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By Heather Ripley
If you are a small to mid-sized (SMB) business owner and have not had any major crises, you may think you are not large enough to hire a public relations agency.
But public relations (PR) is about so much more than repairing reputations or waiting until you have the budget of a Fortune 500 company. PR is about building relationships and can be the difference in why a potential customer chooses you over your competitor.
While advertising, marketing and public relations are all methods businesses use to communicate with their stakeholders, the benefits of each are not usually discussed individually. Small business owners know they need marketing to target the right customers and advertising to make the phones ring, but they do not realize that public relations can help them become the trusted experts in their markets, which leads to greater opportunities.
Public relations, quite simply, is the process of building relationships that are mutually beneficial to you and your customers or partners.
In other words, PR builds trust in your company’s product or service, and helps potential customers realize that you are the experts in your field.
Most people might simply consider that any restoration company could be a good choice if they need to clean up after a natural disaster or other catastrophe. But, if the customer has heard your name before and associates it with good will or a positive image, the chances that this potential client will choose to do business with your company over your competitor is greater.
This is known as proactive public relations, a strategy that earns your business a positive standing in both your market area and in your industry through what is known as “earned media.”
As opposed to paid advertising, earned media is when your company receives local media coverage or is discussed on social media without having paid an advertising fee. This could be as simple as an interview on your community’s news station about the process of recovery after a disaster because the media considers you the local expert on restoration. It is not the easiest task in the world to earn this type of media because this is developed by objective, third-party sources who are not biased in favor of any particular organization. However, the fact that it is objective is the very reason why consumers trust it more.
Most consumers can hear your ads a thousand times and know your name, but studies have shown that potential consumers just do not trust ads. They would rather hear about you and what you can do from third parties. This could be from the news media, by word of mouth or through trade publications. Studies show that nearly all consumers research a business online before committing to work with them.
This gap in trust is also the reason many businesses have discovered that adding public relations to their advertising budgets helps them build the positive reputation consumers look for in hiring or working with a particular company.
Public relations for a smaller company is not all that much different than the types of PR larger companies use. The frequency of press releases or pitches may be greater for a big company, but the end result is the same: To build positive name recognition in the market.
For small business owners, your advertising budget has to go a long way. Getting journalists and other influencers to write about your business does not have to be an expensive proposition but it can be daunting.
Knowing the right reporters to contact or the right content to offer the community can be difficult. Having a PR professional who knows how to maneuver within the industry helps you continually work on building credibility, which can stretch your ad dollars.
Public relations also helps your budget in that it delivers real value to potential customers. Whether you are educating them on how your industry can benefit them, offering them tips they can use in their own lives or inspiring them with the charitable work you do in your community, the benefits of public relations to a small business are greater than advertising alone.
While public relations can help SMBs get more bang from their advertising bucks, PR also helps franchises expand their reach by targeting media in local markets to make them aware of your business and how it impacts the community.
PR agencies also know how to help you grow your franchise by ensuring that each franchisee “shares the wealth.” That is, making sure that media outlets in all the areas where you have franchise locations receive coverage to promote both the local franchisee and the larger franchise, overall.
This boosts the brand recognition that most franchises need in order to grow. It makes your company more of a household name, nationally, which helps the franchise expand in more local markets.
Most small to mid-size business (SMB) owners have usually gotten into their business to provide an exciting product or deliver great service. They work hard to provide these things and do not generally have a lot of time to create the very content that will help their SMB grow.
This is where a PR expert can help. Agencies, for example, hire professionals who have spent their lives writing content for newspapers or other businesses and have a pool of media experts who know how to pitch the right story to the right reporter.
The fundamental strategy for building your SMB is the same as the PR the “big boys” employ: Telling your company’s story and getting that story out to consumers. You need public relations to tell that story to a new customer base or potential franchisees.
While it might seem frightening at first to take chances with your company’s advertising budget, public relations is as necessary to growing your business as advertising is to getting potential clients to call for service.
Public relations is often the difference between moderate growth and the next-level opportunities that make you the market leader.
Heather Ripley is founder and CEO of Ripley PR, an elite, global public relations agency specializing in franchising, home service and building trades. Ripley PR has been recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as a Top Franchise PR Agency four years in a row and was named to Forbes’ America’s Best PR Agencies for 2021. Ripley is the author of “NEXT LEVEL NOW: PR Secrets to Drive Explosive Growth for your Home Service Business.” For additional information, visit www.ripleypr.com.