Public relations (PR) for businesses: the basics
What is PR and why is it important?
- Public relations (PR) means getting your business known
about by the public and/or the press in the way you want, by
managing your business' image and the information you give out
- It also includes reputation management - how to deal positively
with a crisis and handle any negative PR or coverage.
- There are loads of different ways to do PR - see below for
- PR differs from advertising because your audience
usually receives the message you send out about your business
through a third party - such as a magazine you've sent a press
release writing an article hat includes a positive mention of your
- Because of this, you can often build more
credibility for your brand through PR, as it's no so direct
a sell for your business as advertising is.
- This is essential as customers are more likely to trust a third
party than they are you when you try to promote yourself.
- PR is crucial for engaging, informing and building a
relationship with target customers, and also with your staff,
suppliers and other companies you do business with.
- It's very much tied in with your brand, as you want to be
sending out positive messages that are in line with our brand at al
- As well as being aligned with your brand values, good PR
tailors information given out about a business to perfectly appeal
to that business' target customers. It uses the language, messages
and ideas that they respond most positively to.
How to do PR as a small business
- Because of the need to for PR to be in tune with your brand and
your target customers, it requires careful planning and research,
as well as very close management. One damaging article in the press
can have greater effect than ten positive ones.
- You can either do your own PR in-house or employ a PR or
communications agency to do it for you.
- Read more about whether an agency would be best for you in our
guide on how to use a PR agency.
- Read more about doing PR yourself in our guide how to get your business into the press.
- You may want to use an agency just when you want
to generate most publicity - for your launch or for a
heavily-invested-in new product range, for example - and manage
things yourself for the rest of the time. This is usually a cheaper
- If you're running a business that's going to need more or less
ongoing PR and publicity for as long as you can foresee, it may be
well worth bringing in an employee specifically to handle
- In the long run, this will probably work out to be cheaper than
using an agency full-time for a long period of time.
- Someone working in-house will also be fully associated with all
aspects of your business and brand so will ensure messages going
out to the public are always consistent, on-brand and highlighting
the best details of whatever it is you're telling the public
- They are also likely to be much more dedicated to any PR
campaigns you do and to convey passion for your business much
better than a PR agency handling lots of different companies and
not as familiar with your business.
What are the different types of PR?
- The list of ways to get publicity is more or less endless - new
ideas emerge every day. But the options below are the most common
and effective, and the ones you or a PR agency are most likely to
- Sending out press releases:
- Emailing or posting journalists a few paragraphs on something
to do with your business in the hope that they will write about
- Read more about how to get it right (because it's not as easy
as it sounds) in our guide on *how to get your business into the
- By far the most common way to get press attention.
- Also virtually free - although time-consuming and takes care to
- Publicity stunts:
- Anything from dressing up and handing out samples on a high
street to a carefully orchestrated campaign costing tens of
thousands of pounds.
- Read more in our guide on how to get your business into the press.
- Takes ingenuity and often guts too, but can often get more
publicity than conventional means.
- Cost depends entirely on what you to spend, which is a large
- Should be accompanied by press releases so you have the best
chance of local papers giving you coverage for anything you
- Incentivising word of mouth:
- Get existing customers to spread the word about your business
by incentivising them with discounts for referrals or similar
- Read more in our guide on how to get your business into the press.
- Requires high quality and good service to work effectively, but
a cost-efficient way of spreading a positive public image.
- Charity work:
- Being seen to be helping out the community will always work in
your favour, and is an old-time trick for celebrities trying to up
their public credentials.
- You're unlikely to get press coverage unless you either make a
very large donation or host a particularly big event, but word of
your do-gooding will spread gradually and earn you local
- You can also use the charitable work you're doing on marketing
material (e.g. by including a logo of the charity you're supporting
and saying you're supporting them, ideally by stating a percentage
of profit being donated).
- This can be quite a slow-moving way to get publicity and is
better for long-term PR campaigns, with the intention of gradually
building a positive reputation in your local community.
- Social media:
- Using online networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and
LinkedIn can be a good way to spread your reputation online and
give your business a human face, using personal accounts of either
yourself or employees.
- It's also completely free.
- However, it will only work if your target market uses the
sites, and if you have time to maintain your profiles online
- Read more in our guides on social media.
- Sponsoring events or awards either within your industry, in
your community or even nationally gets your name out there and
builds a reputation that you're supportive of others.
- It also gives an impression of being established.
- However, it's usually pretty pricey - think thousands to tens
to thousands of pounds. (Local prizes may be cheaper but may not
receive any press coverage.)
- There is also no guarantee that simply having your name printed
on the brochure will drive people to your business or give them any
idea f what it does.
- Usually best for fairly well established companies rather than
those in their first couple of years, and at least best left until
you definitely have enough cash to invest in them.
- Networking and being seen to be seen:
- You are, at all times, a representative for your business.
Being seen at the right parties ad networking with people is a
immediate, ongoing and free chance to publicise your business and
generate interest in it.
- You don't want to bore people though - practise describing your
business in no more tan 30 seconds in an engaging way that gets
both your passion and the nub of the idea across.
- But don't overdo it - gauge the other person's interest and
don't bang on about it unless they seem interested.
- Make sure you have plenty of other things to talk about so you
come across as a well-rounded, interesting person rather than
someone constantly trying to sell their business - keep up-to-date
with industry news and current affairs.
- Being shortlisted for and winning awards:
- Fantastic PR on all accounts, but not easy to do, and remember
award ceremonies often cost a few hundred pounds to attend.
- Find out about all the ins and outs of awards, what judges are
looking for and whether it's worth your while entering in our
feature on how to win awards as a small business.
- The favourite of politicians and mega-companies alike, spin is
essentially turning a potentially reputation-damaging piece of news
into something more positive.
- It's quite an art, but hopefully you won't be dealing with this
- If you do hit a crisis, a good PR company with experience of
reputation management in similar circumstances is a good first port
of call if your bad news is likely to attract press attention.
- Otherwise, exceptional customer service, full apologies and
compensation for anyone you've upset will hopefully be enough to
pull you through.
- Public speaking or giving 'expert opinions' to
- If you position yourself as an expert and feel confident enough
to give engaging talks at industry events, you up your business'
reputation by extension.
- Completely free and great networking potential.
- But many people find it difficult to give a great talk, and
you're unlikely to be asked to either talk or give commentary
unless you're already some way to being fairly established.
- Making yourself known to journalists in your sector is a good
alternative. Let them know they can call you up for comment
whenever needed for an article.
When should I consider using a PR agency?
As a general rule of thumb, if your PR budget is more than
£10,000. But that I a very general rule of thumb, and you'll most
likely be able to tell intuitively whether or not you business is
That said, using a PR company to help you launch your business
is invaluable, as getting press coverage is a great way to drive
people to your business and you'll be in heavy need of that.
At other times a PR company can help with big events, launches
of new products, and at any other time when you want to absolutely
certain you're going to get some media coverage.
On-brand / on-message: in line with the message you
want to give out about your business - in line with your brand and
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