In today's competitive economy, a better question is can small businesses afford not to use public relations counsel?
Public relations plans can easily pay for themselves many times over, especially when compared to the cost of advertising (rates range from $4,000 to $8,000 for just a ¼ page ad in major city newspapers) or a direct mail campaign ($20K and up!).
A well-placed news article is a more effective and less expensive way to get a bang for your precious marketing bucks. Yet, many companies equate public relations expertise with the costly monthly retainers often required by larger PR firms. While it's true that large firms may be too expensive, chances are independent consultants and small firms are more affordable than you think.
Many PR professionals offer businesses of all sizes first-rate, affordable services. Seasoned marketing and PR experts often prefer the flexibility and creativity of working independently and their low overhead is reflected in their rates.
So, if you're looking for PR counsel but thought it wasn't in the budget, think again. The following guidelines will help you get started.
Ask for referrals when seeking PR help
First thing's first: Find a public relations professional with good references, sound advice and enthusiasm about your business. Try networking through business colleagues, professional associations and friends. You can also find quality pros by searching articles posted on blogs and online magazine sites. And don't forget the power of the Search Engine.
Know what are you're trying to achieve
Do you want an ongoing PR campaign or a one-time boost related to a new product, store opening or announcement? This will determine your strategy and budget moving forward.
Identify your target audience
Defining your target audience is probably the single most important decision you'll make when implementing a PR plan. Are you trying to reach your customer base or the general population? There are thousands of media outlets - and the number is growing exponentially with web-based news sites - so the more specific you can be about who you want to target and why, the more successful your PR effort will be.
Have realistic expectations and patience.
Sometimes the most powerful news stories are those cultivated over weeks and sometimes months (think “Watergate"). If your business doesn't have a deadline-oriented announcement (i. e. , the date-certain launch of a new product), it often takes time to pique a reporter's interest in a story or angle - but it can and does happen.
Public relations is a powerful tool for companies of any size.
Karen Preiss Miller is a partner in JKP Group, a marketing communications consulting company. For more tips, visit http://www.jkpgroup.com