For small or medium businesses (SMBs) or newer companies looking to make an impact, committing to an annual public relations program can feel like a daunting task – especially when funds are limited and marketing and PR results aren’t always guaranteed. Balancing the desire for public relations and marketing impact with your business’s evolving budget can be challenging as well, but it’s an important distinction to make when it comes to your PR spend.
So how do you know when it’s time to hire a PR firm – and how can you make the most of your limited budget? By taking advantage of a bit of industry knowledge and having a clear sense of your ultimate PR goals, it’s possible to find a happy medium.
1. You need expertise to reach your business goals.
If you have an effective business plan, a marketing plan, and goals for your quarter and year, you’ve already gotten a lot of the heavy lifting done. It’s incredibly common for small-business owners to know where they’d like to go and what goals they want to reach – and there’s nothing wrong with needing a little help to get there.
Know what sets you apart.
If you sit down in a meeting with a PR firm and you tell them what makes your business unique and why you want to differentiate yourself, you’re going to near-instantly be able to maximize the money you spend on PR. Public relations professionals hone in on the best, most newsworthy stories, and knowing where your organization sits in the market can only help make the most of those stories. On the other hand, if you are not sure how to position your firm, PR pros can absolutely help you develop your “elevator pitch” and make sure that your messaging is clear and relevant.
Be prepared to commit.
A solid, strategic PR plan doesn’t come to life overnight, and if you want to maximize your PR return on investment, you’ll likely be asked to commit to at least a three- to six-month retainer. Like with many things in life, PR is a marathon – not a sprint – and a good PR firm will set that expectation early.
That said, don’t be shy about bringing up your budget. PR firms and their retainer scales can vary wildly depending on the scope of your desired project, the size of their firm, and the size of your organization. Some PR firms offer discounted retainers to small businesses as a show of community support, and any good agency will be honest with you about whether or not your finances are aligned with their rates and fees.
2. You have a short-term project that needs extra support.
Unlike a retainer, a short-term PR project – one with a definite start time and end time – is a fixed cost based on estimated hours or scope of work. If your organization is hosting something like a charity event, media trip, or new location opening, this may be a budget-friendly option for you. This may be a more budget-friendly option for organizations interested in engaging a PR firm to achieve a single goal: building buzz around a single event, as opposed to a longer-term engagement focused on building press around your organization.
Ask about packages.
Many PR firms offer “starter packs” for small businesses interested in dipping their toes into PR. If you’re thinking about engaging a PR firm to support a single endeavor but might also want to expand out into longer retainer contracts, ask your local boutique firm about one-off project packages. Every PR firm is different, but many will be willing to work with you on a single project in the hopes of building an ongoing relationship.
Some PR firms offer discounted retainers to small businesses as a show of community support, and any good agency will be honest with you about whether or not your finances are aligned with their rates and fees.
Keep an eye on ROI.
Choosing a specific PR goal that has a start and end date – like building attention around an event or a grand opening – can give you an insight into the potential return on investment you could see if your organization worked with a PR firm on an ongoing basis. While long-term PR goals take time to achieve, there’s nothing wrong with getting a sense of how – and if – PR works for your organization through a short-term project to see how PR could help your company in the long run.
3. You want to protect your brand.
There’s no denying that technology, the internet, and social media can make or break a brand now more than ever before – and the last thing that any small-business owner wants is to be publicly scrutinized. Crisis management is something no one wants to think about, but it’s best to be prepared before it happens, and working with a PR firm is a great way to do that.
Ask about crisis management.
Despite the word crisis in the phrase, crisis management in the world of public relations can be defined as just an unexpected event that negatively impacts a company’s reputation or operations – anything from an errant tweet to a manufacturing mistake. While it’s never a great feeling to know this has happened, PR firms experienced with crisis response and management can help you approach and respond well to the incident without leaving a negative lasting impact.
4. You want to invest in quality coverage.
Like many things in business, the quality of coverage your organization receives may vary along a spectrum. If you’ve had some luck pitching yourself to local organizations or getting a press release posted on the local paper’s website, you likely know the press that generates could be better if you worked with experts. If you’re at that point, engaging a PR firm to boost the quality of the coverage your business is receiving is likely the next right step. Once you achieve good coverage, you can maximize its value by using it as the foundation for social media posts, updates on your website, inclusion in a newsletter and more. Public relations can truly be “the wind beneath your marketing content’s wings” and thereby increase the return on your PR investment.
Remember that PR takes time.
All of that said, it may take months for ongoing PR efforts to pay off, but there is an absolute snowball effect once you get up and running. And once you have created a name for yourself in the market and have learned how to speak convincingly to the media, you will no doubt see the benefits of receiving third-party media endorsements.
Even if you have a limited budget to work with, engaging a PR firm to boost your business goals and get more eyes on the work you’re doing is often the next right step. Each agency has its own expertise, services, and rates, and finding one that gels well with your business is a process that isn’t to be taken lightly. But if you find yourself wishing you had support in reaching your growth goals, getting in touch with a PR firm can be a great way to see how you can elevate your brand and business.