insight, or a launch that is interesting to that journalist’s intended audience, wait until you do to reach out.”
If you’re struggling to figure out how you can set yourself apart, White recommends doing a SWOT analysis. “Put those key differentiators into your messaging and make sure to back them up with proof points—[like] stats and concrete examples.”
While crafting an impressive and targeted pitch is crucial, many business owners also run into problems finding outlets to reach out to. There are a number of resources to help you do that, with some of the most-recommended options being:
- Help a Reporter Out (HARO): Using this platform, journalists can post queries looking for people with specific knowledge or experience.
- JournoRequests: This platform pulls together media opportunities from Twitter and delivers them to your inbox daily.
- Twitter Lists: Social media is generally another effective tool to build relationships, with many experts pointing to Twitter specifically. “The value of a private Twitter list of target journalists is priceless,” says Crystal Richard, a publicist and PR coach. “Not only is it a great way to spot timely opportunities, you can authentically get to know the journalists you are planning to pitch.”
PR is a long-term effort. Even if you don’t find opportunities or requests that are the right fit for you today, it’s worth continuing to check.
5. Share Your Press Wins
You did it—maybe you landed an interview during a local news broadcast or were quoted in an article about thriving downtown businesses.
Sure, it’s time to celebrate—but don’t stop there. You can make the most of the new exposure and strengthen your relationship with that specific media outlet by promoting that feature to your own network.
“When you land an interview or mention, share it with your audience,” advises Michelle Glogovac, the founder and CEO of The MSL Collective Public Relations Agency. “Show your appreciation freely and often. Tag the outlet and journalist.”
In addition to sharing on social media, you can also add links to any media mentions to a press page on your website to give your business some added credibility.
6. Focus on Relationship Building
If there’s one word that PR experts recite again and again, it’s this one: relationships.
“Building relationships with the media is important,” says Nadia Worsley, the founder of Twelve 88 Agency, a PR and marketing agency. Much like all of the other business networking you do, you should be prepared to invest in those relationships without the expectation of immediate return. “Start building relationships before you actually need the media,” Worsley adds.
Garrett echoes that point when she recommends following journalists and other media contacts on social media to keep in touch in a low-pressure environment. “Interact with them before you pitch them a story idea,” she adds.
It’s important to lay the groundwork before you swoop in with a pitch or hard sell, as media contacts will be far more receptive to your information if they have some familiarity and context. Maintaining those bonds will take an investment of time and energy but is still an incredibly effective PR tactic. “You don’t need a budget to build relationships,” says Michael Fulwiler, founder of Fulwiler Media.
PR Doesn’t Have to Instill Panic
Handling PR can feel like an uphill battle for small business owners, which can lead them to do one of 2 things:
- Send blanket pitches to as many people as possible
- Avoid PR altogether
Fortunately, there’s a better way—and it starts with implementing the above advice from PR pros. Or click the tweet below for a discussion full of other great tips.
👋🏻 PR pros! I’m working on an article that gives small businesses on a tight budget some helpful PR tips and tricks.
— Kat Boogaard (@kat_boogaard) April 19, 2021
Still feel intimidated? Consider working with a freelancer, fellow small business owner who runs their own PR firm, or even a student to get some of your PR efforts off the ground. They can offer expertise and take some tasks off your full plate—without the hefty price tag of a traditional agency.
No matter the approach, commit to the process and be open to learning as you go—you’ll be well on your way to cultivating a positive reputation for your business.