• Betsy Storm

PR: Six Things Small Businesses/Organizations Should Know

Updated: Jan 27

Let’s start with a quote: “Advertising is what you pay for. Public relations is what you pray for.”

This famous adage holds as true today as when it was coined in 1938. It compares paid advertising (we all know what that is) to media coverage or “earned” media — such as a company spotlight on a website or a CEO’s thought-leadership article in a business-to-business (B2B) publication.

It’s called earned media, aptly enough, because a company “earns” media when people create buzz by speaking positively to their friends about a product, service, or organization.


But what exactly is public relations? It’s the art of crafting and delivering messages that inform and persuade the public, and get people to change opinions or take action. Public relations (PR for short) is often done to generate publicity and promote a business

Here are six things to know about it:

1) PR and advertising are not the same thing.

Although they’re often talked about in the same breath, the two are distinctly different animals. Paid advertisements are carefully crafted messages that an individual or organization projects about itself — and then pays to have circulated or broadcast on tv, billboards etc. It’s a large financial investment.

Michael Levine, author of the book, Guerilla P.R., explains the critical difference between the two. He says the essential point is the credibility of earned media versus an advertisement. Depending on how you measure and monitor, the article is between 10 times and 100 times more valuable than the latter, he says.

A recent study by the Neilsen Company concurs, concluding PR is almost 90 percent more effective: PR is a powerhouse because it represents someone else singing your praises, not you telling someone how great you are. Makes sense, right? PR gets your name out there — building brand, image and reputation.

2) Every business needs a PR Plan.

Funds are often tight. I understand. Especially if you’re a new business, you may think, “I can’t afford PR.” The good news is, many excellent PR professionals are happy to work on an hourly or project rate with no requirement for a monthly retainer.

If you don’t have a public presence or need to sharpen yours, a PR pro can help you start with planning basics. A PR plan includes:

a. Overview: It’s a summary of your current marketing landscape and challenges.

b. SWOT Analysis: SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. SWOT forces you to identify opportunities that currently exist. Do some brainstorming, and don’t be afraid to reach for the stars! Ask yourself: What are your strongest assets or differentiating factors? How can you use them to take your business to the next level? Are you overlooking potential opportunities for growth?

c. Objectives: What do you want the plan to accomplish? Drill down deep, and be specific. For example: “Increase sales by 15 percent in the Chicago metro area.”

d. Strategy: Now that your “destination” is set, what kind of a road map will get you there — on time and on budget? First, define your all-encompassing strategy. Then break it down into tactics that will get the job done. These elements include things like email campaigns and media placements. As the saying goes, the devil is definitely in the details.

e. Timeframe: Nail this down. In many cases, your PR campaign may be seasonal (say, for example, you’re a wedding planner). Once you’ve determined how long and on what schedule you (and your PR professional, if you have one) will execute the tactics we just highlighted — like online media placements. Work backwards to determine a realistic timeline. Add ample time for unexpected delays.

f. Messaging: Make a list of the key points you’d like your ideal consumer to know. Then, review the list, assigning rankings to determine what is most important. Don’t muddy the waters by trying to cover everything in one message. Run your key messaging points by someone whose opinion you respect.

3. Social media. Maintaining a strong social media presence can be daunting at first, but there are ways to streamline it. Major bonus: It’s free, very effective, and you don’t have to do it all yourself. (You can pay someone to write blog posts for you.) A few tips:

· Follow industry leaders. Pay attention to ideas and topics they’re focused on.

· Create a content calendar. Without a schedule, social media tends to get postponed.

· Concentrate on one or two social networks; any more than that is overwhelming.

4. Website. In addition to looking great and reading well, you and your organization can benefit by being a “go to” resource. For example, when I served as director of public relations for a large nonprofit that served people with disabilities, I created an online “media room” that was chock full of relevant, interesting articles and data about a wide range of disabilities. The media room helped us win coverage while enhancing our reputation as a leader in the field. Make it easy for journalists to find the information they want, especially detailed contact info. Last, pay attention to SEO (search engine optimization).

5. Blog. It’s essential to have a blog these days. (I will devote an entire post to this topic in the near future.)

6. Success: Gauging the results of public relations can be difficult, especially with a limited budget. Instead, consider these factors: Are you getting media coverage? (And if so, keep track of it, including media contacts.) Are social media mentions on the rise? Is there a jump in your website traffic? I hope so!

Now get out there and make some noise!

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