There may be no such thing as free publicity - but PR is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools at your disposal and it can deliver fantastic results, as business writer Rachel Miller reports
When marketing budgets are limited, PR offers one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways for small businesses to promote their products and services, according to Edwina Hughes, director of Eddy & Co.
"Very few small businesses have the luxury of an advertising budget that is sufficient to achieve any real impact," says Hughes. "PR is not only a viable alternative, used wisely it can reap greater rewards over a more sustained period."
The unique advantage of PR over other marketing methods is that it can give products and services the stamp of approval from a third party, whether a magazine or a local paper. "Not only is it free," says Hughes, "PR provides a way of reaching target audiences without giving them a hard sell. People are much more inclined to listen to a message when it is in the form of a press article, a blog or a radio/TV interview rather than an overt advertisement."
Editorial mentions are invaluable because they provide an endorsement, continues Hughes. "If the editor of one of my favourite publications waxes lyrical about a new product or service, I will be much more likely to trust in it. So getting journalists to try your product or service can be a way of making a greater impact."
So why do some small firms shy away from seeking publicity? Many business-owners feel they don't have the skills to promote their business. "Don't be scared to pick up the phone!" advises Hughes. "Editors and programme-makers need to fill pages and air time. They want interesting stories.
"There are a number of ways of engaging with the local media - organising events to which you invite relevant journalists, sending out press releases with photos and the old-fashioned lunch is still a winner. The aim should be to develop a long-term relationship."
It's vital to have something interesting to say, she adds. "It could be a human interest story, the creation of jobs, an environmental or creative innovation or a link with a charity or community cause."
However, any PR strategy needs to be well thought-out, not a scatter-gun approach. "Small businesses need to be focused and pragmatic about their PR and how they obtain publicity. Any activity - whether it be an article, an interview or a Twitter campaign - needs to be consistent in its message and reinforce the image of the business.
It's also important to recognise that PR does have costs attached in terms of time and holding events. So there may be no such thing as free publicity after all. However, it's clear that a little time and money spent on PR can reap great rewards for small firms.