Jessica Huie MBE, an entrepreneur with 15 years media experience, founder of JH Public Relations and Color blind cards and partner to the Business & IP Centre, gives her advice on how start-ups and SMEs can generate PR for their business without spending a fortune.
However brilliant or progressive your product or service, if nobody knows about it then your business will struggle to make sales, and a business without sales is doomed to fail. This is where PR can have a massive impact. Not so much a luxury as imperative for any business owner who wants to make their idea get off the ground, PR helps businesses to connect with their target audience, to mould a brand, establish differentiation from competitors, attract buyers and investors and can position business owners as experts in their field. If you truly mean business with your start-up venture, then you need to think seriously about public relations.
PR, which is in part marketing through third-party endorsement, is an extremely successful way to generate business and it complements the other, more ‘obvious’ forms of marketing. Today’s consumer is savvy. They see through blatant (and expensive) advertising campaigns. PR subtly increases awareness of a company and its products and services by positioning them in the public’s consciousness, not by waving it in front of their faces.
Believe in your brand
In order for your start-up business to get valuable press coverage, you first need to make sure you are confident about your brand and its ethos. The public is never going to fully comprehend your business if you, yourself, are not clear as to what your business brand is, its values and what it has to give. Your brand needs to be a clear and definite concept. Therefore, when introducing your brand, whether in a press release or when pitching to a journalist, lead with any vital information and impressive assets, this positions your business instantly.
Once you are confident in your business values, it is crucial to communicate that personally – nothing is more powerful than authenticity in PR and if you are sincere and passionate about your brand, both the media and the public will be receptive to this. Humans are social creatures; they buy into people not products. Having a visible figurehead rather than relying on nameless branding helps customers to understand the ethos and culture behind your business. Ask yourself what the motivation behind your company was, and your business vision for the future. Give your customers an understanding of the entrepreneur behind the brand and make sure your personal and business principles align; audiences can see through branding messages that do not correspond to behaviour. PR, through mediums such as case studies, media coverage, advice columns and blogs, is your tool for demonstrating your commitment to your brand values.
Position yourself as a thought leader
So, how do you behave like a figurehead? A simple way is through positioning yourself as thought leader and by marketing your expertise. You, as an individual, can share your valuable perspective, insight and experience. This is not just advantageous in terms of commercial success, but also in terms of investment. By building a strong visible profile, you make you and your brand unique, differentiating your business from other commercially viable investment opportunities. Profit and turnover speak for themselves, but business commitment and vision do not. A business with a strong figurehead and management team who represent the fundamental business values are powerful assets and are most effectively communicated through a PR campaign.
Absorb the media
To secure media coverage, it is also of upmost importance that you immerse yourself in the media. This means both being aware of the media sectors your business fits into and staying on top of current affairs and their relevance to your business.Every story reported in the media represents a PR opportunity depending on your business. Staying abreast of current news means you can be reactive, relevant and forward thinking in your PR strategy, creating press releases that participate in debates or that offer opposing opinions or solutions to contemporary problems.
Plan your PR strategy
Yet, at the same time, PR should be a calculated strategy, taking into account any important dates that may impact customers’ activity. Create a 12-month plan including dates such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Halloween and think about how your brand and commercial activities can ‘latch on’ to these events, increasing your chances of securing media interest. The importance of forward planning cannot be overstated – be aware of media lead times so you don’t let a PR opportunity pass you by.
Look for possible partnerships
Collaborating with like-minded brands, which share your business values and target market, is another way reach a broader audience and create interesting PR angles. The first step in brand partnerships is to truly understand your customer. Spend some time researching your customer in depth: where do they live, how old are they, what are their hobbies, their occupations and incomes? Once you have a clear image, you can then seek out ideal partners for cross-promotion. Partnerships are crucial when it comes to business growth and, for small businesses, this involves collaborating with larger or more established brands for common benefit. The story of the Big Friendly Giant is a popular one and does not fail to attract media attention.
Perfect your press release
Yet indisputably the most successful tool at your disposal to get press coverage and media interest in your business is a well-written press release, one that grabs attention and leaves a lasting impression. Ensure it is professional, includes all the essential (but relevant) information and use the first paragraph to sum up your news angle and tell the journalist why it’s worth the page space. Statistics that support your angle, any awards or accolades your business has won, celebrity fans or endorsers should all be in those first few lines. Demonstrate your confidence in your brand and your story and substantiate the fact that you are great!
If you are committed to raising your personal or business profile, then you should commit to PR. However, it is an investment and in most cases there is no instant, tangible return on your investment. Persevere and view it as part of your strategic business journey. You have to foster this relationship as you would any other; getting your business in the media of your target audience is just the start. A customer’s buying journey begins with awareness, followed by familiarity, then to purchase consideration and finally loyalty. If you are consistent in your PR efforts, awareness of your start-up business will increase with each new media platform that endorses you. Your business will become visible, it will enter your customer’s mind and, most importantly, it will stay there.