Favourable news about your business in the local, national or trade press will boost your profile and increase your customer base. Tom Whitney finds out how to generate PR on a budget
Good publicity in trusted media is a powerful tool for building recognition with potential customers, suppliers and investors. Like word-of-mouth recommendation, it is usually considered more credible than advertising and it can be achieved for next to nothing.
"Small firms often neglect public relations," insists Tanya Arturi, managing director of PR consultancy Pr4everyone. "But it isn't something which is only relevant to big businesses. Even the smallest firm can use publicity to catch the eye of potential customers."
Publicity will not bring overnight success, however. "PR usually brings long-term benefits rather than immediate sales," explains Arturi. "So begin the process well in advance of when you need to see results."
Identify potential customers and the media they are likely to use - but stay realistic. "It's always easier to get exposure in local newspapers and specialist magazines than in the national press," advises Arturi.
"Most businesses generate natural PR opportunities, and you can exploit events such as your tenth anniversary, a new business partnership or your 1,000th customer through the door," she continues. "Maximise their publicity value by thinking of an angle that makes them more interesting."
This could mean running a competition with the local radio station, or giving free products to that 1,000th customer. Getting your name noticed might even extend to speaking at business events or sponsoring a local sports team.
Use your judgement to pick media to approach: the trade press might run a technical profile of your new product; local media are more likely to show interest in fundraising you have organised for the town hospice.
Journalists will cover your story if it is appealing to their readers, but will not fall for a hard-sell. The best way to inform them of a story is via a press release.
"Think about the message you want to convey," stresses Arturi. "Copy should be lively and relevant, matching the tone of the medium in which you want the story to appear. Key messages need to be at the top and it should be to the point, factual and interesting."
Keep your release to one side of A4 and print it on company stationery with the heading 'Press Release'. If it appeals, a journalist will follow up. "You need to prepare in advance," advises Arturi, "so when you speak to a journalist you have all the information to hand."
"You are more likely to get coverage if you can build good relationships with contacts," suggests Arturi. Attend local business events and you will probably meet business journalists from local media. By establishing informal relationships with them, you could become a contact they turn to for comment on local business issues. This way, you can be sure your business is always in the news.