PR 101 for small business owners


I have worked in public relations (PR) for more than 10 years. I love it, am passionate about its effectiveness and have proof of it revolutionising businesses, in some instances overnight. Yet many small business owners don’t consider it as part of their marketing effort because they wrongly assume it is something only for big brands. That assumption is wrong. PR can be effective for businesses of all size.

So what is PR? It is many things, but for small businesses I like to think it is a way to raise awareness of your business among potential customers where you don’t pay for that awareness directly. In most instances it is media relations, though it may also include public speaking and social media.

Below are a few tips that can get any small business owner started on using PR for their brand.

Targeting your PR efforts

Set your targets small when starting on your PR journey. Forget the national mainstream media and instead concentrate on those outlets that have a more narrow focus on your area of expertise:

  • Trade media: There is a broad range of specialist trade media that delve deep into one particular topic. You may already be aware of the trade media for your small business, but if not, a simple web search should uncover them. There are trade magazines for just about every sector. Australasian Drilling is a case in point…
  • Local media: Local newspapers are widely read and are interested in the people and businesses in their local area. They are the perfect outlet for small businesses supporting a defined local area.
  • Blogs and online media: Most people start their search for services on the internet. Online media outlets and blogs can be very powerful in generating PR for your business and also for increasing your website SEO. A lot of trade and local media are shifting their publications online due to the cheaper costs associated, so this sector will become even more powerful in the coming years.
  • Don’t forget radio: Local radio and talkback radio can be very powerful—don’t under-estimate its power. Go for AM style talkback rather than music focussed FM stations with only short news segments.

READ: Developing a powerful PR mindset

How to approach journalists

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to contacting a journalist. Journalists are a diverse bunch, and they all have their own preferences when it comes to how they like to receive PR style information. However there are some things that are almost universal:

  • Consider the audience, not your own interests. An approach about how wonderful you and your business are is unlikely to generate a media article. Think about an angle for an article that includes a ‘st’ component – first, best, biggest, last etc. Case studies and customer stories are also of high interest.
  • Forget the press release and draft a personal email. Don’t mass distribute, make it short and get your point across in the subject line and first paragraph. Journalists receive hundreds of emails a day so make it easy for them to quickly understand how your business could be a story. Don’t include large attachments, and ensure your contact details are clearly visible.
  • Timing is everything. Make your approaches in the morning. Journalists typically get busier as the day progresses and may ignore your email if it arrives late in the day.
  • Be aware of the news agenda. You are more likely to generate media coverage if you can suggest a story that is aligned with the current news agenda or extends upon a topic a journalist has been writing about. Also think about the consumer calendar. Christmas themed stories are all the rage in December, and romance stories are featured around Valentine’s Day.
  • Persistence is key. Follow up your email with a call to the journalist. Leave a message, and try again if you don’t hear back. Don’t be a pest though. If a journalist doesn’t respond to a few attempts to get their attention, it typically means they aren’t interested. Try again in a month or so with a different story suggestion. Also consider inviting a journalist for coffee. Over coffee you might get a better indication of what stories will best resonate.

Beyond media

While the audience reach of media can be very appealing, it shouldn’t be your only consideration when it comes to PR. Other PR tactics worth considering include:

  • Speaking opportunities at industry events or trade shows
  • Being involved in industry bodies and networking opportunities
  • Entering industry awards—these are typically written up in the media
  • Create-your-own-media platforms via a blog and other social media platforms

PR is far from simple and success is never guaranteed, but when it does come off, it can be incredibly powerful. I would love to hear of your own PR experiences or any additional tips you may have via the comment box.