Understanding What You Want, What You Need, and the Differences between the two
The American spirit of entrepreneurialism remains strong. The most recent data shows that there are nearly 30 million small businesses spread across the country that are employing about 57 million individuals—about 48% of the private sector workforce. Their interests span a variety of topics and produce a multitude of products and services. Most share a common trend: they want increased exposure.
In order to try and remain profitable, many small businesses focus on developing new or innovative products and how best to manufacture them. Marketing and PR are forced to become afterthoughts. If the budget isn’t available to hire marketing staff (and it often isn’t), the task either falls by the wayside or is tackled by someone without a background in the field whenever they can find the time. It’s a necessary evil, but sometimes a little cash can be freed up to help expand a business’s exposure. The options on where to use your marketing and PR dollars can feel overwhelming, but we find that it’s often helpful to break the process down.
What do you want?
In other words, what are the goals of your communications campaign: are you looking to spread awareness about a new product, inform consumers in a specific region that you’re open for business and ready to serve, or prove that you’re better than your competitors? How you answer this first basic question will play an important role in the marketing or PR services that you’re looking to utilize.
If your goal is to simply spread awareness of your business and its offerings through an advertising campaign, you’re looking for marketing help and not PR. The same goes if you’re trying to foster engagement across social platforms and relevant online comment sections, increase follower counts, and promote brand awareness and visibility without any additional messaging. These are all important to any small business, but many are looking for the next step.
If budget considerations are forcing you to choose between Marketing or PR help, it’s been my experience that there are many PR firms that are equipped to help businesses with their marketing needs, but the opposite isn’t true. By its nature, public relations needs an independent and unbiased voice to be of use to reporters and news outlets, which is impossible for a marketing department to have. If you work within a specific industry and find a PR firm that has experience and connections there, the firm’s account managers likely can fill in some of the traditional marketing roles (we do for several of our clients), such as: blog development, event management, negotiating ad rates, maximizing distribution opportunities, spanning the gap between digital and print outlets, planning ad campaigns, managing your social media accounts, etc.
What do you need?
The answer to this question is much more nuanced. After all, in the end both marketing and public relations want to bolster your current communications activities with the end result of increasing sales. The difference is in the approach. Public Relations is uniquely designed to enhance your reputation in front of current and potential customers and if you’re looking for more than blanket exposure, the next tool that can help you stand out is credibility. This can take many forms: reporters reaching out to you as a valued resource when a story that relates to your business is being generated, publishing articles in outlets that address your specific industry, winning related awards and speaking on corresponding panels to both your audience and your peers. This is the type of exposure that cannot be purchased, which is why it’s in such demand. We all know that at their core, advertisements are designed to try and sell us something. We are inherently a little suspicious when being approached with a solicitation. Credibility gained from third-party validation doesn’t have this baggage. In most cases, consumers highly value endorsements from industry leaders, like the respected media outlets that work within your industry. This, in turn, is a strong motivating factor in driving sales.
Public Relations can also have a profound impact on how your business is being found through search engines. While we always advocate maximizing SEO through any and all means, becoming linked to a high-traffic media outlet through a news story (even from a press release) or publication of a byline article will increase your ranking as customers search for you online. These activities provide vital inbound links to your website that increase your rank in Google. Even a press release that doesn’t generate wide-spread placements can still make a measurable impact on how your business is viewed when searched online through the impactful key search terms that it uses.
Ultimately, Public Relations can be useful as a standalone service for your small business as well as a tool to enhance your current marketing efforts. It can help increase attention for your offerings if no other campaigns are taking place and strengthen the message behind existing marketing activities by taking the next step in adding credibility and thought leadership. The only trick is understanding what your small business wants versus what it needs to become a success.
Brendon Stellman authors the column “Pure BS” and is Vice President, Director of Client Relations for Milldam Public Relations.