Small Business Professor: Making Public Relations Work For You

By Bruce Freeman The Small Business Professor.

Q: I keep hearing from other business owners that public relations is important. Can you explain how this tool can help me?

A: Public relations is exactly what the name suggests: It's a tool to build relations with the public, both the media and potential buyers of your products or services. Public relations, and the narrower field of media relations, can help boost your name recognition and reputation. Here are some do-it-yourself tips:

-Build a media list: Get contact information for local, regional, and national business editors in your field. Follow their stories and columns. If you have a small Widget store, get to know the staff at Widget World and Widget Today. Call the editors to introduce yourself, your new business and newsworthy ideas.

-Position yourself as an expert: Editors always need sources to interview. If you own the local plumbing franchise, an editor may ask you to comment if the county sewage system backs up. Even on short notice, make yourself available. The more you're quoted, the more you'll be seen as an expert. Publishing a bylined article is a great public relations tool; so is an active website. Helpareporter.com is a free online resource many media people tap for sources. Sign up and scan its daily updates.

-Tap your networking skills: Join local business groups, contact people you've worked with in the past, and tap your LinkedIn account and other social media sites for new clients. Give presentations to targeted groups to share your expertise and meet potential new customers.

As you begin to grow or if you don't feel equipped to promote yourself, consider hiring an independent public relations professional. But first, be sure to evaluate their:

-Ongoing media relationships: Make sure the expert you're working with has current, well-established media contacts in your industry. Ask for editorial references.

-Online presence: Does the pro have an active, informative website? How strong are his/her social media skills and presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter?

-Client references: Get the names of several of the professional's clients in your industry and interview them about their experience and results.

-Industry reputation: Is the pro well-respected in his/her field? Have they authored articles or books? Are they considered expert sources by the media? ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Bruce Freeman, an adjunct professor and co-author of "Birthing the Elephant" (Random House), is president of ProLine Communications.

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