Public Relations has experienced several seismic shifts over the last decade, and these shifts have had dramatic impact on small business owners that have to wear the occasional PR hat.
These shifts started with the explosive growth of the Internet as a publishing platform, ushering in news on demand and 24/7 news cycles. Most recently, the Web 2.0 revolution, sparked by engagement tools such as blogs, social networks and microblogs, changed the role of PR further, and forever.
Most of this change has been good — because of Web 2.0’s ability to create engagement and dialogue between individuals, coupled with our innate drive to connect and be “social” (witness the historic growth of Facebook), PR is as much about listening and engaging today as it is creating or influencing content.
But even with these major changes, basic principles, those which have been core to the true art of PR, have not changed — call them the “Do’s” of PR. They’re not guarantees for coverage, but, they will get you a lot further in the long run than short PR “spins” around the marketing block.
Here (in no certain order) are 4 Do’s for small business owners who want to be successful in PR:
DO be Genuine: Somewhere along the way, the practice of PR got tangled up with a perception of shifty-ness. The image of the “PR Man” (see right) as a snake-oil selling shyster in movies and on TV became a staple. Today, in the competitive marketplace and era of transparency (see next bullet), you can’t pull the wool over the public’s eyes for long. It’s best to not even try. Take the high road in your approach to telling your story. Identify the core strengths of your brand and communicate that consistently. You’ll be glad you did in the long run.
DO be Transparent: If there was one sin most committed before Web 2.0, it was a lack of transparency in communications. Thankfully, the era of “Spin Doctors” — those who would hide behind alternate identities and twist the truth about a product or service without being caught — are over. Today, being transparent in your communications is the only way to go. Because … if you spin, and get caught, you can quickly be in PR crisis mode as a web-savvy public takes to Twitter and Facebook to call you out. And once a social community takes control of your brand (and message), it’s very difficult to regain visibility and trust. A recommendation: don’t use the word “spin” (ie “…how about we spin it this way…”) when talking to the media or others about your brand or service.
DO be Responsive: Even though “Relations” is part of their title, many public relations professionals are just the opposite. They shoot out impersonal blast emails and don’t return calls or requests from the media asking for more information. At the core, Publc Relations is all about managing relationships with your public(s) — including journalists, bloggers, customers, even vendors and the community. Being responsive to questions, requests, etc. will help you build a reputation as a thought leader in your market segment. By the way, because you can receive business calls at any number you designate (ie home, cell, home office), a virtual phone number is a great tool for responding quickly. And a virtual phone number like Global Call Forwarding allows you to return calls from your personal cell phone, with the caller ID at the other end showing as your business number (instead of your personal cell number), helping you present a responsible, professional image.
DO be Creative: It’s common to see a company with very engaging web and marketing materials shoot their marketing efforts in the foot because of a boring approach to PR. Example: a news release with a generic headline (“BobCo Launches New Widget”), written in a stuffy style and peppered with throw-away quotes from you or someone in your company. When considering a PR component to a business initiative, don’t forget to think creatively in your approach to generating interest. A creative hook in a press release will get you a lot further than a “yell and sell” approach.
Stay tuned for more on the subject of PR. Next time, we’ll discuss some ways you can use social media to enhance your overall marketing efforts.