You’re eager to make a name for your business, but getting in front of the right people (or, honestly, any people at all) can feel like a challenge. That’s especially true for small business owners who don’t have large teams or endless resources to dedicate to marketing or public relations, commonly abbreviated as PR. The good news is that reaching new audiences doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task—especially if you follow this expert advice for small business owners who want to handle their own PR. What is PR? The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”That definition can feel a little formal. Ultimately, think of PR as the efforts you make to spread information about your business to an intended audience. In practice, that could include: Contacting a local news station to do a story about an event your business is hosting. Putting together a press release with information about a new product launch. Connecting with an industry-relevant podcast to pitch yourself as a guest. Does that mean PR is the same thing as marketing? Not quite. While marketing is focused on promoting your business or products for the sake of increasing sales, PR is about establishing trust or expertise and cultivating a positive reputation for your entire company. Steps to Get Started With PR While PR will require some effort on your part, getting started doesn’t have to be daunting. Get started with the following steps. 1. Know Who You Want to Reach Ultimately, you have two audiences in PR: journalists and potential customers who read what the journalist writes. Start by composing a list of newspapers, TV stations, podcasts, magazines, and other media that cover topics that are relevant to your industry and that your customers also read, watch, or listen to. Not sure where your target audience spends time? You can learn a lot by surveying your existing customers about where they get their information and the type of media they consume. 2. Polish Your Pitch A lot of PR involves proactively reaching out to journalists or other media contacts to pitch a story about your business. That’s an important distinction—you need to be pitching a unique angle or newsworthy information, rather than a general rundown of your business. “When pitching, always ask the question ‘How will access to this story information help the journalist I am contacting?’” advises Mandy Menaker, the global head of PR at ClassPass. “If you don’t have fresh data, useful insight, or a launch that is interesting to that journalist’s intended audience, wait until you do to reach out.” Some examples of potential newsworthy pitches for small businesses include: Pitching the local paper or bloggers - Examples of possible pitches include: Grand opening of a local business Special promotions related to major holidays Special events Pitching trade publications - Examples of potential pitches include: Research or interesting data unique to your business Profile of an industry leader New product announcements 3. Use PR Tools While crafting an impressive and targeted pitch is crucial, many business owners also run into problems finding outlets to reach out to. There are a number of resources to help you do that, with some of the most-recommended options being: Help a Reporter Out (HARO) - Using this platform, journalists can post queries looking for people with specific knowledge or experience. ResponseSource - This platform pulls together media opportunities from Twitter and delivers them to your inbox daily. Twitter Lists - Social media is generally another effective tool to build relationships, with many experts pointing to Twitter specifically. “The value of a private Twitter list of target journalists is priceless,” says Crystal Richard, a publicist and PR coach. “Not only is it a great way to spot timely opportunities, but you can also authentically get to know the journalists you are planning to pitch.” PR is a long-term effort. Even if you don’t find opportunities or requests that are the right fit for you today, it’s worth continuing to check. 4. Communicating With Reporters When you’ve got your story idea, remember the following before you start contacting reporters. Identify the right target - Do some research and make sure you’re targeting the right reporter and the right outlet. If you’re pitching the local evening news on a new medical technology, don’t call or email the weather person. Familiarize yourself with the publication and its staff to ensure that you know who covers what beats. Be brief and get to the point - Reporters are busy and don’t have time to read a small novel to understand what your pitch is. An effective pitch should only be a paragraph or two and should lead with the most important or relevant details. Clearly explain what the story is and why it’s important - If a reporter has to guess what the story is, they’ll likely lose interest before ever finishing reading your email. 5. Prepare For Interviews Congrats! A reporter got your pitch and is interested in interviewing you. The work doesn’t stop here. Remember the following after agreeing to an interview. Be prepared - Leading up to an interview, make a list of the key talking points you want to convey to the reporter. Rehearse those points in advance so you can communicate it effectively and naturally. Remember that you don’t have to answer every question - If a reporter asks a question that is inappropriate or not applicable, you don’t have to answer it. Don’t guess - When you’re being interviewed, everybody always wants to sound smart or be seen as the expert. However, if a question comes up and you don’t know the answer, there is nothing wrong with telling the reporter that you don’t know, but that you can check and get back to them. 6. Share Your Press Wins You did it—maybe you landed an interview during a local news broadcast or were quoted in an article about thriving downtown businesses. Sure, it’s time to celebrate—but don’t stop there. You can make the most of the new exposure and strengthen your relationship with that specific media outlet by promoting that feature to your own network. In addition to sharing on social media, you can also add links to any media mentions to a press page on your website to give your business some added credibility. PR Mistakes to Avoid As you’re developing your PR strategy, there are several missteps you will want to avoid. Over-Promising and Under-Delivering People want to be helpful or impress the media, so they make promises they can’t or don’t intend to keep. This can be as simple as promising to get back to a reporter with follow-up information and failing to do so. It can include promising to provide them an exclusive on a story or provide them with industry data and statistics, only to not follow through and give them what you’ve promised. An Inability to Meet Deadlines The media is driven by deadlines. It’s what makes or breaks their success. If you are given a deadline or know a reporter has a specific deadline and you fail to meet it, you cost the reporter a story, success, and prestige. You also damage your reputation and quickly become somebody the media knows they can’t trust or rely on to deliver what they need when they need it. Arriving Late An inability to arrive on time is a sign of laziness and demonstrates that you don’t care, that an interview or meeting with the press is unimportant. When working with the media, it can destroy your brand and reputation. How to Work With a PR Agency If you’re ready to expand your PR strategy and bring on a PR agency, remember that an agency can be effective only if you are dedicated to working with them to achieve your goals. An agreement with a PR agency should not be a relationship where the company hires the agency and expects the results to just magically appear. The most effective approach is to view your relationship with an agency as a partnership. Here are four steps to ensure that you’re PR relationship is a true partnership: Know what you want to accomplish - Your PR team can help manage expectations and help guide you on how to accomplish your objectives, but it’s critical that you know what your overall business goals are and what you want to accomplish both short- and long-term. Commit to PR success - Just like any other goal, whether it’s weight loss or a personal best in a running race, you have to commit to, be dedicated to, and be driven to accomplish the goal. Spend time thinking about these goals and work with your PR team to accomplish them. Track progress and strategize with your PR team to reevaluate and make changes and adjustments as you go. Meet regularly - By meeting regularly and discussing issues and company initiatives, your PR team will know and be able to recommend what topics and issues are relevant and can be used to pitch the media and help accomplish your goals and objectives. Take advantage of opportunities - If a reporter or media outlet agrees to interview you, write about your company, or allow you to contribute in some way, there’s a reason for it. They are interested in what you and/or your company are doing and think it will help them while providing something interesting to their readers. When these opportunities present themselves, you must take advantage of them. Getting started with PR for small businesses can be a game-changer when it comes to building your brand, generating buzz, and attracting new customers. Remember, PR is not a one-time effort, but a continuous process of building relationships, telling your story, and showcasing your unique value proposition.