Zen and the Art of PR For Consultants and Small Businesses
Public relations is by far the most affordable and effective marketing tool available for small businesses and consultants. That’s a bold statement, but perfectly reasonable when you know the facts. I can’t tell you how many times I am approached by entrepreneurs who ask me, “Can I afford to do PR?” I always answer the same way: “You can’t afford NOT to do PR.”
Advertising is Not Public Relations
First, understand that advertising is not PR, and PR is not advertising. Advertising is simply a tactic by which you pay for placement of an ad—in newspapers or magazines, direct mail pieces or Web mediums—which you hope will generate responses commensurate with the amount of money you spend. The problem with this plan for small business people is that you have to spend a significant amount of money before you reach enough critical mass to make enough sales to recoup the money you’ve spent. At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game, and a game that only large companies can afford.
People Trust News
Public relations is cost efficient, because it delivers more than just numbers—it delivers trust. According to research, people trust news coverage far more than advertising. For example, TNS, a leading marketing information group, announced in early 2009 the results of a survey of 1,000 US households regarding consumer trust. The main result is that people tend to trust the news and what they read in print. As far as advertising goes, not so much.
In that survey, only 35 percent of respondents showed any level of trust in advertising, a number that would concern most CEO’s and their bean counters!
Here’s a summary of the findings:
- Local newspaper credibility – 46 percent
- Local TV credibility – 44 percent
- Print advertising credibility – 21 percent
- Television advertising credibility – 11 percent
- Print advertising trustworthiness – 17 percent
- Television advertising trustworthiness – 9 percent
The reason public relations is more trusted is because of the implicit endorsement of the media organization that covers your story. Let’s face it, if they are willing to put it on their free air time, their editorial space or their web site, it means you were at least important enough for them to expend resources to cover your news. With advertising, anyone who can pay for the space can buy it. There’s not much pre-qualification or trust required there – just a check book.
In addition, a good public relations campaign costs about one-tenth of an advertising campaign. A small advertising budget will buy you a campaign that drops a pebble in a pond, and you hope the tiny ripples reach some customers. A PR campaign has the potential to drop a boulder in that same pond, for the price of advertising’s pebble.
Some retainer-based firms are taking on small businesses and consultant clients at cut rates these days, while “pay-for-performance” style agencies (that do project-based work with placement guarantees) are even more cost efficient because their guarantees help mitigate your risk.
All in all, there are a wide variety of inexpensive options out there for small companies who feel they can benefit from the branding and exposure good public relations delivers. In addition, advertising is an exercise in sales, whereas PR is an exercise in so much more. Good PR counselors help their clients with branding, messaging, positioning, crisis communications and community relations. The better ones know how to position you with the media as an expert in your field so that whenever a story breaks in your industry, you get the proactive call from the media to help them analyze the event and interpret it for their audiences. In many ways, PR delivers a marketing gift that keeps on giving.