Free PR advice for startups and small businesses

How do you know if and when you need PR?  If you don’t have the budget for a PR agency and you need to remain focused on your business goals and strategy, what do you do?
What if you could ask a PR expert for some free advice?
Free PR advice for startups and small businesses is exactly what I offer.
Even if you are extremely busy and really don’t have the time, it might be worthwhile answering the following underlying basic questions yourself, before you want to answer the overall question if you need PR:
1. What’s the story?
If a journalist would call you now to discuss your business, what would you say? How newsworthy is your story and for whom? Do you have all the facts in order? What would be the impact on your stakeholders if you would share these facts? Do you think your story is not big enough because your product is still in development and do you therefore prefer to decline the request? What do you gain from PR now?
2. What would be the reason for PR?
Write down possible reasons for PR: Are you looking to build a corporate image? Do you need investors, consumers, clients, staff etc? Are your competitors active with PR? Do you have a new website, do you have a new product? Are you acquiring?
The answers to these questions help define if PR could be an option and which channel would be best (e.g. TV, Radio, Print, Social Media, Trade Press or General Press). The answers help define if you could opt for advertising, PR or both and if you would need local or international exposure.
3. Do you have a website which speaks to all your key stakeholders?
Analyse your website and pretend you are an investor, a partner, a consumer, client, potential employee, NGO, a journalist etc. Is all relevant information there, factually correct, up to date, in agreement with your other communication materials, tools and channels and easy to find? Is your website social?
4. What’s your (online) reputation?
Monitoring your online reputation is extremely important. How are social media interacting on behalf of your company or your brands? Are your stakeholders ‘happy’? Which social media are your key stakeholders using? How do you monitor? If you are not using Twitter yet, consider to start following relevant news and relevant stakeholders. It’s also a great tool to connect with key influencers. It can be quite a time consuming tool though and therefore I would advice to appoint a dedicated person for this role. The same goes for writing blogs. Not everybody can write well, likes writing and has the time to do it! If it’s not you, find somebody who does and still can make an impact.
5. Are you ready for the media in case of an issue or a crisis?
If you start to engage with journalists because you have positive news, be aware they will also find you even if you don’t want them to contact you, e.g. in case of an issue or worse, a crisis. It does not matter how small your team is, be prepared beforehand! This means make your crisis manual, make sure roles are clear and the right people are media trained.
6. Are you media trained?
As a minimum, invest in media training. Depending on your PR Strategy you might need more people in media training than only the owner or CEO.
The added value of media training is that you can use the experience and tips in sales pitches and speaker opportunities as well. At the same time it helps shaping your story and building your key messages.
7. Do you know how to write a press release well?
Keep in mind that a journalist should be able to copy and paste (parts of) your press release into an article. Start with the news in your heading and introduction paragraph. This part should capture the most important information. Avoid uninteresting and long titles and be factual and to the point. Further down the page you add proof points and details, but don’t make a press release too long. One page should be enough. Every press release consists of a Notes to Editors with Company and Brand facts that don’t capture news but provide the necessary background information for journalists. Don’t forget contact details.
8.  What does your network look like?
Analyse your network. Who are or might be influencers? Who could give some (free) advice? Who could help with an introduction? Do I have already a connection with the media and is it the right media, the right journalist?
9.  Are you closely following relevant news?
If you don’t already, start doing this. If you don’t know what’s being said, you would not know if or how to comment, pro-actively or reactively. You also need to know what the competition is doing, what influencers are saying etc. Make a list of all the key influential media and monitor them closely.
10.  Have you spoken with journalists before?
If you have not spoken to journalists before, media training will also help you a lot. It’s not that you can just call a journalist and expect he or she is interested. In order to communicate effectively with journalists in most cases you need to offer more than just sending your press release. Expect them to be very busy, critical and in need of a lot more facts than you want to give them, so come very well prepared!
There are many more questions to ask yourself. See also my blog post 10 tips how to set up a basic PR function.
As you can see, there is a lot you can do yourself to kick-start your own PR. Feel free to add a comment or pose questions.

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