Read This Before You Hire A PR Agency For Your Small Business

 In Operations

A common mistake first-time business owners make is thinking a publicist, PR agency, or other media representation is a must to receive media attention. Because media relations can be time-consuming and expensive, it’s not for every business. But before you spend $4,000 or more per month to retain a publicist, here are five basic tactics for DIY media outreach to help get you started.

1. Define your PR goals, then make a “hit list”

Why do you want PR? Vague goals like “get more attention” or “to meet potential clients” are difficult to quantify.

Make specific, measurable goals, such as, “Appear as an expert contributor on two regional morning TV programs in the next six months,” or, “Speak at an upcoming industry trade show.”

Ask yourself why each opportunity would be important strategically for your business. Once your goals are clear, make a “hit list” of the media gatekeepers and tastemakers — reporters, producers, bloggers, etc. — who can make those things happen.

2. Focus on relationships, not immediate payoff

There’s a good chance you’re already consuming the media you’d like to have cover your business. If you’re not, you should be. Knowing the writers and publications before reaching out is key to building successful relationships. A writer’s beat and the kind of stories they write are important to understand so you don’t annoy them with unusable inquiries.

When you read, watch or listen to your favorite media, pay attention to the by-lines. Follow the writers and producers on Twitter. When you see a story you really enjoy, send a quick email or tweet letting the writer know you enjoyed it. That’s how relationships begin.

Once you’ve met a journalist (either in person or electronically), don’t hit them up for coverage right away. Instead, offer yourself up as an industry resource. For example, if you run a garage, offer to be available if the reporter has questions about self-driving cars. If you own a clothing boutique, offer up your services for any future, “what’s hot this season” trend stories. Instead of pitching yourself or your business as a story—you’re making yourself available to help a journalist.

If you’ve proven to be a valuable resource, it can be easier to share news about your company with your new-found journalist friend.

3. Look for smaller opportunities

Many business owners focus solely on TV and national media opportunities, which can make smaller press outlets easier to approach. Because smaller outlets are often local or regional in nature, most of them are considered highly trustworthy sources—meaning coverage from them could move the needle in your market.

Take a look at your hit list from Step 1. Now, try to increase it by adding smaller outlets. College alumni publications, local unions and industry associations and Chambers of Commerce, for example, need stories as well.

4. Embrace “the snowball effect”

The best thing about small press is that it can snowball into even bigger press.

Whenever you receive press, promoting it can cast a wider net and increase the possibility of additional coverage. Even national news media looks for stories in smaller outlets. So don’t scoff at an interview on a small blog, podcast, college newspaper or local news broadcast.

Sharing coverage on social media, linking to it on your website and promoting it to current clients not only increases your audience, it can provide opportunities for coverage the next time a reporter is looking for a story in your area.

5. Expand your definition of PR

Most business owners think of PR as media coverage by journalists, but that’s one very small part of a much larger picture. Some of the most important PR functions — that is, functions that help shape the perception of your business — may not involve the press at all.

Review sites like Yelp and Google, Deal sites like Groupon and social networks like Facebook can be critical to the perception of your business.

Don’t be afraid to ask satisfied customers for positive reviews on these sites and others. And create accounts to communicate directly with customers — and to respond publicly to any neutral or negative comments. Depending on your business, it’s very likely these tasks can be delegated to an employee. Just be sure to set guidelines for the tone and style that should be used when addressing customers.

PR can be a costly and time-consuming effort for business owners, so it’s important to decide if this is something you should do yourself or outsource. Whether or not you assign someone internally to manage PR or pay an agency to manage it for you, good PR can move the needle for your business.

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