Small business PR essentials

Building credibility in the age of information overload

In 1996, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote an essay entitled “Content is King”, published on the Microsoft website. He wrote: “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

My career has spanned journalism, public relations and content marketing. I’m a prime example of the changing face of a media and marketing landscape which is propelled by the internet, just as Gates predicted.

But in the age of information overload where everyone is producing content online, how does your brand stand out? A strategic, well-executed public relations strategy can be a powerful way for any business to become more well known and it doesn’t have to break the bank.

I often get asked about the difference between marketing and public relations. To me, former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassèe best described the difference as, “Marketing is saying you’re good, but public relations is having others saying you’re good.” In essence, PR is about third-party endorsement and building your credibility.

When I first started out as a journalist, PR consultants would send us a press release with story ideas about their clients or they’d be the contact person in times of crisis, trying to prevent damage to personal or business reputations.

Modern PR is still about managing relationships with stakeholders, reputations, identifying stories and creating news. However, public relations strategies have evolved and are no longer limited to the mainstream media. Appearing on a podcast or webinar, public speaking, guest blogging and being featured in smaller outlets is all part of an effective modern PR campaign, which can grow the profiles of businesses and their leaders, while also boosting domain authority and SEO.

Today, PR is also likely to have a closer relationship and work alongside its marketing cousin, with an understanding that people are increasingly making decisions based on online research. Building credibility, a robust online presence and reputation makes good business sense.

Here are my top tips for an effective PR in the digital age.

  1. Understand proactive and reactive PR

Reactive PR means responding to what is happening within your business or topical issues in your industry. You can then make a comment and might get coverage:

  • Journalists love Twitter. Look for Twitter hashtags #journorequest and #PRrequest.
  • Keep informed of the latest news stories to which you can respond. Contact the journalist and tell them you have another angle.
  • Sign up for SourceBottle, an Australian site that connects sources with journalists, bloggers and podcasters worldwide. There is also HARO (Help A Reporter Out), which is in the US.

Proactive PR is where creativity comes into play and businesses can start creating news from nothing:

  • Develop a keen understanding of your target outlets and audience to create content that suits their desires and therefore gains widespread, high-quality coverage.
  • Undertake a mini survey, conduct client research and turn your findings into a news angle.
  • Offer tips, list articles, advice or some value add-on.
  1. Build a valuable earned media strategy

When people look to earned media they often have grand plans of contributing or being interviewed for top news sites or publications in their field. However, my advice is not to discount the smaller outlets and even start small and work your way up. Look first at getting into your local paper, radio or television news. Your local community is often where your target audience is, so it makes sense to try for coverage in this area.

Again, sites like SourceBottle and HARO can offer you opportunities to comment and be a source in stories, blogs or podcasts.

Offer your knowledge and opinion by registering on sites like Quora or SavvySME. Once you establish a profile and feel more confident, start pitching stories and write for specialised publications with your target audience. This article with Inside Small Business is a prime example.

  1. Learn how to write

Jason Fried, CEO of web-based project management tool Basecamp, says clear writing is a prerequisite for every position at his company. Being able to write and advocate for your idea and express your point of view is essential in the digital age. The popularity of video and podcasts may be rising, but the written word is still a crucial element of content and business communication generally. The good news is you can learn to write, and I teach all my clients writing techniques so they can improve their blogs, speeches and contribute to publications.

“A strategic, well-executed public relations strategy can be a powerful way for any business to become more well known.”

  1. Digital Public Relations, collaboration and co-citation

Digital PR is all about collaboration and co-citation. It is used extensively to increase an online presence with key content writers and journalists. I often interview other people for my blogs on topics that can affect my audience, such as SEO. I provide a link back to their website, which can increase their reach and visibility. I’m also asked to be interviewed or write a guest post on other blogs or publications with linkbacks to my website. These linkbacks can help build authority around your website and brand in a particular industry or field and be great for SEO.

As search engine algorithms improve, SEO experts are saying you can take this further and not even necessarily need a link to your site but the mere mention of your name with a particular term can be beneficial. For example, if public relations and Nadine McGrath are cited together in enough different sources, then that will carry authority. Google will start to see Nadine McGrath keeps coming up repeatedly with the words public relations, so it associates me with public relations, which consequently boosts my organic ranking for that term.

  1. Be media ready

Pay attention to your branding, LinkedIn or other relevant social media profiles. Ensure you have a good working website that is easy to navigate and reads well. Thorough journalists and other content producers will do their homework and want to learn about you or your business.

Understand how to approach a journalist or outlet. Remember your business is not the centre of the story. Instead, you’re aiming to offer up value, your insights and information that will appeal to their audience.

Listen to interviews and think about how you will answer questions about story angles. Have a quality author and speaker biography ready to go, along with headshots, so you present professionally.

  1. Look for speaking opportunities

Being a speaker at a conference, an event speaker or being part of a panel is a highly effective way to get in front of your target audience and position yourself as an expert in your field. There may also be other PR opportunities leading up to, during and after the event to raise your profile or brand awareness.

The more events you speak at, the better you will become, and there are plenty of good trainers to help you overcome those public speaking jitters. Research upcoming events or conferences, then contact the organisers and tell them why you’d be a valuable speaker at their event.

Conclusion: Know your audience and PR goals

When developing a digital PR strategy, do your research and consider your goals. Public relations is not a quick-fix solution to gain more sales or clients but is about building up your credibility and influence. Public relations should be considered an essential component of any communications or marketing strategy for your brand.

As Virgin founder Richard Branson says, “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.”

Nadine McGrath, PR guru and media trainer

This story first appeared in issue 22 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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