Let's clear something up. Public relations has an unfounded stigma that it only serves to work for "the man." I'm here to tell you that that simply isn't true. While yes, big corporations can obviously afford to have large PR firms on retainer and rely on them when scandals inevitably come about, but they aren't the only ones who need or use PR. A coworker of mine recently wrote about how everyone is a PR rep in the digital world. That sentiment carries weight and can be applied to your small business as well.
PR isn't just about crisis management, it's everything from customer relations to internal communication and more. From the Public Relations Society of America website, "“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
At its core, PR is a management function, which includes... (again from PRSA):
- Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organization.
- Counseling management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization’s social or citizenship responsibilities.
- Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims. These may include marketing; financial; fund raising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs.
- Planning and implementing the organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy. Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities — in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.
Let's break this down.
That first bullet point is probably what most people think of as the extent of PR except for the "for good or ill" part. That is the truth though. The overarching theme of PR today is transparency. People want to believe in your brand and more importantly, trust them. If you're transparent with your failures, you will be back in public favor much faster than if you try to cover it up. It's importatnt to be genuine and transparent.
The second bullet is what most people do not realize falls under the PR umbrella. As we said, PR is a management function and that includes internal management. Company policy, plans of action, formal and informal communication of your employees between each other and customers, all fall under PR's responsibilities. This is where your small business comes into play. Formal policies for how your employees, and you yourself, interact with each other and customers are foundational to how the public sees your brand. It sounds easy, but you can't just force it. Remember, you have to be genuine and transparent, but also maintain your brand's voice and values.
If you think, "I don't need PR, marketing is what makes the sales and sales are what makes me money," think again. PR and marketing are more intertwined than ever. At this point, you can't have one without the other unless you'd like to be thought of as Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. Let's take two of the largest businesses in the country: Walmart and Publix.
Publix has a strong culture of warm customer service and a pleasant shopping environent that customers appreciate and keep coming back for despite the somewhat higher prices. Walmart, on the other hand, has the bargain prices, but employees are often unwelcoming and don't seem like they enjoy working there. If your business, whether big or small, has a friendly, warm and welcoming culture like Publix does, people will want to keep coming back and will not mind spending a little bit more for the fantastic experience. Likewise, your employees will be happier if you have a strong internal culture and attractive values. They may even want to come to work! This is the impact that Public Relations can have on your small business.
So next time you think that PR is only for "the man" and his crisis fix, think again. Now you know why PR is important for small businesses and large ones too. If you want to modernize your marketing strategy by incorporating PR, learn some other techniques in the free eBook below!