Public Relations is important for any business and especially for entrepreneurs in India. How to develop a sound PR strategy for small businesses.
By Surekha Pillai
There is no greater work satisfaction than being your own boss (and runner, depending on the situation!) but small businesses often come with the challenge of limited resources. Public Relations (PR) is an invaluable tool to entrepreneurs who would like to build credibility and increase visibility on a limited budget. However, PR does not come ‘cheap’; it offers great flexibility and is immensely resourceful, adjusting itself to the demands and limitations of businesses. Irrespective of the money you invest in PR, it has to be approached strategically to benefit your business.
Here is a guideline to developing a communications framework for small businesses. Please note that this is a generic approach and would have to be customised to suit different business needs.
It is a critical component of a successful communications campaign and the key messages for your product/service should be arrived at after careful evaluation of the business objectives, target audiences, strengths and weaknesses. All communications activities undertaken should incorporate one or more of these themes.
Once the messaging has been finalised, the ‘personality’ of your brand of product and business will determine the tone of these messages. Do you want to be quirky, mature, playful, funny or sombre? This tone should reflect in all your communication activities including advertising and PR as well as display including logo, packaging and decor among others.
the ‘personality’ of your brand of product and business will determine the tone of these messages
Depending on your budget, target audience and geographies targeted, you can identify the relevant media mix. Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and local resident directories would be able to point to the local community newspapers in the area. Always negotiate hard for the advertisement rates as most of them would agree to a heavy discount. Check with other local shops on the market rates.
If your target area is larger, you could consider a website or blog for your product. Local supplements of newspapers and local channels would also be important for you. Depending on your proficiency and level of expertise in the particular field or industry, national media could be added to the media mix.
It is a two-way relationship; if you can add value to the media by way of interesting news and content, the media will be interested in you. Any information shared with the media should help the news consumer make an informed decision about something or enhance her knowledge significantly about a relevant subject or person. Pass your stories through this filter to see whether a piece of information would be favourably received by a journalist/news outlet. Once you have an interesting story to tell, make sure you pitch your story well.
Entrepreneurs and small B2C businesses cannot afford to ignore social media. There are excellent resources such as these tips by social media marketing guru Chris Brogan to help you leverage social media.
Here is a quick guide to leverage media for your business:
- Develop a press kit with background information and photographs. These could be shared with interested media during interviews and events. If you work in the lifestyle/glamour/entertainment industry, invest in a good portfolio of photographs.
- Build a media database. Identify journalists and columnists who might be interested in your product by scanning the media to identify writers who have covered similar services or products.
- It helps to meet a few journalists with prior appointment to introduce yourself and your company. Start small and with the local media to gauge response. Do not expect immediate results; it is a long-term exercise.
- Identify product launch columns in newspapers that you could tap for your product. When you launch a new product, invite select media for trials and offer the product for reviews. Be prepared for negative feedback and criticism.
- Issue press releases when you have a significant announcement to make. Draft a 4-5 paragraph press release and send it out to relevant media. Do not spam the media with frequent releases. Utilise this tool sparingly.
- Leverage special occasions and festivals to talk about your product. If you own a gifts shop, Diwali, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and any other special occasion could be used to create interesting story pegs around your product.
- Get familiar with the lead time required for stories to be published, especially in feature supplements and magazines. You would have to send your press release well in advance for it to be carried on time.
- Tap event listings in local supplements to announce any interesting sale, exhibition or event you might be organising.
Credibility comes from trust and trust is built on accessibility and strong business ethics. It also helps if one can associate a face/name with a business. Social media is a great way to build personal branding – start with a Twitter account. It works pretty much like the mainstream media filter. You are interesting as long as you are not imposing or hard selling your own products. You could generate more interest by offering special deals, discounts and freebies to your followers. It requires patience to build a personal brand. Follow successful entrepreneurs to see how they use the medium. A little personality goes a long way, but you also need to aware of the pitfalls of personal branding.
Credibility comes from trust and trust is built on accessibility and strong business ethics
Word of mouth (WoM) plays a critical role in ensuring sustained business. When limited resources might stop you from employing an army of salespeople, happy ambassadors could play that role for you. Word of mouth can be generated through sample testing (Show up at a tweetup with some freebies for the group, for instance), showing extra care for customers (If you own a store selling baby products, charts with vaccinations and milestones with useful phone numbers could be given out with every purchase) , offering loyalty programs, announcing special sale period, in-store promotions and events and occasion-specific special offers, among others. WoM can also be generated by seeding the product among relevant influencers of a particular community/media. If you work in a small town, consider community building activities.
Last but not the least, do not forget to measure the impact of your communication campaign and the PR ROI (PDF). Keep track of consumer feedback and impact of each PR exercise undertaken by way of mentions, increase in footfalls, enquiries received, goodwill generated and sales registered. This would help you fine-tune your communication activities as you grow your business.