PR - or public relations - is the art of publicising your business and showing it in a positive light in the media and online. It works best as part of a wider strategy to build a strong reputation for your business based on networking. While social media can be a great promotional tool, there’s nothing like face-to-face networking to build relationships that deliver long-term rewards.
A successful PR strategy depends on the relationships you build with journalists and editors. Attending trade fairs and consumer exhibitions is a great way to meet journalists as well as customers, suppliers and competitors. Face-to-face networking at local business events can also raise your profile and create opportunities.
The benefits of PR
Favourable media coverage is worth its weight in gold. To the public, a positive mention in an article is far more powerful than an advertisement because editorial is seen as an independent endorsement.
Getting media coverage is not easy, however; you have to identify the publications, websites and media outlets such as local TV or radio stations that have the audience you are trying to reach and then develop compelling angles and stories that will appeal to them. A key skill is to know how to write an effective press release. Make your message as clear and concise as possible and give journalists all the facts, figures, materials and images they need to cover your story.
The good news is that PR can be cost-effective for small businesses that don’t have big marketing budgets. If you do the work yourself, PR is more about your time than money. PR is especially useful for start ups because journalists are usually keen to write about a new venture. Never forget, however, that PR is also about managing your reputation and learning how to avoid and handle bad publicity.
The benefits of exhibitions
Exhibitions and events are valuable for small businesses because they provide excellent opportunities for face-to-face networking. Trade fairs, consumer shows and conferences allow you to meet lots of people that matter to your business in one place - including existing customers, new prospects, suppliers, advisers, investors, competitors and key figures in your industry.
There are events for every sector and profession; for many small firms these are a crucial part of their marketing strategy. As well as presenting your products and services, you get the opportunity to find out more about your customers and their needs.
Trade shows attract qualified visitors, who often have buying responsibility. Consumer shows can be a great launch pad for a new business or product, offering the chance to do live demonstrations in front of a large audience. Press attention and the power of word of mouth means that you can create a buzz about your product or service.
The power of networking
Networking is an important part of the marketing mix for small businesses. Face-to-face networking is a great way to forge productive relationships with key people and it allows you to convey your passion and expertise. Over time, the contacts you make can become powerful advocates that support and promote your business.
Many people find networking daunting but anyone can improve their networking skills with a little preparation and some practice. You’ll need a concise and interesting answer to the question “what do you do?”. Explain how you help your customers and highlight how you stand out from the rest. To build rapport, make sure you ask questions, listen and try to be helpful. You never know how useful a contact is going to be; more often than not, one connection leads to another.
There are many opportunities to meet the right people. Become an active participant in the local community and attend events aimed at your sector. Your local Chamber of Commerce will be able to point you in the right direction. BNI also offers local networking events that encourage business referrals between members.
Social media networking works hand-in-hand with face-to-face networking. Once you have met a useful contact, make sure you follow them on social media sites such as Twitter , Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to build the relationship further.
Online groups are also a great way to connect with other business owners. The Donut Small Business Collective is a friendly and supportive Facebook group created by the team behind the Donut websites. Members are UK-based start-ups and small businesses who want to share knowledge and learn from other business owners.