PR for SMEs

Do you want a regional business profile promoting your service and your business plans? Perhaps some blogger outreach to provide qualified word of mouth engagement? A piece of sampling activity to get your product straight into consumer hands, or a celebrity ambassador recommending your product or business through the national media? These are just some of the opportunities out there when considering PR. And with an increasing amount of media channels these days, it might seem easier than ever.

Which is why a bit of preparation is needed. The last thing an SME wants is money wasted on ineffective PR. Or even worse, negative coverage. PR, when all is said and done, is reputation management. It’s ensuring your business is projected to its potential and existing customers in the right way.

Set out your objectives
So before you begin, you need to get a few things straight. First of all, take a full step back. What are your business objectives? Are you looking to expand into new regions? Or grow your product portfolio? Perhaps you hope to sell within the next five years. Your business objectives will influence your marketing objectives. For example, if you are looking to expand into new regions, then the marketing objectives will include raising awareness of your business with stakeholders in those cities. If you’re looking to grow into new sectors, you need to communicate your expertise to the trade media within these markets and use marketing to reach new suppliers and customers.

Only once you have your business and marketing objectives set down can you start to consider PR strategy and tactics. It’s around now that you might want to think about speaking to a PR consultant – but if you would like to dip your own toes into the PR pool, then I would advise that a little bit of research goes a long, long way.

Your audience and its media channels
The wealth of media titles that now exist, and the different types of content, mean more opportunities, yes – but as some media channels become more inclusive, there are more people out there targeting them. And each media channel gets that little bit less of its audience’s attention.

So consider your audiences and the channels to reach them. What magazines / newspapers do they read? Who do they follow on Twitter? Are they active on Facebook with other brands or businesses? What events might they attend and who do they trust? A good PR consultant will steer you to the right channels and know the best ways in which to work with them but in a nutshell, it all boils down to targeting. Target your messages correctly and you’ve got much more chance of your journalist, business group, or consumer audience listening to your story.

Your story and how to tell it
So what is your story? Is it a story? Your target media should help you here. Look at what makes news in those channels. If you have a new food product and want consumers to know about it, look at the products the food and drink correspondents talk about in the consumer media. If you are a manufacturing company with a recent contract win, check your trade media to see if other contract stories are featured in there, and the details they include.

When you have a natural news story, the standard approach to most traditional media remains the press release. The style of this will depend entirely on whether you are a B2B or consumer business but certain rules remain the same. Put the ‘who, what, where, when, why’ in the first paragraph. That way journalists can see at a glance what the story is and whether they want to know more.

Keep the release short and to the point. If you have a strong image, send it with the copy (look at your media targets to see what kind of images they use. Two men shaking hands to camera might have passed the mustard in the 80’s but these days, thankfully, we are a little more creative!).

If you don’t have natural news, it can be ‘created’. This really does depend on your business. But surveys, studies, trend analysis, white papers etc. can provide industry insights that are of interest to the right media – as long as they reveal something new.

Digital and social media meanwhile means that there is an appetite for visual content so consider carefully how your brand can be promoted to your target audience through video content or photography. If you are a consumer brand, have product samples ready to offer to journalists. Look at the external news agenda and make comment, or shape your news / product stories around that agenda.

It’s very important to use social media correctly – it should be considered in all PR strategies, not as an add-on but as another channel, as it provides another way to target your audience and promote your story. It can be used to build up a fanbase, recruit samplers, generate word of mouth. It can also be used by third parties to knock you down; it’s an open forum after all, so be sure of your content and be prepared to respond professionally.

Don’t forget your trade media. There’s a title for pretty much every industry, so to ensure you are being seen as a voice of authority in your own industry, and to help achieve listings or reach new customers, the trade media is invaluable (plus the national press does refer to industry trade titles for facts). The same core rules apply in your news releases – but with trade media you can target features as well. Most trade titles plan a calendar of features in advance and there is often the opportunity to contribute to these features editorially.

The above is really a snapshot of how media relations can work. There are a range of other guises PR can take and these depend on your business – it can also include media trips, stunts, event management and crisis PR. And of course, PR works most effectively as part of a wider marketing programme of activity. It can help you tell your story in a range of ways to today’s more sophisticated audience, and it allows for a more detailed story to be told, through a range of different channels.

We PRs love to talk and tell a story. And SMEs often have some of the most interesting stories to talk about. But if I could offer one small nugget of wisdom, it would be to not talk but to listen a little bit first. To what your audience, media and competitors are saying. That little bit of research goes a long, long way and will save you a great deal of time and money.

About Ruth Wilson PR Ltd

Ruth Wilson is a freelance PR consultant based just outside Manchester, working for consumer and B2B clients all over the UK. With over 16 years’ experience working for some the UK’s top agencies in London and Manchester, Ruth has expertise in FMCG, food and drink, sport, retail and leisure PR as well as B2B, education and charity / CSR.