PR for SMEs and start-ups: what to expect from a PR campaign

Building reputations: PR for SMEs


“I want to build my reputation, but I’ve been stung by PR agencies in the past.”

Sound familiar? Sadly, I hear it a lot, particularly from SMEs and owner-managed businesses. I’m not in the business of PR-bashing – there are enough people out there doing that – and often when you probe a bit, the problem isn’t bad work, it’s failure to manage expectations. Building a reputation for a new B2B company is a different game entirely from managing and maintaining one for an established brand. And I think sometimes that’s not made clear from the off.

What should a small, growing business expect from a PR campaign?

If you’re a new company, or a small business looking to grow, PR is a really important tool in building a reputation in your market. But I’ve worked with people in the past who’ve expected PR to work on its own to deliver leads on its own, with no other marketing or sales support. (PR can deliver sales, of course – but this can be hard to measure exactly, and in my experience it usually happens when PR is working alongside other disciplines such as marketing and SEO.)

What to expect (and what you can measure):

  • To have a voice in your industry. This could be on blogs, in news media, videos, social media – anywhere your customers might see you. Start small, but think big, and build your voice over different channels
  • Good content that gets people talking about you and sharing on social channels
  • Increased web traffic (but don’t just measure referrals from media; your traffic might come from increased search that results from greater awareness)
  • Increased exposure over time
  • Improved search rankings through improved ‘authority’. PR should always work closely with SEO
  • A gradual build in brand recognition, and association with specific messages among your audiences
  • In a small team, there’s likely to be some anecdotal evidence of improved awareness, too – it’s easier in a small business to track where a customer heard about you, or who recommended you, and what they’re asking for when they call (which might have been influenced by something they read)

What you probably won’t get:

  • Immediate and regular national coverage. So many people seem to be promised this at the pitch stage, lured by ‘we know the so and so editor at the FT and I’m sure they’d love to profile you’. Media relationships are important, but they’re not enough to secure coverage on their own. You still need a newsworthy story. Some SMEs are interesting enough to be on the Today programme, but certainly not all – and even those that do are unlikely to be in the national news spotlight regularly
  • The phone ringing off the hook on day one. Yes, you should see an increase in sales leads, and some milestone coverage will get the phone ringing, but this is more likely to happen over time

What you should look for in an agency: 

  • Relevant experience of doing PR for SMEs. If an agency has worked with businesses like yours before, they’ll know your market. Don’t just look for size of the brand, look for whether they’ve built a reputation from scratch before
  • Flexibility. I’m not talking about giving away hours for free, but being flexible enough to move as quickly as you do. Growing businesses change on a weekly basis, and need an agency that can accommodate that
  • But the most important thing I think is to choose a PR team (or agency, or individual) that you trust. If you can both be honest about what you want to achieve (and how to do it), you’re half way to achieving it.
growing businesses, PR, PR for SMEs, start-ups
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