There are few accomplishments in small business quite like the day you realize your marketing efforts are working. Your social media accounts are engaging. Your content strategy is connecting with customers. And, lo and behold, targeted leads are finding their way into your funnel. But you also know that strong marketing alone is not going to catapult you past your current competitors and numerous new competitors emerging on the market every day. You need something else.
Maybe small business PR?
If, upon your first exploration of public relations, you feel sweaty and a little nauseous, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Deciding to incorporate a PR strategy into your marketing plan can feel overwhelming. It’s expensive to hire your own PR person or agency, and not all small businesses are ready for that level of investment. But here’s a little secret: you don’t have to be (or hire) a PR professional to get media attention for your small business. There are plenty of tactics you can deploy to help draw attention to your cause, and tools to help simplify those tactics.
First thing’s first: define your goals
Before you embark on your PR journey, it’s important to first define your goals. You can build a successful, easy-to-implement strategic plan by using the answers you have to the following questions:
- Who are you trying to reach and influence?
- What is the message you want to convey?
- What stories can you share that will rally people to support and share your cause?
- What can you bring to your industry discussion that is new or interesting?
- What market problem are you trying to solve?
- Can you be a thought leader on a particular topic?
- Are there national or industry trends you can speak to?
- What is your desired outcome?
Once you’ve clearly outlined what it is you hope to achieve through your PR efforts, you’ll need to figure out what your angle(s) will be, and to whom you’ll pitch it.
Decide your angle
In order for the media to buy in to your message, you’ll have to give them a reason to latch onto the information you give them—the angle. It’s a guiding principle for coverage that spans all media platforms and all generations of news. The angle is what makes people care about your story. Without an angle for your small business news, it will be hard to convey its importance to journalists.
So how do you decide your angle? By keeping in mind the seven common points media use to determine which stories are, in fact, newsworthy. Knowing these seven points will help you determine when to email or call a media person and when your story just isn’t quite news.
Sometimes the best angle for a story is that it impacts a lot of people. News is in the business of having as many readers or viewers as they can get, so if your story can appeal to a broad audience, you just might pique the media’s interest. Ask yourself, “Is this news important or interesting to a large number of people in my community, state or country?” The further your story can reach, the more newsworthy it is.
Local media crave local stories. Hosting an event that brings together local community members or planning a fundraiser to benefit the community are great examples of localized stories. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a direct community interaction to entice journalists. In fact, simply the fact that you are the only one (or one of a few) doing what you do in your community is plenty to hook them.
This can be a relative measurement, but typically newsworthiness is increased when events are recent and fresh. If something important happened yesterday, don’t wait a week to share it. But also be aware of timely trends. Not every media pitch has to coincide with a national news story, but keep a finger on the pulse of relevant topics that might align with your business.
Sometimes finding the right angle can truly be about “who you know.” Or even better, who knows you. If you’ve established a reputation, earned an award or are hosting an event with the who’s who of attendees, you can leverage that as an angle when pitching the media. Events that involve well-known individuals or organizations can make something very newsworthy.
It’s no secret the media loves controversies. An easy way to insert your business into conflict is to rest on the cause or purpose that makes it different. Defining your opponents and positioning yourself on the other side of the fence can make for great news.
Make note of the three “U’s”:
A fundraiser with a cocktail reception may make news–if it satisfies one of the other six elements–but let’s say you host an annual fundraiser to collect clothes for a nonprofit and everyone strips down to their underwear in public to celebrate the event. Believe it or not, it’s an actual charity that gets plenty of local and national coverage for doing just that. Being quirky is an angle most publications can appreciate. Just be sure any eccentric behavior still aligns with your small business’ brand and values. An idea that baffles the brain a little will get a reader's attention, and therefore gets journalists attention, too. Publications want to be able to tell their audience something they haven’t heard before.
7. Human interest
This is the story where a man saves a puppy from a storm drain, or someone overcomes adversity to achieve his or her dreams. They are the stories that truly make you feel something. Whether it be sadness or joy, it is the subject that gets to the heart. A business owner who can find an angle that gives people watery eyes and the “warm fuzzies” is on to a solid PR angle.
Identify media outlets and contacts
Once you’ve refined your message and angle, you’ll need to figure out who you want to pitch it to. It may seem like a wild goose hunt, but it actually takes less effort than you might think.
Think of the resources you turn to when you want information or affirmation about your industry. Who wrote those pieces? A reporter that covers your industry is a good start, but a journalist that lives for the same stories as you might be more interested in what you have to say.
To start, mine the websites and social media pages of local newspapers, broadcast stations, and magazines for employee directories with contact information of editors and staff writers. Some may even include the beat (or the topics they report about) of each reporter, but you may still have to do some additional digging online to get additional information, like Twitter handles. But be careful to contact the correct person for your story. Frequently pitching the wrong people for the same story or topics can quickly get you blacklisted.
Frequently, a well-structured tweet or a kind (but inquiring) email can get you moving in the right direction. Many PR practitioners use Hootsuite to help bring themselves into the media conversation to bulk their rapport with journalists. Even with the free, basic package, users can set up specific search terms in the platform to help identify key reporters.
Unfortunately, this can take some time. If you would like to get in touch faster with relevant reporters, a service like Cision can help. Cision offers a massive database of media and their current writers and editors. In addition to just finding great topics, you’re likely to find news outlets that you never thought would cover topics related to your business, but do.
Another helpful resource for getting in touch with reporters quickly and accurately is HARO (Help a Report Out). HARO is a simple, but shockingly effective, platform that connects reporters and news outlets to expert sources like you. To get started:
- Visit HARO
- Sign up to be a source (there are free and paid versions)
- Select the appropriate industry categories to receive "HAROs" every daySkim your "HAROs" daily for topics that relate to you and your business
- Respond to "HAROs" with quick, insightful information about your background and knowledge of the topic
While you’re never guaranteed that you’ll be featured, the time allowance versus the potential gains is worth dedicating a few minutes a day.
Make your pitch
Now that you have your angle nailed down and have a roster of key media targets listed, it’s time to put your story to work. While it may not be easy to break through the clutter of all the other businesses vying for the media’s attention, a well-crafted, targeted, relevant pitch can do just that.
A pitch is simply a description of a story you’d like the media to cover—an email, a mailed sample product with a note, a tweet, or a comment on a blog post.
When writing your pitch, make sure you write a subject line that gets attention. You don’t want it to be deleted before it’s even open! Be precise with your pitch. Get to the point by leading with your best stuff. If you bury the actual meat of the news below the first or second sentence, chances are it won’t get read. A pitch is designed to entice the person to ask for more. Make sure everything you’re including in the pitch is relevant to the story and remove anything that’s unnecessary.
If you don’t get an immediate response, don’t get discouraged. Even the best pitches can get overlooked; the rule of thumb is to follow up one to two times via email. If you don’t hear back and you feel your story will be of interest to readers, you can follow up with a phone call (but do this sparingly).
If you just can’t seem to land any interest in your story, you still shouldn’t get discouraged. Just like making sales pitches, it’s common not to hear back from your PR pitches. Ask yourself if there’s anything you could do differently. Perhaps pitching smaller publications or connecting with bloggers who cover your industry will be more beneficial. You can even write your own article for a blog or website (often referred to as a byline or contributed article) which can also give you exposure and help build a platform for you or your business as a thought leader in your industry.
Stand out from the crowd with a publicity stunt
A cleverly planned publicity stunt can work miracles for small businesses. For a PR stunt to be effective, it must preserve your core message within it. Here are a few examples of PR stunts that have worked well, garnered media attention, raised brand awareness, and made an impact.
Declare your own holiday
7-Eleven created their own holiday called, “Bring Your Own Cup (BYOC) Day.” Customers could bring any size cup to a store and could fill it for only $1.50. Right off the bat, people began questioning the definition of “cup,” and the rest is history. For one day, people would bring buckets, Crock-Pots, helmets, anything that can serve as a cup. The result? Once a year, 7-Eleven generates renewed excitement for their brand and finds themselves in local newspapers around the country.
While we’re not condoning public nudity, there’s something to be said for shock value in your campaign. The television provider, Now TV, took the opportunity to use a heat wave announcement for London to make a sure bet on getting media attention. They offered Londoners and opportunity to enjoy the heat and sunshine (not so common occurrences for London). They created a rooftop garden exclusively for nudists to soak up some sun (NSFW).
The best part about this stunt? Their message was baked in. In the press release, Gidon Katz, managing director of Now TV, ties the stunt to their contract-free TV service: "As a nation, it seems we’re increasingly avoiding being ‘tied down’ in life—which is exactly what Now TV is all about. With the Now TV Combo we’re offering people the freedom to get the latest and best TV, broadband and calls, all without a contract. And we’re not stopping there. We’re going to keep breaking away from traditional conventions; firstly contracts, and now clothes, with the Now TV nudist terrace."
Support a charity
If you didn’t take the Ice Bucket Challenge, you probably know someone who did. Chris Kennedy started the phenomenon with a simple video that tied ALS fundraising to the ice bucket challenge. The ice bucket challenge was a social-media friendly idea: short videos showing people’s hilarious responses all for a good cause. The best part of this was that local and national news started talking about the event. Some reports themselves took the challenge on air.
PR stunts with a charity bent tend to gain serious momentum, because the event has a newsworthy angle.
Not to mention, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is getting more press two years later, after they release the report on how they used the $115 million donated from the challenge. Keep in mind that if you sponsor a charity event, you can have additional press release material down the road as you disclose how your funds were spent to support the cause.
Invite participation on social media
Of course, social media is the center of audience participation. From Facebook Live to Twitter hashtags, people digest the world around them on their phones and share their experiences on social. Many times social media buzz and traditional media buzz build on one another, where one picks up on the other.
Snapchat’s immediacy makes users feel close to the action and embedded in the event, so Snapchat is a great way to build buzz. Las Vegas announced that they would launch the Vegas Snapchat channel with the “King of Snapchat,” DJ Khaled. For a day and a half, DJ Khaled snapped his way around Vegas. Now, the fact that he had around 6 million followers at the time gave this event huge momentum, but the event was a newsworthy story on its own that easily landed big media attention.
Respond to other local news items
Sometimes, you can take advantage of the momentum of trending news, especially quirky local news, to promote your own brand. In this case, that’s exactly what Giffgaff did. Diane Cartwright, owner of a dog grooming business, was having trouble with her mobile signal, which cost her business in missed customer calls. Despite the service issues, EE would not cancel her contract. So she staged a protest.
It doesn’t appear that Cartwright intended her protest to be a PR stunt for her business, but EE’s competitor, Giffgaff seized the opportunity. Swooping in as the heroes of small business, Giffgaff put out a full page ad for Cartwright’s dog grooming business to help her regain some of her lost customers. Giffgaff was able to piggyback on a current event story to build their brand, and Diane Cartwright’s “Peacefull [sic] Protest” put her front and center in the news.
Measure the success of your PR efforts
Small businesses don’t have big marketing budgets, so it’s critical that each investment delivers ROI. The impact of PR can be hard to measure, but there are a few ways you can see if your PR work is impacting your brand credibility, awareness, and even your bottom line.
Public perception and tone: Does the story on your small business reflect a positive or negative tone? The sentiment in the comments section of articles is often a good indicator of how your piece was received.
Google Analytics: Every small business should use Google Analytics, and it should show you how PR impacts your web traffic, leads and sales, as well as referral traffic. If you discover that media coverage on a specific site drives significant traffic to your business’ site, then you might want to invest more time and energy into securing more coverage there. If you have sales and marketing automation system in place, you can take analytics to another level. Not only can you track leads coming to your website from PR, but you can also follow those leads through the sales funnel to see who is converting into prospects and sales. This is a great way to track ROI on PR!
Social shares: When you land a media story, are people sharing it on social media platforms or leaving comments on the article? This is a quick and easy way to see if your content and delivery is resonating with the audience.
Year-over-year growth: Are you getting more media coverage this year than the previous year? Are you seeing an increase in the number of incoming requests from media? PR is a great way to build awareness, credibility and trust for your brand, so that people will want to talk about your business, buy your products and refer you to friends. You don’t have time do it all, but getting your small business in front of more customers and potential buyers is important, so try reaching out to local media to give your small business a public boost.
PR, like the other branches of marketing, can be as big or as small an undertaking as you want it to be. Whether it evolves into a major lead generator or sits as a small staple in your business, being at the forefront of your brand’s message is a smart approach. These PR ideas for small business and tools can help you get there.