Public Relations is an essential part of your business success.
Public relations encompasses marketing and communications, but enlisting the help of a PR professional can be costly. — SrdjanPav/Getty Images

Public relations (PR) is a key ingredient in a business’s marketing and communications mix. While paid advertising has its benefits, it doesn’t build trust or establish a level of legitimacy for your business and brand the way PR initiatives can. So, it’s important to understand what PR is and how you can embark on effective campaigns without breaking the bank.

What is PR?

PR is an intentional activity to build and maintain a company’s positive reputation among the public. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) states, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

The public is anyone who is of interest to that company, which could include both current and potential customers, partners, investors and employees. PR is about influencing this audience, so it is more than just getting your brand in front of them. You must build relationships and communicate in ways that establish trust and validate your company.

One component of this is media relations, which is specific to establishing relationships with the media. But there are many other audiences that today’s PR initiatives connect with, in part because of the ever-increasing amount of technology that connects us all.

Why is PR important?

Your business’s reputation is of utmost significance and can make or break you. Reputation is basically how your business is thought of by people “people” being those who may buy from you, invest in you or partner with you. If your business’s reputation is positive (e.g., trustworthy, high-quality, offering value for the money, caring and dependable), the odds are in your favor that your business will grow. But if public perception of your business is negative, then it’s less likely that people will buy from you, invest in you or partner with you, and your success is, therefore, unlikely. The job of PR is to build and protect that reputation.

PR also matters because it is earned media. This means that you do not pay for it but earn the coverage by doing something newsworthy or building relationships that establish you as a reputable and knowledgeable source. Because you haven’t paid for the coverage, the public may attribute value to your company due to their respect for that media source. For example, are you more likely to trust a company whose CEO is quoted in Forbes or one that pays for a full-page ad in Forbes? Advertising certainly has its place, but this linking of your reputation to that of the magazine cannot be bought.

Social influence also plays a large part in your company’s reputation these days. Via social media, everyone can express their opinion to a broad online audience. While small businesses with limited marketing budgets may be aided by the ability to promote themselves for free on social media, these platforms can also be vehicles for disgruntled customers or unscrupulous competitors to smear your company and mar your reputation. Your PR initiatives must include a review of your social reputation and ways to address it.

[Read: How to Manage Online Reviews]

It’s important to understand what PR is and how you can embark on effective campaigns without breaking the bank.

How does PR work?

Today’s PR specialists conduct campaigns targeting both traditional and digital media. They also establish relationships with the press and make your company a sought-after source for information as well as a voice to be followed on social media.

The PRSA outlines the primary tasks of PR, which include, among other things:

  • Influencing public perception of your business.
  • Foreseeing and deciphering public opinion that could impact your organization.
  • Advising company leadership about public ramifications of decisions and communications.
  • Researching and conducting communications programs to support company goals.
  • Protecting your company’s reputation, which at times includes crisis management.

Some of the tools your PR specialist or agency may utilize include:

  • Press releases.
  • Press kits.
  • Press conferences or events.
  • Executive bios.
  • Company fact sheets.
  • Product descriptions.
  • Product samples for the press.
  • Guest columns.
  • Blog posts.
  • Article pitch letters.

With the traditional press, you’ll need to either have a compelling story that is worthy of news coverage or become known as an industry or topic expert to be relied upon as a source for articles as needed.

On the digital front, the media outlet HowStuffWorks explains that companies must communicate with the younger generation, i.e., the Net Generation, differently than with traditional media. In lieu of emailing press releases, companies must become active social media participants engaging with passion in digital communities relevant to their audience.

Making PR effective for your company may require some expertise. A PR manager, in-house or through an agency, works on your behalf to manage all the details, build relevant relationships and train your team on how to respond to the press. A community manager is someone who focuses specifically on your online relationships and initiatives.

Ideally, you’ll want to hire a PR specialist or agency that already has built a significant number of relationships with media and influencers who are relevant to your business and industry.

Can you afford PR?

While PR can’t be bought, the work required to get the press coverage can be costly. Perhaps your business is not ready to employ a PR manager and can’t afford the fees charged by PR agencies. Fortunately, with some planning and an investment of time, you can execute some effective low-cost initiatives to begin building your reputation and establishing relationships with influencers.

In addition to keeping an eye on your social media persona and reputation, consider the following to help raise your public profile:

  • Become a source for HARO, an online database that reporters use to find sources for articles.
  • Demonstrate your industry expertise by writing articles for your company blog, LinkedIn or other online platforms. Be sure to then promote these using trending hashtags on social media.
  • Pitch article ideas to business and industry-specific publications.
  • Submit your company for business awards sponsored by media outlets and associations.
  • Participate in online forums by sharing industry expertise, thought leadership, the vision and values of your leadership team, etc.

[Read: 4 Affordable PR Strategies for Small Businesses]

How do you measure success?

It’s not always easy to measure the direct impact of your PR initiatives. But it’s important to see where and how your business is mentioned to help you assess if you should increase or change your efforts. You can do this by setting up Google alerts. Then, if you see something negative, determine how best to respond to protect your reputation. If you’re mentioned in a positive light, reach out to thank the reporter and offer to be a source for future stories.

While a good reputation may not generate immediate click-throughs or product purchases, brand familiarity and a positive perception of your company contribute to the success of all your marketing campaigns.

[Read: PR Without the Price Tag: How to Promote Your Business On a Budget]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published January 09, 2020