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Public relations is an indispensable tool for big businesses in a fiercely competitive environment. That’s because these companies understand the need for publicity to keep them relevant and visible in the marketplace, and they are prepared to pay for it. Smaller companies on the other hand, don’t always create a budget for PR — yet it can give them the exposure they need to grow their presence, build and improve sales and bottom line performance.
So why isn’t PR higher up on the agenda for small to medium businesses when its value is so readily accepted in the corporate space?
PR is routinely underrated or overlooked when it comes to strategy in small to medium enterprises. That often comes down to reasons which include insufficient budget, a perception of poor value-add (it is difficult to measure results) and the tendency to lump PR into marketing, where it is seen as secondary to other activities rather than being a key driver in building a competitive edge and adding value.
Seeing is believing
But what is the major challenge facing most ambitious small businesses? For many, it is visibility. With an established line of business and a proven method of adding value, the SME that seeks to grow needs to find more customers. That means visibility; the more prospective clients know about who you are and what you do, the more likely they are to engage with you for your products and services.
Today, the internet is the first place to which a great many people turn when they need something. A website is considered essential for all but a very few specific businesses. But your online presence doesn’t end there; in addition to a website, smart small businesses are increasingly turning to their PR company to assist with content marketing.
What is content marketing?
That’s a marketing format in which the creation and sharing of content demonstrates your company’s insights, ability and awareness of issues. It demonstrates your competence and helps new customers to find you.
Content marketing isn’t new, of course. But the internet, in combination with traditional media, makes it accessible to almost any business. Remember that people like to trade with those they know and when your market has an easy opportunity to find out about you, a gap is bridged.
Weighing up the odds
There are a number of areas which compete for funding as you seek the competitive edge. One of the more obvious and popular ones is training; while certainly necessary, this isn’t always the best option for two reasons.
The first is that most SMEs will look to hire mid-level employees who bring with them the right mix of qualifications and experience to get started and add value from day one — whether this be more qualifications than experience, or more experience than qualifications. This is important for SMEs, as many are often thinly- or under-capitalised and can’t carry employees who aren’t yet bringing in income for the company.
The second is closely related: most SMEs can’t afford to invest in training, only to see workers change jobs before the investment in skills is realised.
That compares to training in a large enterprise, which gives a very different result. Qualifications are needed if there are plans to move to management — so, and this is perhaps tongue in cheek — the small business owner needs to be aware of training up staff for possible management roles in large corporations.
Where to find your game changer
Arguably, visibility provides a better competitive edge. Not only does it bring your business to the attention of new customers, but it also has the added effect of drawing in talent. That visibility can be achieved as the result of the tools used by a PR practitioner to market your organisation to the target audience. The right PR professional helps you provide the market with relevant business opinion, showcasing what makes you different; giving your company and brand a voice and speaking to the market.
Low- or no-visibility is a common problem for many highly capable SMEs: they are simply an unknown in the very markets they wish to target.
The lesson is that if you do make PR your focus, your business can stand above those which don’t — and earn the competitive edge you seek.