If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.
— Bill Gates
When the maven of Microsoft talks, the business world listens. Why? Because Gates took his tiny, garage-based business and turned it into a multibillion-dollar powerhouse. Microsoft has made four people billionaires and 12,000 people millionaires, so it’s safe to say that Gates knows a lot about good public relations.
Take content marketing, which has swiftly become the new face of PR. According to 2013 stats, 70 percent of customers receive their info from branded content rather than ads. Social media marketing, also a staple of the modern PR firm, results in double the leads one would get at tradeshows, through direct mail or telemarketing.
And while not all small businesses can “grow up” to be Microsoft, there’s no harm in trying. Small businesses have a huge impact on the American economy. They employ 50 percent of the country’s workforce, and other stats show that small businesses have created two out of three net new jobs since the early 1970s.
So, how do you take a small business and turn it into a very successful large one? The top minds in business may have had different paths to success, but they all ended up at the same destination. The difference between small businesses that stay small and small businesses that blow up big is one concept: Great public relations.
Many small business owners focus on immediate needs and demands, from pushing new products to holding frequent sales. While these things are important, very little effort is put into brand-building. Good brand-building creates the veneer that a business is both bigger and more professional than it actually is. A publicist is the architect of this process.
The biggest challenge for business owners is finding the time to build their brand. Most small business owners and managers wear numerous hats, from sales manager to maintenance supervisor to receptionist. When a company owner has to make payroll and sell goods or services, being the resident PR or brand-building pro is not just difficult, it is impossible. Time simply doesn’t allow it.
Instead of going it alone, the top successful businesses found a person or team that specialized specifically in PR and building a brand, because the expertise of a solid publicist requires years of experience and training. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, says you need about 10,000 hours of experience to become an expert on anything. The best publicists have put in far more time than that.
Businesses chasing success now invest their time and money into someone who can handle their brand-building work, from start to finish. This gives business owners more time and bandwidth to do the things that matter most to them: Making more sales, finding more customers, and charting the success path of Microsoft.
And one of the most effective things a publicist can do is get your business media attention. This includes getting journalists so interested in your story, product or service, that they feature you on television, streaming video, blogs, news sites, newspapers and magazines. The media can take your message to the masses, free of charge, introducing you to a whole new set of potential customers.
Unlike with some online ads, a trustworthy news source carries an incredible amount of weight, giving your company an extra layer of legitimacy. Studies show, time and again, that people are more likely to try a product if someone they trust gives their seal of approval. Thanks to this paradigm, kind words from a respected source are not just valuable, but worth their weight in gold.
So, how do you get the attention of thought leaders and journalists? If it was easy, everyone would do it. Most editors, reporters, or producers get immediately turned off when people are too aggressive about getting their message out. Want to make a reporter or producer angry? Call them. Badger them. Offer them bribes or beg them for coverage.
Unfortunately, traditional and straightforward follow-up techniques rarely work in this day and age, and many editors and producers have become powerful gatekeepers of any and all coverage. To get around changes in the way things are done, you’ll have to focus much more on storytelling.