The power of community: Local PR for SMEs

By Julia Keady

Many SMEs think that public relations (PR) is only for the big operators or those who can 'afford' it. But creating visibility in your community - be it online or physical - is simpler and cheaper than you think.

Fortunately, there are now numerous DIY PR packs and mentoring programs online, so if you or your team don't have PR backgrounds, never fear. The internet offers an abundance of ideas, strategies, templates and case studies to inspire you.

First and foremost, PR is a state of mind. Business owners need to get very comfortable with the idea of talking up their wins, talking up their business and often talking up themselves. In a country afraid of tall poppies, this very notion is immediately off-putting for some business owners.

But as one of Australia's greatest business legends, Lindsay Fox, says: "If you don't have tall poppies, you only have weeds."

Let's look at five PR activities that you can start this week:

Enter awards

Everyone thinks that PR is about media coverage. But it's so much more. Sure, winning an award may lead to media coverage, but there are plenty more ways you can leverage it including featuring in on your website, your e-newsletter, social media, on your shop window, letterhead and more. Entering awards might take time, but winning them sets you apart from the crowd.

Nominate yourself as a guest speaker

Every day across Australia, there are literally thousands of events requiring public speakers. These may be business breakfasts, industry forums, charity fundraisers or the more well-known groups of Rotary, Lions and Apex. Start by sitting down and writing out which topics you could comfortably speak about for 20 to 30 minutes, and then put a twist on them. If you've just started an online bike shop, you might position your topics as "10 reasons I'd never start a physical shop again", "5 things I've learnt from setting up an online shop" or "The future of bikes in our communities". Register with Toastmasters, take some lessons and then start contacting organisations with your bio and topics.

Build an in-house PR army

PR is not the boss's or the marketing manager's job. Make it a whole-company policy. Call a meeting next week and ask everyone to bring one idea for an event, award, public speaking event or media article. Soon you'll start building an 'editorial army' so strong you'll be bounding with ideas and energy to fulfil them!

Connect with your local newspaper and radio

While calling a journalist may seem daunting, you'd be surprised how many want to hear from you. If journalists have one challenge every day, it's finding great stories and great talent to help tell those yarns. Start by following the news and learning who's who at your local newspaper by what they write. When you call them, you'll be able to communicate with them in an exchange rather than as a 'beggar' appealing for their kindness.

Tell them about your expertise and what areas you could help out with (i.e. commenting on education reform, or health and wellness, for instance). Ask them if you could personally send them an email each month with any interesting updates and news from your business and industry. From there, you can build the relationship. This also applies to any media including radio and television. In time, you might be able to offer writing a column for the newspaper and position yourself as a subject matter expert.

Participate in community events

We are the nation of festivals. What events are run in your area that you could get involved with? Setting up a stall and engaging with the public for the day is a great way to have a two-way exchange, sell some products, grow your database and become known as a business that cares about the community. If you can, do something memorable. Local media covering the event may just want to photograph you, which could lead to even greater PR!

So which one are you going to start today?


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