In the day to day firefighting, crisis management and simple hard slog that tends to make up the reality of running a business, particularly an SME, it can be easy to neglect the formulation of an effective PR strategy. No matter how finely honed and superbly delivered the goods and services which you provide are, however, your business is going to fail unless enough people get to know that you exist and, more than simply knowing, receive a rounded message which conveys the ethos and ‘personality’ of your business. When words like ‘branding’ and ‘image’ start to be used, many hard-nosed business people tend to become somewhat dismissive, feeling that they can afford to concentrate on the particular field of expertise which led to them setting up the business in the first place, and leave the marketing to take care of itself. Whilst this may be partly true as far as setting up a basic marketing operation is concerned – taking out advertisements, printing leaflets and the like – it won’t get anywhere close to creating a successful PR operation devoted to building, maintaining and disseminating a positive and accurate portrayal of who you are and what you offer.
As a smaller business in competition with large corporations boasting vast marketing budgets, the average SME is clearly operating at something of a disadvantage when it comes to getting their voice heard, but a successful PR strategy can actually help to turn these disadvantages into plus points. An SME may be smaller, yes, but it is also much more flexible, lacking the structural complexity which tends to slow down decision making within larger businesses and thus able to react much more quickly and nimbly to changing circumstances. As the owner of an SME with a coherent PR structure in place, for example, you will be able to react quickly to topical events and news stories which might impact on your business offer, reaching out to customers and prospective customers and creating a two way conversation which larger businesses often find it hard to replicate. The right PR can turn a disadvantage – you’re business is small and runs on relatively low budgets – into an advantage – you can interact directly with your markets and target markets and build genuine relationships.
Anyone in any doubt about the need to adopt a rigorous and thought through PR strategy should bear one simple fact in mind; all of your competitors will be doing precisely that. In the age of the global marketplace and online connectivity these competitors include some of the biggest companies in the world as well as those operating on a smaller scale. Whilst the PR effort of the larger companies is plain to see all around us – in the newspapers we read, the television programmes we watch and the social media we consume – the PR strategy of those companies which are competing at the same level and for the same market places as your own will be based upon ensuring that, when the topic of your particular field of expertise comes up, it’s their name which is being discussed, mentioned and evaluated rather than yours.
Developing a PR strategy, and working with the professionals who can deliver that strategy, will mean two things above all else; the message which you convey through every communication and piece of marketing is consistent, honed and aimed at transmitting a specific image of who you are and what you do, and that message will be reaching audiences which have been researched and targeted with the maximum impact and return on investment in mind. Your PR effort shouldn’t be an addition to your business, it should be an integral part of it, both reflecting and informing the way in which you deliver your goods and services and the value which you aim to provide for customers. When you sit down to draw up a PR strategy for 2016 take a long hard look, firstly, at what you did during 2015, analysing the actions which were effective in cutting through and taking a step back to ask yourself exactly what you can say about yourself which will catch the interest of those with no investment in your success. Again, this is something which an outside agency, bringing a degree of detachment and wider PR experience in general, will be best placed to deliver and implement. The idea that no publicity is bad publicity is a cliché and also incorrect, as the executives at Volkswagen would doubtless have attested during the emissions scandal of 2015, but it’s doubtless true to say that no publicity whatsoever, as in no PR effort, is definitely a bad thing for any business aiming to get noticed, and thus expand.