I read some nice and give-and-take recently in The Wall Street Journal about small businesses and public relations.
Many small companies detailed their experiences using public relations firms. Some were positive, some were negative.
The negative ones included many comments most public relations firms are used to hearing about industry horror stories. “I spent a lot of money on retainer fees but didn’t get anything to show for it.” Another business owner declared, “For all that money I spent they assigned my account to a young person just of college, with little experience.”
The positive ones included one that said they got some great publicity placements well in excess of anything an ad campaign could provide. They also talked about the overall business help they received from their PR consultant.
Small businesses must obviously be careful when engaging a public relations firm. The first question to ask is how much revenue can be comfortably spent towards a PR budget. $1000-$2,000 per month? $5,000 per month? $10,000 or more per month?
That budget will determine the type of firm or consultant your business can work with. If you are at the lower end, you can forget about using larger national type firms. Concentrate instead on smaller shops or a freelance type consultant.
Secondly, look for firms who have expertise and experience in your business niche.
Some PR firms are great at fashion or food but lack knowledge about construction or technology. You should be able to find a firm, no matter what size, that has skills you need. Some PR freelancers may have 20 plus years of experience in your area of business and, since they work for themselves, may be most affordable and the best alternative.
Thirdly,ask to see the firms body of work. They should be able to show you articles, events and awards they have helped secure on behalf of their clients. I would walk away from any firm refusing to show you their portfolio.
You can also ask for references. Ask for the names of a few current clients and see how the working relationship has evolved. Not every client response has to be a home run but ask about responsiveness and attention to detail as well as results. That will tell you a lot about the quality of the firm or person you wish to work with.
I would also ask the firm whom, exactly, will you be working with should you engage them? Will it be a senior level person or someone with little experience. Since you will be working closely with them, perhaps many hours each month, chemistry is important. You should demand to meet the PR consultant(s) you will be working with prior to engaging the firm.
Fourthly, establish expectations. A good PR firm or consultant should be able to help you determine what’s possible and what isn’t. If you are a small retailer with one or two locations articles in the local press and perhaps some novel tie-ins with local television would be your best bet. You don’t need to be in Time or The Wall Street Journal nor should you expect to be.
If you are selling a breakthrough type product or service that can be purchased nationally, either online or at multiple locations, than some national press might be a target. The question would be is your product unique enough to warrant national coverage and does the expertise of the firm match-up to those demands.
Experienced public relations professionals do much more than just try to secure publicity placements. They should be able to put together a strategy that coincides with sales goals and helps to achieve marketing objectives. PR should be part of an overall business plan, not something that just stands out by itself.
Many PR professionals can also help you build your business. Over time they can become trusted advisors, like your accountant or lawyer. They have worked with many companies over the years and have some great insights on business strategy and growth.
So, if you own a small business, do a little research. Interview a few firms with expertise in your market niche that can successfully execute a campaign based on your budget and expectations.
The end result will be money well spent and a great return on investment.