Why your small business startup actually DOES need PR
A letter from the founder
I don't always write the blog, but when I do, I tell it like it is..
When it comes time to talk shop, I’m always fascinated by the response I get after telling someone that I work in public relations. Sometimes, their impression is that I spend my days hanging out at Hollywood parties, and other times, they think I work in politics - ha! While both may be true on some level for some of the PR professionals out there, that is definitely NOT how I would describe my day-to-day. Have I attended events, or “Hollywood parties” for work? Sure, but I was working and sober for most of it. As for the politics, no thank you. Generally speaking, I think it’s safe to say that the public’s perception of the PR industry is incredibly skewed to say the least - and no, the irony is not lost on me.
It seems that very few people really even know what a career in PR entails, and even fewer can clearly define the term “public relations”. It's become painfully obvious over the years that the general public has absolutely no idea what we “do” as PR professionals. What’s worse, is that by nature, humans are designed to fear that which they don’t understand. It’s science, and that fear has kept us alive as a species for a very long time - but, I digress. The point is, I literally had to walk my mom through what “a day at the office” looks like for me when I was visiting over the holiday break. I’M HER DAUGHTER, I CAME OUT OF HER BODY AND SHE HAS NO EFFING CLUE WHAT I’M DOING WITH MY LIFE.
Then, to add insult to injury, we have to combat the online “business gurus” who love to tell small business owners and ambitious startup entrepreneurs that they “don’t need PR”; it’s just a “waste of money” and they can “do it themselves”. Oddly enough, if you scroll down to the bottom of those very same articles written by your guru, you will likely be met with a plug for some business coach/mentor program/webinar/mastermind aimed at - yep, you guessed it - helping small business owners and startup entrepreneurs build their brand.
Well, would ya look at that?!
Lucky for you, I’m here to clear up any confusion, once and for all. As an added bonus, I’ll even throw in a few rebuttals for the online business gurus. By the end of this piece, you’ll have a crystal clear understanding of why your small business or startup actually DOES need public relations if it wants to succeed.
First things first - what is PR and what does it “do”?
Unfortunately, PR has become somewhat of an umbrella statement over the years. More so over the last decade with the influx of social media and various digital media platforms, the waters have definitely become a little murky. It’s really no wonder there is so much confusion out there when it comes to what it is exactly that PR can “do” for your business or brand.
The term “public relations” comes with a slew of sister terms. I call them “sister terms” because they live in the same house, under the same roof. These sister terms might include: visibility, brand awareness, media relations, brand development, digital marketing, and so on. The family tree branches out from there, and the actual services offered from agency to agency will get more specific the more niche the agency’s specialization becomes.
Now, we also have a handful of cousin terms. I call them “cousin terms” because they are related, but they are not immediate family, and definitely are not under the same roof. Cousin terms include: advertising, media buying, and even traditional marketing. WAYMENT - I thought you mentioned marketing under the sister terms though?!
Now back to that umbrella -
Most of today’s millennial-driven PR agencies offer social media management services, even though social media is often thought to fall under “digital marketing”. For me personally, this is a no-brainer. When we keep everything under one roof, we are easily able to keep messaging cohesive across all platforms, including visuals as well as all verbiage.
(True story: In the past, we had a client who wanted to “cut costs” so he decided to outsource his social media to China - literally - while we continued to handle his PR and media outreach. Given the language barrier, as well as the time difference between our team and the social team, it became almost impossible to keep things cohesive. Fast forward a year later, and that entire company actually went out of business. Likely due to cutting corners, coupled with poor messaging, he was never really able to establish any brand loyalty.)
That said, “digital marketing” is really just a branch on the family tree of traditional marketing. Another branch on the marketing family tree, would be “email marketing”, which as a PR agency, we can also cover. Confused yet?!
Look at it this way - public relations, advertising and marketing are all related and they thrive within a symbiotic relationship, meaning they work best in conjunction with one another. The finer details along the family tree branches will differ from agency to agency.
The main thing to understand about public relations is this: the overall goal of these efforts is to gain visibility and credibility for your brand and business, in order to help the public know, like and trust you.
How does PR gain visibility for your small business or startup, and why do you NEED it?
Whether you are a product based business or service based business, a B2B or B2C, it makes no difference - in order for your business to succeed, it will have to make sales, right? If you are not interested in making sales, then you my friend do not have a business, you have a hobby and you can actually just stop right here.
So assuming you understand that sales will be a vital life force for your business, you will need to let the public know that you exist and that you have something for sale, right? You might have spent years sketching, planning and developing the cutest line of kids clothes, but if no one knows your kiddie clothing line exists, you’re not likely to sell any of it.
So, we agree - no matter what kind of business you have, you will not survive if no one knows you exist. If no one knows you exist, you won’t make any sales, and we’ve now established that sales are necessary for your small business or startup to survive. Which means, in order to make sales, you’re going to have to let people know you have something for sale.
A few ways you might want to let people know you have something for sale would be: sharing it on social media, being a guest on a morning news segment to invite the public to your grand opening, or maybe have a few foodie bloggers sample your menu before you even open so that they can share it with their audience.
These are all tactics used to gain visibility and credibility for your brand or business. Call it public perception, call it what you wanna call it - but if the popular girl in school starts telling everyone that you make the best damn chocolate chip cookies this side of the Mississippi, people who trust her opinion will likely want to taste it for themselves.
Now, back to the family tree. Further down the branches, we have SEO, influencer relations, brand partnerships, social media ads, and so on. Again, these are all ways to get the public to know, like and trust that YOU are the go-to person or entity for THAT thing. All of which, are commonly handled by modern, full-service PR agencies.
But, I don’t have the budget for PR and whatshisname said it was a waste of money?
Here’s the thing - whether you launched a crowdfunding campaign, took out a business loan, turned your friends and family into angel investors or maybe even saved money while you started your business from a side hustle - at some point, you had to come up with the financial capital to get started. Now, with that capital, typically comes a business plan. Generally speaking, a bank or investor will be pretty hesitant to put up any capital if you can not produce a solid business plan, and that business plan's budget will likely need to allocate funds for marketing. Like, a huge chunk of that budget should’ve been for marketing - which we obviously know, is the way to let people know you exist. A strategy for PR, digital marketing, brand awareness - whatever umbrella you want to put it under - should be a cornerstone in your plan for your success. It should go without saying, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
When meeting with a prospective new client, the budget eventually and inevitably becomes the topic of discussion. It’s always fascinating to see how incredibly different each person’s approach is when breaching this topic. For me personally, I’m happy to verbally give you a general price range for services based on what we’ve discussed so far, and I will deliver that number just as matter of factly as if you had just asked me what time it is. Why? Because I’m assuming that you have already come to the above conclusion - YOU WILL NEED TO LET PEOPLE KNOW YOU EXIST AND SURELY YOU’VE CONSIDERED THAT WHEN ALLOCATING YOUR BUDGET.
(Side note: Often times I’m also assuming that before consulting with a PR professional, or any professional for that matter, you might have also run a quick Google search regarding service pricing. Even just getting a feel for industry standard pricing will save you the sticker shock when you find out it can’t be done for $100 (remember that chunk of your business plan budget?). If you’re looking to buy a new car, you wouldn’t just roll up to the dealership with literally NO clue how much cars costs these days, right?)
That said, if the idea of letting people know you exist, and that you have something for sale, has only occurred to you as an afterthought, we have a much bigger problem. When is the best time to start planning and budgeting for this? Yesterday, if at all possible. The last thing we want, is for your small business or startup to get all the way to launch day or grand opening, and literally be met with crickets. The goal should be to tickle the public’s nose with the sweet smell of whatever you’re cooking, long before the timer ever goes off. By the time you ring the dinner bell, they’ll be ready to eat!
But can't I just figure it out later, or do it myself?
How can I put this nicely? No.
You won’t “figure it out later” and you likely won’t be able to do it all yourself. The online business gurus who sold you that ideology, probably also sold you admission to one of their small business masterminds/webinars/coaching programs. I should preface this by saying, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to soak up all the knowledge you possibly can, but, you can’t do it all. You can do some of the things and get great results, or you can attempt to do all the things and get minimal results.
Let me explain..
Let’s say I make the most amazing gourmet cupcakes, and everyone’s always telling me I should open my own cupcake shop. Finally, I decide to take the leap! I get a loan from the bank, find a cute little brick & mortar commercial space in West Hollywood and start putting my business plan into motion. First things first, my space has to be built out, so now I’m dealing with contractors, permits, deadlines, and plenty of other headaches. Next, I’ll need to hire and train staff, and I guess I should probably decide on a POS (point of sale) system so we can ring up sales, right? What about inventory, and ingredients or supplies for baking? Also, what flavors will I offer? Should I just try to coast on my handful of fan favorites, or should I expand? Maybe I should get into the kitchen for a little R&D?
Finally, the big day is here, and we’re ready to open the doors! Do I know anyone who works at a local paper, or maybe has a connection and can help me share it with the public? What about social media, maybe I’ll just let the girls in the shop post some cute photos when they have time.
Fast forward a few months, and between working 10-12 hour days, accommodating the various staff members’ schedules and egos, staying on top of inventory, and coming up with new cupcake concepts - I'M A SHELL OF A HUMAN WHO’S BEEN SLEEPING ON A COT IN THE BACK ROOM FOR THE LAST MONTH, AND THE THOUGHT OF TACKLING ANY KIND OF PR OR DIGITAL MARKETING LITERALLY MAKES ME WANT TO VOMIT.
The point is, if you’re giving 100% to whatever it is that you do best, there is NO WAY you could give your PR and marketing efforts 100% as well. It’s literally impossible, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Yes, you do have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyonce, but the difference is, Beyonce pays people to handle anything outside her zone of genius, which is: singing like a sweet song bird and serving up looks.
There’s a reason why agencies like ours exist, and there is an entire industry of people literally doing this work all day, every day - BECAUSE IT’S A FULL-TIME JOB. It’s best to stay in your lane, which is also known as your “zone of genius”, and do what you do best - after all, that’s why you went into business, right?!
Some will say this is all one big sales pitch, but I can not stress this enough: It makes no difference to me whether you hire your brother’s girlfriend to do your marketing and PR outreach, or if you bring on an unpaid college intern - the point is, you can NOT do it all and this DOES need to be part of your business plan if you want to stay in business.
The coup de grâce
The cold hard truth is, I can offer you all the free worksheet downloads, webinars, and online trainings in the world, but at the end of the day, that will only take your brand or business so far. We actually have, and do, offer a ton of helpful resources to small business owners and creative entrepreneurs. You don't even have to be a client to attend one of our mini social media workshops or branding boot camps, and we even offer free, downloadable worksheets over on the Brand DIY page to help get the creative juices flowing. These resources really behoove creatives and entrepreneurs who are typically just starting out and looking for a little inspiration when it comes to bringing their vision to fruition. But again, they will only take you so far.
To be clear, I truly believe in being of service and adding value. I’m happy to be a source of support when I can, whether someone has the budget for full service PR and/or social media services or not. One, because I wish I had that kind of help when I was starting out, and two, because I know that if that young brand or business continues to grow, they will have the budget at some point AND they'll eventually realize that in order to continue growing, they will have to take some things off their plate. There will come a tipping point when the reality sets in that try to do it all has become pretty time consuming. Growing + Scaling = Outsourcing.
Outsourcing = getting back to what you love most
When the time comes to start outsourcing PR and social media, we'll be here with open arms!