First steps in PR for small businesses: PR strategy and how to lead it

Managing your own public relations as a small business owner is just common sense. But what exactly is PR ‘common sense’? Chris Lee lets you know.

9th September 2009 at 8:45 am

When I first embarked on my public relations career more than a decade ago, my boss said to me: “PR is just common sense, that’s all, common sense”. He’s right, but as a small business looking to form your own PR strategy saying it’s “just common sense” is a fairly vague description.

Knowing just “what” PR is – and what it’s not – is a good platform to start from. PR is not advertising, you do not procure online space, column inches or airtime with PR, but your aim is to secure those via various campaigns and tactics.

PR is the establishment and maintenance of your reputation – trying to ensure that people are talking about you, that those comments are positive and, where they’re not, working to change that perception.

Wish List

A poorly thought-out PR strategy is unlikely to succeed. Small business managers have precious little time on their hands to dedicate to marketing as it is, so getting it right first time is crucial in the long-run.

There are some very simple questions small businesses should be asking before they start managing their own PR:

– What are the objectives of our PR strategy in the short, medium and long term, and how are we measuring effectiveness?
– Who are our customers and what media do they access that we can use to reach them
– What makes our company different from our competitors and how do we communicate and articulate that in a way that’s palatable to press, potential customers and search engines
– What do we want customers, bloggers and editors to say and think about us?

From here, forming a PR strategy is then limited only by your imagination. There are endless things you can do as a small business or start-up to promote your products and services, from press releases to opinion articles, blogs to social networking, customer case studies and creative stunts.

You can engage everyone from your local paper, regional organ and even national newspapers and broadcasters, if you have a genuine story to tell.


Once you’ve worked out who you want to talk to, what tactics you want to deploy to reach them and over which platforms then you need a few more things to get started.

– Build press lists of target publications and writers: You can do this yourself or you can use services such as Gorkana or Features Exec, which can be quite pricey. Think vertically as well, here, there are hundreds of trade publications out there. Building press lists is time-consuming, so it could be a job for that keen graduate intern!
– Build your press release template: Look online for great examples of press releases. For more, listen to this podcast I recorded on this subject recently.
– Identify relevant bloggers and engage with them: Leave non-salesy comments on their blogs, create backlinks. Get blogging yourself!
– Build a news and resource page on your website: This is critical as journalists need to know who to contact if they’re interested in you, plus the more Web-friendly text and links you host on your site will increase your search engine ranking.
– Use free online news distribution sites, such as PitchEngine, Digg or Reddit to place your news, as well as distributing it to your main targets.
– Seek advice on how to handle media calls. Journalists can sniff out inexperienced or uncomfortable spokespeople. Study how politicians and business leaders answer questions on television, these guys receive the very best media training.

The entrepreneur PT Barnum once said that “Without publicity a terrible thing happens, nothing”.

If you’re not engaging in PR already, then it’s time to get your skates on. It’s not a thing you necessarily need to outsource and the only real investment is your time. But it all comes down to getting the basics right, and that’s where common sense comes in.

If you can master that common sense approach, then not only should you be able to look forward to increased business, but my old boss would be very proud of you.

Chris Lee

Chris Lee is a freelance public relations and digital media consultant. Having spent a decade straddling both sides of the technology media fence – within independent tech PR agencies and also as a journalist for IT Week, Computing and latterly New Media Knowledge. Chris is also the founder and editor of Run Marketing, a DIY marketing site dedicated to small businesses.

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  1. Many start-ups and smaller businesses overlook the importance of a good, solid PR strategy. Many believe that putting a few adverts in the local paper will suffice to build their image and name.
    You do not have to have a large budget to have a successful strategy. Just target certain areas, decide which media to use, stick to your message and dedicate time.
    Before you launch your strategy look at the basics. Is your website uptodate, it’s no good promoting your name if you only guide people to “under construction” pages. Have procedures been put in place for dealing with enquiries, no good to stumble at the first hurdle and have no literature on hand.
    It may all be logical things to think about but many people are eager to get started, but are not actually prepared. Do not waste your time or money – hold back until you are ready.

  2. […] Chris Lee, a PR freelancer for startups, has some further advice on managing your own PR. […]

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