PR for SMEs and fast-growth companies

I was invited to take part in the latest of Cision’s webinars today, which was on PR for SMEs. It was really enjoyable, and there were some great questions afterwards. We covered a lot of areas, including: what startups, SMEs and fast-growth companies can expect from PR; how to set up a campaign; how to measure it (particularly if you don’t have the budgets to measure behavioural or attitudinal change); and how to make PR really work for you.

There’s a summary of the key points of the webinar below, with answers to some of the questions I was asked. We’ll be writing this up more fully into a white paper soon, so check back over the coming weeks or get in touch if you’d like more information. You can also hear the whole webinar on Cision’s website.

What fast-growth businesses can expect from PR

We covered five main areas here:

  • PR gives you a voice. This is the thing small businesses say more than anything – they just want a voice in their industry, and for people to know that they exist.
  • Great PR will create credibility. By being published or quoted in a decent publication that’s respected by your potential customers.
  • A PR campaign will create awareness. PR raises awareness of your company among the people who will buy from you. It might not just be via media. It might include events, networking, communities, LinkedIn posts, social media, blogs or associations.
  • It can bring your business to life through storytelling. In-depth articles or blog posts can explain complex messages or concepts.
  • It gives you a footprint online, and in search. With so much importance given to authority on Google rather than numbers of links, PR can create links from and discussion on authoritative sources that have a positive impact on your search rankings and visibility.

How to set up a PR campaign

A lot of startups and SMEs think PR is either sending out lots of press releases to the media, or launching products with a press event. Neither of those things work for SMEs. Unless you’re Google (or Donald Trump), you’re unlikely to have enough that’s interesting to say to keep the media listening to you, or to fill a room. So what can you do?

Know your audience. Who are your customers? Where are they? What  do they read? Are they on social media? What events do they attend?

Refine your message. You should be able to describe your company in three words. Keep it simple, and don’t use jargon.

Think about how your customer will describe you, and adopt their language. Define your tone of voice and the kind of language you want to use.

Create your own content to bring people back into your world. ‘Own’ something. It might be a white paper, a piece of research, or a campaign – have something that people associate with you.

Think visually. It’s easy and affordable to create eye catching images and video. (We’re in the process of doing this at Carrot, and it’s a subject for a future blog post!)

Put the work in. PR is hard work. Make time to write a blog, post to social media, talk to journalists and analysts.

Don’t expect PR to work in isolation. It works best when it’s part of a bigger marketing picture. Put some money behind things like promoting white papers, or paid social media to support it.

Join networking groups and speak at everything (that’s relevant to the business) you get invited to. It’s good practice, and you never know who’ll be listening.

Have an opinion, and express it – as long as it works for the business. One of the questions I was asked in the webinar was whether it’s good to be controversial. It makes good copy, but make sure it doesn’t damage your business in the long-term.

Ask for recommendations and endorsements from clients. Journalists (and potential clients) would rather hear genuine enthusiasm for the product from a client than they would the brand itself.

Be flexible. Things change really quickly for most small businesses. Your PR should adapt to that too. If your programme is too rigid, you won’t be able to respond quickly to topical events, or last minute media requests.

Be realistic. If you’re small, you probably won’t get regular national press coverage. But you can be smart about what you do.


There’s a lot of debate about what should – and should not – be measured when it comes to PR. The industry is moving towards measuring outcomes rather than outputs, thanks to AMEC’s Barcelona Principles, and is slowly killing off AVEs. In an ideal world, you’ll track behavioural and attitudinal change. But I’m a realist, too, and I know most SMEs don’t have the budgets to do that. But there are smart things you can track that will give you an idea of whether PR is having an effect.

  • Track visibility among target audience, sales leads, followed links to your website, social media shares, engagement – at events, on social media, and in real life, and search performance.
  • Don’t track the number of impressions, Advertising Value Equivalents (ugh – horrible, spurious numbers that tell you nothing meaningful), number of articles, number of followers on social media.

Overall, chase quality not quantity. A small circulation blog might have a far bigger impact on your business than the biggest circulation newspaper.

Make your PR work for you

What you get out of PR depends on what you put into it. The best clients are those who:

  • Turn round comment at short notice, so they hit journalists’ deadlines
  • Treat a media or analyst opportunity with as much thought and preparation and commitment as they would a sales opportunity
  • Have an ongoing, positive conversation with the PR team about what’s possible. The best client/agency relationships are those where we have a really constructive and honest conversation about what’s worked and what hasn’t, and use that experience to inform what we do next

I was asked how to engage the whole company in the PR process, which is a great question. I think people need to understand their role in PR, and what is or isn’t good for the business (and what the consequences could be). If you treat your team well, they’ll want the business to have a great reputation. If you don’t…they probably won’t care.

Another attendee asked at what point a business should start PR. My advice there is, once you have a great product, a customer base, and some insight. PR works best when you can prove the value of the product or service.

There were lots more great questions, which I’ll try to address in future posts. As ever, if you’d like to know more, do get in touch. And if you attended the webinar and have a question, I’d love to hear from you.

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