This is the first of a two-part series on the field of Public Relations, and what entrepreneurs and small business owners should consider as they think about the value it can provide them.
There is the old discussion topic that often gets debated about whether a tree falling in the forest makes a noise if no one is around to hear it. Similarly, if no one knows about a business or hears anything about it – can it really be any good? Getting the word out about the unique characteristics or benefits that a business provides can be done if one ascends to the highest peak in a town and yells to all the residents about the company; but a far more efficient and effective way to do succeed at getting the word out successfully is through Public Relations efforts.
However, many small business owners are confused about what Public Relations includes, how to do it, and what the expected results of those efforts might be for the business. Given that most small businesses are started by people who are generally not well-versed in the nuances of Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations, it is necessary to define our terms. Rachael Chappa, a Public Relations Expert with over a decade of experience in securing media coverage for her clients through both her own company (Chappa Communications), and as a media relations specialist for martinb+company, provides the following insights into the discipline of Public Relations (PR):
What We Are Talking About
Ms. Chappa establishes the baseline of the fundamentals of each initiative as follows, “Marketing is the overarching strategy that determines how to get your product, service or brand into the minds and hands of a customer. Advertising consists of paid opportunities such as an ad in a glossy magazine, a 30-second broadcast spot or a digital advertisement. Public Relations incorporates a variety of tactics, ranging from media relations to branding events, internal communications, messaging, website content development, public speaking and social media.” Advertising and Public Relations are subsets of the overall Marketing approach; however, all three should be aligned to maximize the results and impact to the business. Ms. Chappa emphasizes, “The media relations aspect of PR focuses on creating positive public awareness through non-paid placement. For locally-based companies with smaller budgets, public relations provides the ideal opportunity to build a consumer base organically through connecting with the target audience.”
So, Is it Simply Press Releases?
As an expert in PR, and media relations specifically; Ms. Chappa is adamant that, “PR means so much more than sending off a press release. A well-placed story still provides substantial impact, yet the integration of social media, a blog post, or even an e-newsletter can amplify that story.” As an example of how that would work, Ms. Chappa offers the following recommendation, “Adding a smart Tweet with a bitly from a well-tended and strategically grown Twitter account can immediately increase the reach of a story that may have been placed in a reputable business publication (that caters to the appropriate target audience of potential customers and clients). Then, posting a link to the article on a blog or Facebook page, and encouraging followers to share will often lead to exponential growth of the fan base and the spreading of the message.”
As a pragmatic business owner, often with limited discretionary funds (and little time to wait for results), the question of how to measure the results or impact of a PR campaign is sure to come up when considering an investment in PR versus other initiatives. Ms. Chappa’s approach to helping her clients identify the value in a PR effort includes, “Asking a client when they first sign on, what publication, show or website is on your wish list? Nine out of ten times, people respond with New York Times, Wall Street Journal and NBC’s Today Show.” Surely, placements on these media outlets often garner attention and build enormous spikes in revenue. Yet, those may not be the appropriate targets for a particular product or service that may appeal to a more specialized audience or target buyer. The reality in PR is that a campaign will not always lead to immediate tangible results. The expectation that an immediate spike will occur in web traffic, revenue, customer interest, retweets, etc. because an investment in PR was made dooes not always pan out.
Because much of the impact of PR is “Word of Mouth” (WOM) in that someone refers to something they read/saw/viewed when talking or texting with another, it is often difficult to quantify a direct result back to the original source. A general trend may be observed (more inquiries after a story appears, and another sustained spike or new baseline established some time later), but to attribute it to the PR effort solely, or in isolation of other factors is often difficult.
Part 2 will run in next week’s column. Rachael Chappa will address the concerns of; when to use an external PR service, how to select that resource, and the CEO’s role in PR.