Recently, I was chatting to a media professional. This person had attended a presentation given by a ‘PR guru’ talking to SMEs.

She despaired when she heard some of the BS being spouted. I agree with her too, when I think of the business owners investing money in someone who is promising the earth in five easy steps. The theme that getting into the media is easy, doesn’t require any professional support and no budget is a common one (except of course, you do require this person’s step-by-step guide). Well here’s the thing, that guide will show you what I’m going to lay out now for free so keep reading!

I did a little basic due diligence around this person and could find no evidence of any qualifications or experience in PR or journalism, other than setting themselves up a few years ago. This may not matter as being good at something doesn’t necessarily need a piece of paper. Equally being bad at something can also not be related to experience and qualifications. Many of us have met people with years of experience who are just not that good at what they do. However in a world of unknowns there are some basic steps you can take.

Lesson 1 – before you invest in any PR, do a little due diligence. Check the person out. What qualifications do they have? Are they a member of the PRCA or CIPR or any other trade association. Do they have relevant, successful examples of working with clients and gaining them pr? Is there evidence they have worked within the field of journalism, PR or media for a number of years, and do they have testimonials from clients? If not, ask yourself why?

Lesson 2 – a PR professional who only talks about themselves and rarely shares stories about their clients, or even testimonials, is a red flag. It is not just the job of a PR professional to talk about their story, it is also their job to share their clients’ stories. They should be getting their clients noticed publicly, locally or even nationally. Of course they have to sell their own stuff – however if that’s all they do, then ask yourself why is that?

Though, PR isn’t just about getting clients press or media coverage.

Two other things that worry me when it comes to PR, often, the true meaning is not fully explained. By so-called ‘gurus’. Anyone who works with me for an hour, or for years, will know PR is not press or media relations – it’s public relations.  It is the ongoing relationships a business, brand and person has with all of their audiences and that goes hand in hand with reputation. The latter is hard to build and very easy to lose – so it’s incredibly precious.

My speciality is in press/media, however a good PR professional will be looking at your marketing plan – if you have one – and suggesting ways forward. They will advise you on the best way to invest your budget and how the media might fit into that. The advice will be dependent on your goals, what you are selling and where you are in your business journey.

Public relations changes as a business develops and it involves many activities. I’m not an expert in them all however I know when they should be flexed and tried, bringing in other expertise as and when necessary. This will be the same for any PR professional, they won’t know everything, but if they are worth their salt, they will employ other experts if needed.

I’m not an expert in:

  • websites
  • graphic design
  • signage
  • SEO
  • PPC
  • Email marketing (though I’m pretty good)
  • Professional photography
  • Digital sales funnels
  • Sales strategy.

But I’ll know someone who is and someone I can trust.

I am very good at:

  • Media relations
  • Consistent & organic social media
  • Blogging strategically
  • Animation
  • Video content and planning right up to broadcast quality

Lesson 3 – understand what public relations really means before chasing that elusive magic bullet.

There is no expectation that you will automatically get your story in the press or local media. The story has to be a strong one, and has to be relevant to the time it’s shared. A good PR person can’t promise to get someone national coverage. But working with an experienced PR person can help you get your name, or your business name noticed, by working with them over time, and not expecting overnight success.

Another statement that always annoys me, is:  ‘small businesses should never advertise’ – only big brands. This is a load of rubbish. It speaks to corporate PR and purist PR and not the real world that I live in – and so do you. For some businesses advertising is very, very important. Once again, it’s about your goals.

The media are not there to advertise ANY business, they are there to tell stories. Sometimes those stories can be about you or your business – however it will fit the media’s agenda, not yours. Any journalist will tell you that.

So here are four ways in which advertising can help your business:

  1. You want to gain customers from a new geographic area yet you have no story angle for the media to use. Opt for advertorial.
  2. You want to tell a story your way and you want a guarantee that it will be used. When you are paying to advertise, you have that opportunity.
  3. You want to support another small business – most trade publications, on or offline, specialist publications & some hyper local publications are small businesses themselves. The owners need to eat and pay their bills too.
  4. You want to be part of a particular publication’s tribe – however you know they are not going to run a story about you every five minutes, so you invest to be a more integral part of that tribe.

Don’t be seduced by false promises that there is an easy route to a ton of free publicity. Even if you are DIY-ing (and you can) it requires time, investment and strong content, as well as an understanding of how the media works.

If you follow my three lessons above, you should be able to catch the whiff of BS a mile away…