Bill Gates famously said,”If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.”
Yet, what is public relations, exactly?
In this post, I will introduce you to what public relations actually is, as well as what it isn’t.
I’ll also share what the potential benefits of PR are to you as a small business owner, and what the differences are between PR and advertising.
You may be surprised to know that a lot of people talk about needing ‘PR’ without truly understanding what it actually entails. So if this is you, don’t worry! You’re certainly not alone!
What is public relations?
PR encompasses lots of things. But in the context of small business marketing, I like to define it as a means of raising positive awareness via the media.
As a small business owner, you are likely to be interested in PR because you want to promote and raise awareness of something. That’s likely to be either:
- someone (likely, yourself), or
- something (perhaps, your company, a product or service you sell), or
- a cause (if you want to become known as a champion for a particular initiative or viewpoint).
PR can certainly help you achieve this.
You can use the media to secure valuable publicity and get exposure to a specific audience. That could potentially be a large, international audience. Or, if you’d prefer, a very targeted, niche audience. The audience you reach naturally depends on which media publications or programmes that you target with your PR efforts.
Is PR just media publicity?
Public relations is a long-term promotional strategy aimed at building authority and influence over time.
But, for the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on the aspect of PR that you are probably most interested in. The proactive targeting of the media, known as ‘media relations’, which is done in order to gain positive publicity in the press.
What are the benefits of public relations?
Well, as I have already said, being mentioned in the media – whether in newspapers, magazines, online or on radio and TV – will help you raise positive awareness. It will allow you to promote yourself and your company, your products, your services or your cause.
But PR isn’t just about raising awareness, though. There are many other potential benefits too.
By securing media publicity, through PR, you can also potentially:
- Educate or inform an audience about a topic or issue
- Establish, or maintain, a reputation as a thought leader or expert within a particular industry
- Build trust and create influence in the circles that are important to your business
- Gain credibility by being featured by the media, bloggers and other online publishers, and effectively being endorsed by them
- Attract people to you – New customers, prospects and fans, as well as media attention, potential business contacts and sponsors
- Create opportunities Media coverage can lead to exciting new opportunities, simply as a result of being seen at the right place, at the right time
- Boost your SEO (search engine optimisation) – Online articles published on external sites, and linking back to yours, will help your search rankings in Google
- Make more money! PR will ultimately put your company, your products or your services in front of more people and help you sell more ‘stuff’!
Sounds good, yes?
What public relations is not
While clarifying what public relations is, it’s also worth considering what public relations is not. Here are some of my thoughts:
PR is not easy
While PR isn’t rocket science, you will need to put time and effort in to achieve results.
In order to be successful with PR, you need to have a clear understanding of what you can offer a journalist. They’ll be thinking “Why do I need to know this, and why now?”. Make sure you have the answer!
You’ll also need to:
- fine-tune your message, your targeting, and your media relations skills
- keep on top of the news agenda, and abreast of what your target media are writing and talking about, in order to identify when and where your message could fit in
- be creative in your approach
- confident in your pitches and dealings with the press (PR isn’t for wallflowers!)
- and, have the skills to follow your media pitches through in a professional and timely manner.
PR is not a quick fix
One thing is for sure. PR is certainly a slow-burn.
Your press releases or media pitches are unlikely to generate immediate media coverage, if any at all.
And even if you are selected for inclusion in a press article, some come out months after being originally commissioned. Some don’t ever come out at all! Therefore, you cannot rely on media coverage to grow your business, and certainly not quickly.
If you need instant exposure, pay for an advert!
PR is not a guarantee of success
One press mention or feature about you will not be enough to grow your business. (Although it could possibly lead to an immediate influx of website visits, enquiries and even, perhaps, sales – fingers crossed!)
You’ll likely need to work towards achieving a sustained level of awareness in the media, over time. And, you’ll certainly want to use PR in conjunction with other marketing tools.
Is PR worth the effort?
So, at this point, you may be wondering, “Wouldn’t it be much easier and quicker to take out an advert then?”
The answer to that is, yes! Advertising could be quicker and easier for you. But it will also be expensive. And will it really generate the results you are after?
Here are my thoughts on how PR is different to advertising, and why I consider PR a more attractive, long-term strategy for growing your business.
How is PR different to advertising?
It is vital to understand that PR and advertising are two completely different things.
By taking out an advert, you are securing a guaranteed placement within that publication or on that radio/TV programme. Because you are paying for it, you know it will definitely appear. Also, you are in full control of the message within that advertisement.
With PR, while you may write a press release and share this with a journalist, ultimately you are not in control of the message that gets published. Plus, media publicity can never be guaranteed. Frustrating? Yes, potentially.
But there are positives too…
- PR is free
Other that your time and effort (or the cost of outsourcing to a PR expert), there is no ‘cost’ for editorial mentions or publicity. Yet the equivalent media space or airtime would likely have cost hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, had you taken out an advert.
Did you know that to place a quarter page advert in a regional newspaper it can cost anything from upwards of £250, or tens of thousands of pounds to appear within a national newspaper or magazine? What small business can afford that?!
PR can, therefore, be an extremely cost-effective way of getting your message heard.
- An editorial mention is perceived to be more credible than an advert
If a journalist chooses to write about you in a feature or news article of a magazine or mentions you on the radio, you will benefit from the endorsement that that gives you.
Since they are likely to be a source of high-quality news and information and respected by their audience or readers as a result, this packs a lot of punch in the credibility stakes.
So, you are gaining more than just visibility. As a result of being featured in an editorial, radio interview or on a podcast, for example, you’ll be more likely to be perceived in a positive light too.
If you are introduced as an expert in x, y, z, people reading or listening will likely believe this and respect your authority on the subject at hand.
- PR can be more effective than advertising
The effectiveness of advertising is often called into question. Is it really worth the money? Does it generate the returns that advertisers hope for?
In the increasingly media-savvy world that we operate in, people can spot – and avoid – an advert if they so choose. Who doesn’t fast-forward the adverts on TV these days? Or scroll past the sponsored posts in your Facebook feed?
Your target audience is much more likely to take the time to read an editorial on a subject that interests them. They are less likely to read or tune into an advertisement in print or on radio or TV.
Therefore, PR can be a more effective way of reaching your audience.
Because they have read about you in an editorial, or heard you on the radio or on a podcast, they are more actively engaged in the content. And more likely to take your message on board, as a result.
Convinced about the benefits of PR yet?
OK, so hopefully you now feel more informed about what PR actually is? Are you also convinced that PR is better than advertising and worthwhile investing time and effort in? I hope so!
But if you’re still not sure, check out what the figurehead of one of the world’s biggest brands, Sir Richard Branson, has to say:
Your next question may now be…
How do I get started with PR?
This is where I can come in!
It is certainly feasible for people to do their own PR, and many people do with great success. However, many do also choose to make an investment into a professional public relations service.
This allows them to outsource that role to someone with expertise and experience, and to keep focused, day to day, on the other tasks involved in running a business.
For example, all my clients are professional photographers. Typically, they enjoy the creative aspects of their business but don’t like having to do the promotional aspects of running their business.
Marketing and PR can often become a headache to them – something that they know they should do, but would rather not have to. So, they outsource it to me. They recognise the value of PR, yet want to hand it over to someone who is experienced and can be trusted to do a professional job.
Over the past 15 years, I have helped companies – large and small – to promote themselves using PR. I would be delighted to discover whether I can help you too!