Business Basics: How growth businesses can take advantage of PR

25 July 2017

Once a month, we sit down with a professional possessing expertise in their chosen field and ask them for practical tips to help SME owners throughout the UK.

From managing business growth to developing an effective support network: our Business Basics series provides a wealth of knowledge which could benefit your small business in the short and long term.

This month, we talk to Rob Skinner, Founder and Managing Director at B2B PR agency Skout, about channelling the potential of PR to benefit growth businesses.

rob skinner skout pr

With a wealth of experience helping B2B firms reach new audiences and increase exposure, Rob understands the importance of PR and the role modern media can play in business growth. Read our interview with Rob below.

The rise of digital has no doubt changed businesses’ ideas around PR coverage. In what ways has this transformation reshaped the discipline, and what new opportunities are available for growing businesses?

To be honest, the disciplines and processes behind PR have not changed all that much. It’s as much about finding and telling compelling stories about your business to the chosen audiences as it always has been. What has changed are the reasons for doing this.

PR used to be quite detached from other aspects of marketing but now PR’s storytelling power is central to delivering integrated campaigns, social media engagement, inbound marketing, content generation, SEO and more. More than ever, integrated PR offers an opportunity to growing businesses to make their marketing work harder and help them compete for business.

 

Many small business owners will recognise the brand awareness and credibility benefits of PR, but what other advantages can it offer? Can PR be used to enhance lead generation, visibility, and other sales and marketing efforts?

Absolutely, but first of all I’d like to defend the importance of the brand awareness and credibility side of things! Of course, it’s vital that you measure the impact PR is having on these things but, long term, PR can make a massive difference to inbound lead generation – because it tells people who you are and lodges this in their memory for future reference.

We’ve worked with one client for seven years, from when they decided to invest more in brand building and less in direct marketing. Today one-third of their incoming sales enquiries are triggered by them being seen in the media. Beyond this, PR is one of the best ways of building vital links to your website for SEO, and its focus on storytelling makes it essential for content marketing.

digital pr opportunities for smes

At which business stage do you recommend that SMEs start incorporating PR into their business growth plans, and why?

I think it can be a different stage for different types of business. Some can survive a very long time without the need for doing PR whereas others naturally gravitate to it at an earlier stage of growth or development. For instance, a start-up with a really different market proposition can use PR to gain quick traction and get investors interested in them, but for other businesses this might be too early.

We recently published a blog entitled Are You Media Ready? This has some handy tips to help businesses determine if they really need PR and are if they can support a successful campaign.

business owners investing in pr

With the proliferation of owned/branded media, specialist sites and trade publications, it could be argued that businesses now have more coverage options than ever. How should a business decide which avenues to pursue in terms of messaging and target media?

Completely true – the spectrum of people and sources of influence that businesses can target through PR has diversified. ‘Traditional’ media has evolved but is still strong and relevant, but there’s also digital media, independent influencers, market analysts, self-published content sites, independent blogs, social media and much more.

However, this diversity means it can require an increasingly compelling and well-crafted story to hit the mark, as the rules of engagement vary from one type of outlet to another. Essentially though, the same old rules apply, with a few twists:

  • Work out what your objectives are – awareness? Lead generation?
  • Decide what audiences and personas you want to target.
  • Find out by what and whom they are influenced.
  • Rank these ‘media’ by digital quality for example domain authority and opportunity for link building.
  • Find out what influences or interests your influencers and the sources you need to target.
  • Build campaigns, stories and content that will be used or accepted by them.
  • Generate results.
  • Measure against your objectives, improve and continue.

benefits of pr for small business

Where would you suggest that small businesses start with PR activity? What are some of the key things they can immediately do to reap benefits?

Here are five easy things small businesses can do to generate positive PR quickly:

  1. Get on Google and LinkedIn! Even if you don’t have media databases at your disposal you can find out who writes about relevant topics or target media quite easily. Draw up a list of key journalists to influence and make your approach.
  2. Don’t be shy about your knowledge and expertise in your specialist area. There are plenty of people out there seeking advice, and providing via the media is a great way to give it to them.
  3. Don’t just focus on the obvious stories about your business’ success. Dig deeper into the business to find the gritty stories that people will actually want to read about.
  4. Integrate it! PR works best when it feeds, and is also fed by, other forms of marketing. If you attend an event, pitch a blog to the media about the trends you heard about. If you generate a press release, consider how you could use it to build website links for SEO.
  5. Keep going! Remember, people need to interact with a brand lots of times before they are ready to buy.

pr team agreeing messaging

What are some of the most common mistakes that growing businesses make when first getting started with PR, and how can these be avoided?

Key mistakes to watch out for are:

  • “We just need to get our name out there…” is usually a signal that the business believes awareness alone will quickly trigger sales and success. PR is often a long game and, in truth, the investment should be in integrated marketing (potentially including PR).
  • “We have a story that we just need you to fluff up a bit…” is usually a sign that the business thinks the media will be automatically interested in what it’s got (and wants) to say. A major part of the skill in PR is finding the angle and format, and then crafting the content, that will work for the target media in question.
  • “We need to generate 100 press cuttings in the next two months…” is usually an indicator that the business has not clearly defined its PR objectives and how it is going to measure success effectively – it just wants its PR resource to work extremely hard! A volume of coverage is important to ensure audiences repeatedly see your brand but it doesn't really tell you a great deal about what business value has been achieved from all of the effort.

pr professional working on campaign

Depending on the nature of their target audience, businesses will want to adopt either a B2B or B2C PR strategy. What are the key ways in which these approaches will differ?

Personally, I don’t think they do differ all that greatly. There are obviously differences in the style of content, type of tactic and perhaps the objectives you’re looking to achieve, however, the underlying principles are the same. You need to define who you want to target, who their influencers are, what stories and content will resonate with them and then define and build the story and the best way to deliver it. From a resource or agency viewpoint, it’s important to find people with experience and capability gained in the right markets.

small business owner starting pr

For those businesses who have already started engaging in PR, what metrics can they use to measure the success of their activity and refine their processes?

There are a number of measurement systems and platforms out there that can be used to great effect. The challenge small businesses face is that these systems can be quite complex and sometimes more suited to large brands whose status, relevance and popularity can change daily based on many different factors and events. The small business is usually less affected by this and therefore less to actually measure.

However, even if you have just five customers, it’s worth using them to do some simple up-front research to find out what they think about your brand and how aware they are of it. Then do the same with a small group of prospective customers who know less about you. This up-front ‘brand benchmarking’ is essential in measuring any future success.

As the PR effort continues, small businesses could think about incorporating other things into their measurement techniques, including:

  • SEO
  • Impact on inbound sales enquiries
  • Competitor monitoring
  • Content utilisation
  • Message inclusion
  • Social media engagement

measuring impact of pr activity

Lastly, should growing businesses or hire an agency or manage their activity in-house? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?

Either option can work well.

Employing a PR agency can be a great way of bringing the resources on board to deliver the PR rather than having to find it within your internal headcount. Good agencies also come equipped with strong media and influencer relationships, tools to help you know who to target and measure performance, and usually a wealth of creativity to help you tell your story in a more engaging way. They’re also useful external eyes and ears, having a more impartial view of your business.

However, it’s important to ensure you get the right agency for you – one with knowledge of your industry, and used to supporting similar types of client. It is also important to ensure you can assign sufficient budget for the agency to achieve the desired level of results. There is more background work in PR than many realise. Find an agency that’s willing to be transparent with you about exactly how they are using the time you’re buying from them and where it’s going.

In-house can work well too, however I would advocate appointing someone with specific PR experience rather than giving PR to someone else with no knowledge of it. Contrary to what’s often thought – it does require a professional and skilled approach. It may not be rocket science but still requires someone to have an interest and passion for it and an understanding of what can be achieved.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, don’t forget to read the rest of the Q&As in our Business Basics series. You can do so using the following links:

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.



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