January 13, 2014
“If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”
— Bill Gates
Public relations has long been viewed as an undefined element of corporate strategy that serves a supporting role — not as a hard-and-fast, quantifiable part of a business’ return-on-investment strategy. Yet many young, bright entrepreneurs are dedicating much — if not all — of their meager marketing startup budgets to their PR team. If you think your marketing strategy can go without a PR angle, consider the tools a good PR plan brings to the table.
Public relations can serve a lot of functions. It can extend your reach to the masses through a strong social media strategy; it can launch targeted, specific messages through press releases; it can help to boost your image as an expert in your field; and it can raise your business’ profile or alert local media to good deeds your company has done in the community. The trick to PR is knowing exactly how much finesse to put into each communication, and money well spent on the right public relations partner can ensure that the right words are said to the right people in the right order at the right time.
Muscle for Your Sales Team
In war, infantrymen walk behind the tanks, which give them cover and pave a trail through hostile territory. If your sales force is the infantry, PR is the tank. When a member of your sales team meets a prospective client for the first time, your salesman has an infinitely easier road ahead of him if the client has already heard of your business, understands its mission statement, and has a feel for its product or service and knows your business’ story. PR can blaze a trail for your sales team, letting them walk into warm, receptive meetings instead of having to make cold pitches to clients who have never heard of them.
Free Coverage Is Priceless
The media doesn’t charge for coverage. Unlike ads and advertorials, press releases run for free — in the same publication. Paying for space in a publication gets you exposure, but everyone knows you bought the space to broadcast a message. When a publication broadcasts your message for you because they deemed it important enough to cover for free, it carries a whole new weight. New brands launch through public relations campaigns because the media will give disproportionate coverage to things that are new. Free coverage is priceless.
Create a Budget
So you agree, it’s time to create a place for PR in your budget. Your first step has to be to find the software that matches your needs. The best thing you can do when deciding how to make a budget is to not add to it unnecessarily in the first place. You can get comprehensive software such as Mint — which is designed for creating budgets like the one you’ll need for your PR campaign — for free. Even better, since it is a Web-based program, you don’t need to download any software or worry about securing your data locally.
The first step to determining your PR budget is to understand how the size of your business affects your expenditures. Generally, marketing budgets, including PR budgets, are front loaded. This means that a disproportional amount is spent in the beginning, before a brand is established and a returning customer base is secured. Most businesses see a dramatic drop-off in PR spending after three years. How old is your business? How competitive is your industry?
PR is no longer passive. As new technology, social media, and the blogosphere change media, one of the tradeoffs is that everyone with a Twitter account can now have a public relations element, but not necessarily a good one. Public relations is not easy, but it is important. Spend what you can on PR — especially in the beginning.
Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about small business management and public relations.