PR: The Secret Weapon for Small Business Success

    By Deb McAlister-Holland | Small Business

    PR: The Secret Weapon for Small Business Success image Walk With Me Image 225x300PR: The Secret Weapon for Small Business Success

    Miranda Tan’s tutorial How to Promote Your Business with Public Relations, includes step-by-step tips for any small business to achieve success. One case study in the presentation is a small boutique selling baby slings.

    Vivek Wadhwa is a successful entrepreneur. His first start-up, Seer Technologies, broke records back in the 1990′s by generating more than $118 million per year in revenue during its first five years, and pulled off a successful IPO in just five years.  The trouble was, nobody had heard of them. In a recent article in Venture Beat, Wadhwa writes that he learned the hard way that it’s PR — not costly, flashy marketing — that small businesses need to get noticed. Then he explains how he used those lessons to make sure that future ventures didn’t suffer from the same lack of attention.In a presentation to participants in a Start-up Weekend earlier this summer, MyPRGenie founder and CEO Mranda Tan told participants that strategy is the most mportant part of public relations for a small business.

    “Who do you want to reach, and what do you want them to do? The obvious answer is that most small businesses want people to buy their products or services — but there may be other things that you must achieve, too

    “Without a clear strategy and careful targeting, you’ll waste precious time and money,” Tan said. Tan’s complete presentation, How to Promote Your Small Business with Public Relations, is available for free download at this link.

    5 Steps to Small Business PR Success

    Identifying your target audience — that is potential customers — is the first step in small business PR success. You need to know who they are, where they go to look for information about products and services like yours, and how to reach them.

    “One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to PR,” Tan says. “Depending on where your customers are, and how they view the products you sell, where they look for information is dramatically different. If your customers can’t find you, and information about your products, they’ll buy from someone else. It’s really that simple.”

    The second step is learning how to get the word out. Small businesses have more options than ever before — search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click campaigns, press releases, social media, — and so do consumers.

    “If you’ve ever watched the TV show Mad Men, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the advertising executives on Madison Avenue controlled the information that consumers got about companies and products. That hasn’t been true in a long time.

    “Consumers have the power, and they aren’t going to give up the two-way communications, or stop sharing information about what they like and don’t like. So companies today have to be persuasive, persistent, and patient as they build their brand.”

    Working with Gatekeepers

    Social media gives businesses a direct link to their audience, but there are still gatekeepers — bloggers, journalists, reporters, editors, influential social media users with huge followings — who can jump-start your PR campaign. Or block it, if you can’t persuade them to allow you access to their audience.

    This is where technology platforms like MyPRGenie can be a huge help, Tan says, because they level the playing field for small businesses by providing the information, tools, and techniques needed to succeed without a high price tag.

    The fourth step in using PR to build a successful company is to be ready when opportunity presents itself. No matter what kind of business you operate, there are times when the media is more interested from hearing from you.

    The trends change rapidly, but there are always opportunities. For example, there’s a lot of interest right now in how the Supreme Court’s decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is having on businesses. So if you’re an accounting firm, a wedding planner, a catering company, or a photographer who does weddings, you may be able to get a lot of coverage by offering information relevant, interesting opinions and facts around that topic.

    “Journalists need experts. And when they need them, they need them now,” Tan says. “So keep up with the trends and issues in the marketplace, and contact the media with opinions, facts, and information that’s relevant to the stories they’re covering.

    “If the press decides that you’re a resource who can give them good information when they need it, your company will get coverage. But if all you do is push your products, they’ll quickly learn to ignore your phone calls, emails, and press releases.”

    Don’t Be Afraid

    In his Venture Beat article, serial entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa writes that one of the reasons his first start-up had so much trouble with PR is that he was afraid to make mistakes. “We were overly cautious about what we said in public—so that we were known for the right things,” Wadhwa writes.

    That cautious approach included carefully scripting answers whenever they spoke to the press, and turning down some opportunities that weren’t “perfect”. The results were predictable – in six years, the company netted only about 25 articles in the trade media.

    “When I talk to start-ups or small business groups, and mention the idea of commenting on issues in the news, participating in online discussions, and making yourself available for stories that don’t focus primarily on your products, it scares some people,” Tan adds.

    While she says there are some topics and issues that are too controversial for most mainstream businesses, for most small businesses just getting the company name and a link to the company’s website is valuable PR that makes being available to the media to talk about a range of topics well worth it. “Don’t be afraid of getting out there, and talking to people about the topics that interest you – and your customers.”

    She says that by being available (even when you’re buy), being willing to express opinions, and paying attention to the needs of the journalist, it’s possible for almost any small business owner to develop a reputation as a credible source for the media. That credibility translates into customers over time.

    Last, but not least, don’t ignore blogs, small publications, and online media. “Everybody wants to be in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but don’t overlook the neighborhood weekly or a trade publication focused on your industry. They’re you’re best starting point,” Tan adds.

    For more tips and techniques on using PR effectively for your small business, download these free resource documents:

    Photo credit: Image via Wikipedia Commons:

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