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It is quite common for growing small-medium businesses (SMBs) to seek out favorable publicity as their business starts to gain traction. As an SMB owner, you want to ensure the profile of your business is raised positively. There are many ways of going about this but the most common approach is to engage a public relations firm. The thinking here is sound as most SMBs realise that as it is not a core strength, they are far better to find a company that specialises in the field of publicity. The next step of the process is the hard part. Finding the right business to work with you. After all, if you are going to engage in a long-term publicity cycle, far better to engage a business that in a lot of ways will be a ‘partner’. The reality is you won’t just be using them for good publicity but also to stop the bad things getting into the press. While the media landscape is changing, and social media is having more influence, it is important to have a cohesive communication strategy across all your media platforms to ensure consistency in your message. Before you start your search for a public relations firm to help you with your quest for market domination, you need to ask yourself a few key questions:  

  1. What is it you are trying to achieve? One-off publicity hit? Continued media coverage?
  2. What is your budget?
  3. What are your short, medium and long-term goals when it comes to being in the public domain?
  4. Have you communicated the message to your staff? Do they know what the strategy is with the media? Are they prepared for the media to call?
  5. Have you prepared for the worst-case scenario? Your product doesn’t work or it breaks? Do you receive bad reviews for your service?

  Furthermore, you need to understand how the media works. For example, many people don’t understand the difference between an advertorial and editorial. For the record, the former is a paid ad that is presented in the form of an editorial but has been approved in full by the client. Editorial copy consists of an independent journalist writing a story where a client is quoted and he or she has no say in how the final article will appear. In my experience when it comes to choosing a PR firm to work with, it is best to analyse the following:  

8 Tips for choosing a PR firm

1. Ensure that at least one, preferably two senior staff members, have worked in the media. When I say media, I mean mainstream such as a daily metropolitan newspaper, mainstream TV and/or radio.

2. Ensure that they have good contacts and know who writes for what section or who covers that area in TV/radio; who the relevant editors are and how to approach them. Make sure too that they understand what is newsworthy and what isn’t. A lot of PR firms do more damage by pitching stories to news editors that were never going to see the light of day and can make a senior editorial person weary of receiving anything else from that agency, thereby making your job of achieving good publicity even harder.

3. Make sure that they understand the market you compete in; your competitors and what they have been up to in the media space.

4. They need to be aware of influential bloggers and social media sites that you can obtain free publicity purely through good reviews and recommendations. The PR firm also must ensure that they understand social media and what strategy works for you. Sometimes this means no communication on certain products/services.

5. Who will be looking after your account? This is a vital question to ask. Often public relations firms will hand your account off to a junior who has no experience and often no idea of what they are doing.

6. You need to ask who are their other clients. This is important, as you don’t want them working with others in your field.

7. Ask for references and check out the clients listed on their website to see what sort of publicity they have been getting.

8. Remember while attracting good publicity is probably one of the easier tasks for a PR firm, it is important that they understand stakeholder engagement and issues management, which can build third party advocacy for your product or service thereby enhancing the value of your brand.

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