Over the past five years, I’ve had many friends and acquaintances join or start small business enterprises in different parts of the world. The question I’m always asked is “Well, PR looks easy, so why can’t I just do it myself?”

My answer is always the same: “I’m glad you think it looks easy!”

There’s an old saying, that a swan glides gracefully on the top of the pond while underneath, its little swan feet are churning wildly. There’s a lot of truth to that saying when applied to PR. The job of most PR people is to remain calm and positive - even when the world around is going crazy - and ensure that the business and spokespeople for the business remain consistent, coherent, and clear on the imperatives for the business and the value propositions the business offers. 

At the end of the day, most businesses are better served by having someone who has experience in creating those messages and ensuring those messages speak loudly through the media, but that hasn’t stopped businesses from trying to do startup PR themselves. 

What is DIY PR? 

The idea behind “DIY PR” is that anyone should be able to speak with the journalists covering the space the business is in. Unfortunately, to some extent, it’s a question of numbers. And - similar to the sales process for selling what your company does - PR is not advertising, where an investment of time and energy results in a definite ROI. 

The process to land ONE story that you are included in looks something like this from a macro level: 

  • Find the journalists who will be interested in your business. You have to then reach out to those journalists in a way that will elicit a response. Remember that every journalist you reach out to is covering multiple stories!
  • Compete with every other business - small and large - in that same space - to get the journalist to take your call or respond to your email. 
  • Create and convey a message that is out of the ordinary to get the journalist excited enough to actually talk to you
  • Give the journalist enough information that they might - you read that right, MIGHT - include this information in their story
  • Follow up with more information and/or industry stats as well to support your claims. (That request will inevitably come right when you’d thought you were done). 
  • Give clarifications on a topic or comment. 
  • The story comes out. You may or may not be included. You start over again. And again. And again. 
  • In the meantime, your other priority tasks are piling up. Maybe a crisis happens. Now all the journalists know who you are - and call you directly. What do you say? How do you handle it? 

In a lot of ways, PR is very much like a “choose your own adventure” book. The process can derail at any point and send you into a dead end. If you’re multitasking PR into your marketing activities, there is a good chance that it will fall off the radar at the wrong point in the process - and then you have to start all over again with nothing to show for it. 

This is the primary reason I suggest to business owners that they figure out what they really want from a PR programme first, before they dive in. It’s always a great exercise to figure out first what you need for your company. Is it air cover? Is it attention for a new product or service? What do you need? Most of the backbone of traditional PR - media relations - isn’t the best or most expedient route to market awareness for small business, and might be considered a secondary step after you’ve built up a strong customer contingent of advocates for your products or service. 

Are you ready to make it happen? 

Please, take the time to get a PR consultant in to talk through your goals for your business and your marketing. There are a lot of things PR can do - and some (like guaranteed ROI) it can’t. He or she will likely also have some good ideas around networking and channels you can use that might give a better result than traditional media relations.

You might then want to retain a PR agency to ensure a broader reach for your PR activities. There are plenty of great agencies who specialise in startup PR and small business PR - quick networking via LinkedIn or your industry associations can often turn up great recommendations. 

Make sure your marketing team is fully on board with any PR activities. Most traditional PR activities are best enhanced by a comprehensive and integrated marketing plan that incorporates different tactics to drive forth a consolidated message or concept into the market. Doing PR alone very rarely if ever creates the perception you want - particularly if you’re a new or very small enterprise. 

Remember, it’s a crowded market with a proportionally small number of journalists, and as much as every business wants to believe they have a truly unique product or service, there is a good chance that journalists may not yet be on board with that concept. It takes a lot of patient education for journalists - much as you might groom a potential buyer to understand why they need to buy your product or service, you need to explain your products and services and what makes them unique or different - sometimes over a period of time, with a lot of supporting information.

In a nutshell, it takes time, energy, patience - it’s a sales process, where the medium is information rather than products or services. And like any sales process, to be successful, it has to be properly attuned to the specific needs and goals of the “buyer” - and the end user as well (the readers of the journalist’s article). 

At the end of the day, it’s your reputation you’re talking about, and PR for startups needs to be handled and managed as professionally as big brand PR. So it’s often more expedient and more productive to hire an expert to support your business goals. 

That said, if you insist on the DIY route to do PR for your small business, or want to do your own PR, really think through your propositions, understand what PR can do and can’t, set reasonable goals, and get ready to madly paddle yourself across the pond! 

For more ways to help your small business stand out in crowded places, grab a copy of this 'Small Business, Big Impact' e-book and start over-achieving on your goals.