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Public Relations for Small Businesses: Interview with Robb Deigh

August 16th, 2010 ::

Robb Deigh

Robb Deigh

Robb Deigh is President of RDC Communication, a strategic communication, marketing, and public relations firm located outside of Washington, DC.  He worked in journalism and PR at PBS, AOL, Blackboard, Inc., and a large PR agency before venturing out on his own 12 years ago.  He’s the author of How Come No One Knows About Us?, as well as numerous articles for trade journals and other publications.  In the following interview with Robb, he offers suggestions on how to get a PR program in place, what mistakes to avoid, and how to track the ROI of your PR efforts.
 
What are the biggest challenges small businesses face when it comes to planning and executing public relations?

Besides the obvious—budget—there are two.  First, their language and messages might be all over the place.  I take clients through a messaging exercise that helps create a strong, solid set of messages that can then be used on their website and in presentations, print materials, and other communications.  If everyone on the team uses the messages, it is a very powerful tool. 

The second challenge is knowing how to get attention using traditional and social media.  Make a list of stories you can pitch to the media and match those stories to the right publications and appropriate reporters.  Knowing how to pitch a story is THE most important PR skill to have.  In terms of social media, small businesses need to get their messages and website in order before deciding to start a blog, use Facebook, or even publish an e-newsletter.  Make sure that before you say something to the world, you have something to say.  If you use Twitter, you know that there is a lot of jibberish out there right alongside useful information.
 
What are some easy ways for small businesses to get going with PR?

Start out by creating your organizational messages.   Get your team together and brainstorm a list of all of your company’s attributes.  Use those attributes to build 5-6 great messages that tell prospects, “Here is what we can do for you.”  Update your website with those messages, since all of your communication is designed to steer prospects there first.  Then, try some press.  If budget is tight, build your own small press list.  What do you and your audiences read?  The reporters at those publications are your targets. Get their email addresses and send them announcements when you have real news.  Put yourself in their place and call them with great story ideas about your industry.  

What should small businesses avoid doing?

Three things immediately spring to mind:

  1. Don’t assign a non-communications person in your organization the task of doing PR.  It will end up taking a back seat to his/her real job.  Hire someone with applicable experience and, if needed, get some outside help.  
  2. When pitching stories, do not call reporters with non-news.  
  3. Don’t blog, use Facebook or Twitter, or publish an e-newsletter unless you have something useful and non-self-promotional to say.   Educate your audience and give them the advantage of your expertise.

How can you track the ROI of your public relations efforts?  Seeing a mention in the press is great, but figuring out if it’s generating leads is probably not so easy.

Absolutely!  A stack of clips with your company’s name in it is definitely not a measure of success.  But clips that include at least one of your 5-6 main messages are of immense value.  That’s part of your long-term public relations ROI.  Make sure that when you do an interview, publish an article, or make a presentation, you use your messages.  In time, you will hear them echo back to you in the news media and elsewhere.  That’s how you know it is working.  Of course, you’ll also know it’s working when your sales increase, because good PR leads to high visibility which leads to higher sales.     

Care to share a couple of success stories?

I’ve helped dozens of companies go from being virtually invisible to being strong brands, but I think my biggest PR/media successes over the years have occurred when I have found good story ideas within client organizations and packaged those stories with 2-3 good sources for the right reporters at the right time. 

When you have a great story pitch, make an initial phone call and then send details by email. If you are doing it correctly, you really are doing part of the reporter’s job—finding good stories and sources.   Make it easy for them to say “yes.”  It works the same whether you are pitching your community paper or CNN (although CNN will be harder to reach on the phone!).

The views expressed here are the author's alone and not those of Network Solutions or its partners.

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