Building a small business reputation needs good public relations (PR) yet all too often smaller businesses think PR is the preserve of their much larger rivals. They argue that Bill Gates may well have said “if I was down to my last business dime, I’d spend it on PR” but he’s not that poor. Gates has lots of money, whereas in many smaller organisations the marketing spend is tight and PR feels like a luxury.
It’s extremely unfortunate that they feel this way, as one thing PR does incredibly well is make smaller companies appear bigger. That’s partly because we are conditioned to assume only larger organisations are doing PR. However, it’s also because of its amplifying power.
Related: What PR can do for a small business
PR is a crucial tool in an organisation’s marketing armoury. Among other things, it helps establish a business’ reputation. It reinforces whatever it wants to be known for – its expertise, authority, market leadership, innovation, quirkiness, the things that make it special – plus, of course, it promotes the features and benefits of its products and services. PR brings to life a company’s personality and proposition among the audiences that matter to it. It shapes hearts and minds. And, in doing all of this, it makes a company seem much bigger than it is.
Illusion or Reality
For instance, let me describe a business to you…
“From its purpose-built manufacturing base here in the UK, this company designs, engineers and builds environmental systems which it sells both domestically and exports around the world. Founded by a world-leading authority in water pollution, this award-winning business sells into many of the UK’s top 100 construction companies, the water industry and leading food manufacturers. It has a sophisticated R&D lab, ten patents and a track record of introducing one major new product to market every 18 months. It is transforming the way companies deal with water pollution on their sites and, as such, is acknowledged as a key innovator in the environmental technology market.”
This is broadly how I described one of my clients eight years ago when we first started working with them. At that point it was a small business. It was a fraction of the size that it is today – but every word written above was true back then. Indeed, I could have described the business in this way when it only had a team of three or four!
I could use the same description to describe the business today – now that it’s a multimillion-pound operation with 70 staff and exports to 34 countries.
Back then I was not lying or varnishing the truth. I was just ensuring this company had its PR ‘game face’ on. I was presenting the facts of the matter in a coherent way that painted a professional picture. That picture was consistent with this company’s reality all those years ago and, importantly, it also fitted its future vision. So, as the business grew, it had a reputation that still fitted, and that it could ‘grow into.’
I was doing this wonderful business justice and why not? Many larger companies have been deploying PR for years to do the reverse – to make them appear more approachable, in touch with the customer, friendlier than they are – the attributes often associated with smaller organisations.
What’s more, PR is ideally suited to smaller businesses. That’s because they’re nimble. The figurehead, experts or business owner is accessible to the PR agency so opportunities can quickly be responded too. A smaller company is more likely to take a position on an issue. The business owner is more likely to say something interesting because there aren’t bureaucratic layers of marketing teams and management diluting the message and neutralising any comment until it means nothing at all.
Furthermore, smaller companies find it much easier to live up to most brand promises. For instance, if you want to be the most creative player in a sector, it’s much easier if you’ve got a small team. Larger companies inevitably lose their creative edge. They struggle to remain fresh, innovative, a market disruptor with layers of bureaucracy, systems and managers slowing things down. Similarly, if customer service is central to a business’ proposition, companies where the owner is close to the frontline staff are much more likely to consistently follow through with great customer service in everything they do.
How to deploy PR
So, how do you deploy to help your small business reputation? The key is to focus on what makes your business special. If it’s expertise or knowledge of a marketplace you need to ‘own’ that space. For instance, develop market reports on that subject.
Related: How to make a small business PR plan
Any business in any sector can do this. For example, a small recruitment firm that specialises in warehousing staff could develop reports on warehouse trends, future capacity needs, the skills gap in the sector or the impact of artificial intelligence on warehouse jobs. You name it! The end game would be that the company is unequivocally known for its expertise in/knowledge of the warehousing sector. Obviously, such reports then need to be properly exploited – on the website, in the media, used as the basis of speaker opportunities, blogs, vlogs, podcasts and features and shared across social channels too.
A consumer-facing business will need to do things differently – perhaps stunts, consumer initiatives, trends research, working with influencers, a bigger social media push. It’s horses for courses – the gist is do the PR things you’d expect your much bigger rivals to do – but with the agility and flair that a much smaller player enjoys.
Beyond this, enter relevant awards – local, sector and national, plus host events. Whatever you do, forget about your size; keep your mind on the business you are going to become and start acting accordingly.
This is barely scratching the surface. The mix of PR tactics and creative ideas are boundless. To explore the possibilities properly speak to a good PR agency but remember you will need to be prepared to assign some proper budget to your communications.
There are thousands of wonderful businesses in the UK that have every right to be better known. They’re brilliant at what they do, have innovative products and services but they don’t have the confidence to promote themselves properly. Don’t be one of these. Start your PR journey today. Be the business you plan to be.
Louise Findlay-Wilson is founder and managing director at Energy PR
Further reading: 5 things you should include in your press pack or media kit