Demystifying Public Relations for Small Business

Let’s get right to the definition. Public Relations, or “PR”, is:

the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest.

I love this definition because it reminds us that it is not all about us as business owners. We need the public to buy our product or service, but we need to build a relationship with them first. How do we do that? By communicating with them, and ensuring they understand what it is we do and how it benefits them. And then we can achieve our goals. It’s what business should be like, right?

What PR is Not

PR is not telling a story – especially one that isn’t true – in order to get the most media coverage, hype, likes, follows, and commentary possible. If you lie, distort, deceive, and twist the truth, it is spin. And it may come back to haunt you later in the form of a crisis!

People tend to confuse this with publicity – a subset of PR – which is creating attention for a business through media relations or within industries. Again, the difference is the end result of achieving mutual understanding and company goals, and serving public interest. If you are not operating ethically, you will not achieve mutual understanding with the public in any situation. You will not achieve good PR.

I attended an event where the keynote speaker handed out a resource sheet, and a female attendee jumped up saying “Thank you for listing my business!” She was surprised. This is good PR, even though the woman didn’t plan for it, but she could have been aware that the speaker knew of or tried her product. This is why customer testimonials and good reviews work so well, because people like to hear good news from other people.

What PR Might Look Like for Your Business

Most small businesses are doing Consumer PR by nature when engaging in customer or client service. Any communications tool that connects your business to the public (social media, for example) is a PR tool. But there are other methods you may need to engage in, combined with media relations, that you may not have thought about:

  • Investor Relations – How are you communicating with your shareholders regularly?
  • Internal Relations – How do you keep staff updated with changes, and involve them in the company culture?
  • Issues Identification – If issues are important in your business, are you staying top of mind on them, and positioning yourself as an expert in the issue? 
  • Crisis Communications – Do you have a plan in place for communicating to the public should the need arise?
  • Community Relations – How are you engaging with the key communities related to your business?
  • Government Relations – How are you engaging with the key government parties or regulatory authorities related to your business?
  • Event Management Planning – If your business regularly holds events, are you giving the public (or your staff) a genuine experience of what your company represents?

Final PR Tips

As we enter the age of digital marketing where tools are evolving faster than we can master them, it is important to analyze your current relationship with your clients and customers before you jump into learning and using new tools. Whether it’s PR or another marketing tool, ask yourself: will this serve public interest? Will it help people understand why our business is important? 

The most successful small businesses owners I know have excellent relationships with their clients and customers, and will even engage with their audiences to determine what tools to use next. Good luck on your PR journey!