Do small companies need to use PR?

When many small businesses and start-ups plan how they’ll try to raise their profile and increase awareness, they often consider expenditure on advertising, but will frequently fail to include public relations, or PR, in their budget – but PR can often be a great way for a small business to manage its image, and it can be extremely cost-effective.

PR is about getting your audiences to know about your business and your products and services, often through the press and wider media, in the way you want it to be known.  And it is about reaching new audiences.  This is done by managing the information that you provide about your business.

PR also includes reputation management, which means dealing quickly and positively with any crisis and managing any negative PR or press/media coverage.

A good reputation is critical to the success, indeed survival, of every business including – perhaps especially – SMEs and start-up companies.  Like an ocean-going liner riding out stormy weather, a major corporation is usually able to survive short-term damage to its reputation (think the criticism aimed at Google, Starbucks and Amazon over corporation tax).  But would a small company, tossed about like a dinghy in a hurricane, survive?

Your current (and future potential) audiences – customers, suppliers, business partners, investors etc – will have an opinion about you and your business.  So will your competitors.  Their opinion may be right or wrong.  It may be good or bad.  But their opinions and perceptions will impact on their decisions about whether to buy from you, supply to you, become a business partner or invest in your business.

These opinions and perceptions of your business are key.  A good reputation can be your company’s most important asset.  Once lost, you may never get it back.  For start-up businesses, particularly innovative and technology-driven companies, establishing and then maintaining a good reputation is crucial for survival and growth.  Effective public relations can help SMEs to manage their reputation.

Public relations can be much cheaper than advertising, and more valuable for a small business.  Small businesses tend to have tight marketing budgets and will often get more value for money using PR compared to more traditional advertising.

A positive reference to your company (or brand, product, service, technology) in a magazine article or an online publication is more valuable to you than an advertisement as it would be perceived by potential consumers (or business customers, industry professionals, investors etc) as independent endorsement.

When an audience sees an advertisement, they know the company behind it is just trying to sell to them.  But independent, third-party, endorsement in print or online helps a company to increase its credibility.

Compared to the cost of, for example, a direct mail campaign or a series of newspaper advertisements, a public relations success could easily pay for itself many times over.  One positive print and online article, in a reputable publication, can generate sales, increase interest in a company and create awareness of its products & services.  And it will enhance the company’s reputation and build its credibility.

With so much at stake, can small businesses afford NOT to use public relations?

[This was originally posted for Crystal Clear Media]