Opinion: How SMEs can get the most from PR

Luke Budka, director at TopLine Comms, tells us the challenges SMEs face when it comes to PR, and what to keep in mind when looking to appoint an agency.

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Luke Budka

The main PR challenge for SMEs? Time. But then that’s pretty much the main challenge for every SME when it comes to doing anything outside of the key day-to-day selling and servicing.

Truth is, while a nose for news and an enviable media contact book is the preserve of the PR agency, SMEs can quickly learn how to do the PR basics that’ll help them raise awareness, if they’re prepared to invest the time.

There are some excellent training courses out there for SMEs doing PR on a tight budget, and if you’re serious about getting it right it’s well worth investing and sitting down with a journalist like Janet Murray (runs great one day PR courses for SMEs) to get a good grip on PR fundamentals.

But that’s more an S than an M viewpoint. Once a business grows, the challenge becomes making an agency appointment, and sorting the good agencies from the bad.

Here are three important questions you need to ask yourself before beginning an agency appointment process:

1. What level of success do you expect? And what’s realistic? Do you think an agency appointment will mean national coverage every day? If so, you’re likely mistaken (unless you’re flogging the actual elixir of youth). Consider what level and kind of coverage will make a difference to your business and then brief the agencies you speak with accordingly. It’s much easier to measure their success then too. Also, remember all the creativity in the world is pretty much worthless (as TopLine CEO Heather Baker mentioned in her recent post on selling creative ideas) unless it supports your business objectives. Agencies need to understand your business challenges – then it’s up to them to find creative solutions.

2. Is PR enough? As an SME, you’ll likely need the awareness and credibility PR provides, but are you expecting a PR agency appointment to result in an increase in inbound leads? If so, a pure PR strategy isn’t for you – beware any agencies that claim PR is a cure-all. It’s not.

3. Do you have the time to invest in the PR drive? We’ve worked with companies who think the appointment of a PR agency means they can wipe their hands of comms responsibilities. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true. Increased levels of exposure and opportunity mean a greater commitment for the SME founder, as they often know their business and industry best, and can speak with the most passion and authority on relevant topics.

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