Most public relations professionals would balk at the idea of giving away free PR advice. And understandably so – PR professionals have valuable skills and understanding that should be paid for.
But when it comes to small and medium businesses, offering free PR advice could actually be in everyone's best interests. Smaller businesses generally have a real reluctance to invest in marketing. If it's not lack of budget – research undertaken by my company found that 55 per cent of small businesses spend less than £10,000 a year on marketing – then it's lack of understanding of how the various elements of marketing work that puts many off.
PR is one of the more mysterious elements of marketing and one that smaller businesses are often quite fearful of – SMEs often assume PR is beyond their reach either because it is just too expensive or only suitable for larger companies. But if smaller companies can learn how to write and distribute their own press releases, generate online content and engage in social media then they will realise that PR is not only for larger companies. In fact, thanks to how digital media has evolved in recent years, PR is now a very real opportunity for small businesses to raise their profile and generate new business.
By helping smaller businesses implement their own, low-cost PR campaigns, we are creating a positive attitude towards PR. In addition, this breeds familiarity in the processes involved that could easily lead to greater investment in PR and more successful collaboration between small businesses and PR agencies.
I appreciate this sounds quite tenuous – and admittedly the pay-back on an individual basis could be quite long term. But it could be a good investment. If you helped three small companies with a bit of PR advice and two years down the line one becomes a long-term client, that has to be worth it surely? Then of course there is the word-of-mouth element – most small businesses probably want the apparent comfort of working with local suppliers, so offering PR support in the local business community is going to raise your profile with potential clients.
Looking at this from a more holistic perspective, if the PR industry as a whole is more supportive of small businesses then this will shift perceptions among the SME community, and perhaps a greater proportion of their marketing budgets will be directed towards PR.
We have produced resources for helping smaller businesses do their own PR. But in reality, it would not surprise me if a considerable number of small businesses who investigate running their own PR campaigns end up hiring a PR agency – after all, the way to get the job done properly in business is to hire a professional who knows what they're doing.
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