By Shannon Peerless, Head of PR at 10 Yetis Digital
Small businesses don’t have to stay small; the aim for most company founders and senior staff is to grow as quickly as possible in a sustainable way. Of course, there are a number of ways in which to do this, but public relations (PR) activity is certainly one of the most effective marketing strategies for the job.
With consumers taking less notice of advertising these days, brands are on the lookout for a more subtle way to increase interest in their product or service offering and, ultimately, get those leads rolling in. PR is first and foremost a brand awareness exercise, but that’s just one of its many uses; the benefits of carrying out such activity (or getting a trusted third party to look after it for you) are vast, which we’ll look at in more detail today.
How exactly can PR be used to help SMEs raise awareness of their brands?
The Business Story
First of all, there are a lot of media opportunities out there for businesses wanting to share the story of how they came to exist and their journey since. Some national news outlets have dedicated sections for such articles, like The Guardian’s Small Business Network and Telegraph Connect, so it’s worth reading these papers (and their websites) to spot coverage opportunities that could work for you. Your local media will also more than likely have business pages that would like to feature your success story so far. If the business has raised investment/funding, has a quirky or unique story to tell, has seen incredible turnover/profits year-on-year or is expanding the team, there’s a chance that it could be a story that the media want to hear about.
If a brand is centred around a product or service, as most are, and you have something that a journalist could try out and review, sampling is a great idea. This involves sending the product to some target media or giving journalists access to the service to trial. This can work generally for product launches or around key times of the year like Christmas and Valentine’s when journalists will be looking for products to include in their gift guides (but might want to see them or try them before shortlisting them to be included). The more products you can get reviewed by the media, the more brand awareness will increase as the coverage for the products comes in.
Reacting to News
Journalists are always looking for spokespeople and experts to quote in relation to breaking news. For example, if it was announced that fuel prices were being increased and a motoring or personal finance brand had something to say in reaction, a quote containing the spokesperson’s thoughts could be drafted and circulated to the media. Often, this can result in the spokesperson being called up to appear on TV or radio, or the comments simply get circulated to print/online media to be featured in any articles about the subject in question. This can be a great brand awareness exercise, as it positions the brand as experts or just very vocal in their sector, which will keep them fresh in potential customers’ minds.
Stunts & Stories
Another great way to use PR for brand awareness is to consider running campaigns such as stunts and stories. Stunts can be anything from something big and visual in a public places (you’re probably familiar with at least one time that a brand has floated something huge down the River Thames), or something cheaper and smaller scale (like when a restaurant/pub announces a crazy new recipe that hits the headlines, or an attraction lets people with a certain name in for free on one particular day – such as Meghan or Harry on the day of the Royal Wedding). More general stories can include things like surveys to do with topics in your sector, or data-driven pieces using interesting search, sales or booking data that you’ve been tracking.
Content is King
A bit of research will show you that most PR campaigns these days (well, the best ones) are centred on a really strong piece of content, such as a quirky web tool/widget, an infographic, video or even concept images. Journalists are more likely to run a piece on your campaign if it has some hard-to-refuse content as part of the package. Content campaigns are great for brand awareness, as they are great conversation starters, people tend to share the content on social media if it’s engaging enough and everyone’s always wondering what brand or company is behind it.
PR for SEO
Search engine optimisation (SEO), the art of getting your brand’s website to rank more highly in search engine results when people search for your key terms, goes hand in hand with PR. Digital campaigns, which could incorporate any of the above, aim to secure links within online articles and features written by journalists that mention your brand. If the sites that the links are coming from are respected and well known, such as any of the national newspapers’ sites, the BBC and so on, Google recognises that your brand could probably do with appearing higher up in the search results, so it gets a little boost. This has a really positive knock-on effect to brand awareness, as your company will eventually start appearing more prominently in search results for relevant key terms and more potential customers will have eyes on your brand or land on your site. Strong content is key for link building/PR for SEO campaigns.
If you don’t have a way of obtaining journalist contact details and don’t have the budget to bring in outside help or get a media database to use for outreach, a free and easy way to do your own PR and get some good opportunities off the back of it is to monitor the hashtag #journorequest on Twitter. Journalists often use this to send out requests when they’re looking for brands or PR contacts to help them with articles or features. They could tweet that they’re looking for suitable Father’s Day products, for example, or holidays/hotels to review; or it could be more along the lines of an expert in XYZ topic to interview/give advice and tips, or a case study to fit with their article. The point is, you could have exactly what they need.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Some important things to remember are:
- Before starting any public relations activity, it’s best to create a strategy or plan of some kind, that takes into account your USPs, target audience/media titles, your budget, the kind of stories or campaigns you’d like associated with your business and the resources you have available
- You might want to work with a PR agency or freelancer to make your life easier. They will already have good media contacts, strong ideas to for brand awareness PR and the expertise needed to make these campaigns work (as well as wider contacts such as social influencers and bloggers that they can lean on for your brand awareness activity).
- Building brand awareness tends to be a gradual process, but a decent PR campaign can really speed things up and all it takes is one good campaign or idea to set the wheels in motion!