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11th September, 2019

A 5-step approach to doing PR for small business owners

Public relations, more commonly known as PR, is one of the most effective ways to market your offering, if you’re able to get your story in front of the right journalists. In this article, veteran PR strategist Odette Barry shares her wisdom.

Public relations (PR) is all about building reputation, visibility and trust.

There aren’t really any other mediums that come close in terms of the power to generate visibility and fast track trust than appearing the media.

Especially when you consider the constricting social media landscape with its shrinking reach, and pay to play advertising strategies, PR has re-emerged as an important and cost-effective strategy for businesses.

Even better, it’s something small business owners can learn how to do themselves if they’re strapped for cash but willing to invest time and sprinkling of grit and persistence.


1. Learn the ropes


The first thing a business owner will need to do in generating value from PR lies in understanding how the media landscape works.

They’ll need an even more robust understanding of how insanely busy journalists, editors, and publishers are these days.

Once you have a clear insight into how ridiculous their deadlines are, how enormous workloads are and how limited budgets are, it gives you context about how to navigate the landscape with ease. It’s important to have compassion and understand the nuances of the media realm including respect, etiquette and relationship building.

At its crux, it’s pretty much about being a good human.

Keep in mind, this is the tip of the iceberg. You can never learn too much so spend plenty of time upfront and invest in researching the media outlets that you’re pitching to and getting to know the journalists personally. Spend time interviewing you customers and chatting with your business community about your key messages because you can take it as a given that if you can make your messages compelling and easily shaped for publishing, you’ll find working with journalists becomes a lot easier and your pitches get picked up every time.


2. Build your network


As you begin sounding out journalists and their commissioning editors, keep in mind that you’re actually building relationships in a network that, if set up correctly, can work for you for many years to come.

There are no issues in emailing or calling journalists – you’ll soon find out if they have time for you – but just remember to do so with intent. If they don’t understand what you’re attempting to achieve they simply won’t get back to you.

As your network takes shape, you’ll begin to discover what each media outlet is likely to publish according to their individual agendas and the context they operate in.


3. It all comes down to the pitch


Many PRs and businesses continue to churn out media releases as if they’re the be-all, end-all of the PR world. In my honest opinion, the pitch is far more important than the traditional media release.

Your pitch should essentially form a bridge between the publication’s needs and your needs, giving clear hints regarding what angle could easily be taken to generate a story that their readers will love and that also tells your story.

And that’s the main difference between a plain old media release and a pitch that grabs journalists’ attention – it’s written with them at top-of-mind.

The DNA of a really good pitch includes tonnes of research, understanding the audience of the outlet you’re pitching to and being really clever in drawing out a link to your business or brand.

READ: When good PR goes bad

Having a fine understanding of the broader political landscape, key dates of any relevance and solid imagery are all added extras likely help your pitch get over the line.

Don’t get me wrong, a media release is still incredibly valuable to pitch to some media – in the case of a national campaign, an event or a book launch – there is an important role of a media release to communicate highly repetitive information that it going to a broad array of targets.

But that media release must be accompanied by a succinct and tailored pitch.


4. Reframe, refine and resend


In the face of rejection, many business owners blame their pitch, their images or their messages for not getting their planned story published.

But without proactively engaging with the journalist you pitched to and seeking their feedback, you’re basically shooting blind.

If you’re unable to seek feedback from the journo who you sent a pitch to, try asking another journalist for their thoughts (assuming you have a good relationship). Often, they’ll be able to suggest reasons the story didn’t get run even if they weren’t involved directly.


5. Choose quality over quantity


The days of spraying out cookie-cutter media releases to every possible journalist are long gone, and this sort of behaviour may even see business owners being ignored entirely by some publications.

Instead, I recommend rolling all the above pointers into a low-volume, high-quality approach that seeks to tailor content for specific journalists at a limited number of outlets. You might like to select which ones based on values alignment between your organisations, the numbers they’re likely to receive on the stories they publish or the quality of the relationship you have with individual journalists.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to do PR, small business owners are more than capable of developing their talents in-house. All it takes is a little time, patience and understanding.

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