Public Relations for small business made visual

Public Relations is all about building relationships with the company, whether you’re a sole proprietor or a Fortune 500 corporation. This graphic shows the basics for the small business owner. Public relations practices aren’t limited to these four. Not included are government relations, employee relations, donor/member relations, multicultural relations and any other “public” you can think of. Other work includes crisis communication and planning, speeches, events, etc. All require brand development, strategic planning and message development-no matter the company size.


Earn the Right to Be Heard

A recent client for my students reminded me about the marketing adage “the right to be heard”. It’s a reference to the need to demonstrate that you know the client, so that when you pitch them an idea about how to move their business in a direction, they’re more likely to trust you. Same holds true when you’re offering clients solutions as a business owner.

And why targeting your audience is so important. How can you speak to them and motivate them to action if you don’t really know them? How you talk to your family, your co-workers, your friends, your local barista–all different approaches. Why would business be any different? It’s not.

People do business with people they know, like and trust. Sometimes they don’t really “know” you, that’s the role of public relations. Developing a connection with people you want to do business with, provide solutions for, etc. The reason television ads work so well is because you’re in people’s homes. Showing up in their social media often also in the homes, and cars, and boring meetings. Think about how to earn the right to be heard-know the people you want to talk to.

It’s so much easier for them to accept the pitch when you do.

Don’t be a Brutus Backstabber

If you are engaging a speaker for your students, your event or your business,  applying good public relations practices critical for your reputation. I’ve recently been on a public speaking circuit and/or had occasion to help others with their engagements. Thought I’d share some observations.

One of my closest friends teaches high school English. To engage her students in the story of Julius Caesar and Brutus, students were assigned a media relations challenge: conduct a media publicity campaign for either Caesar or Brutus and defend the case. Kids did great jobs: citizen on the street reaction to the death of Caesar, radio scoops interviewing “Brutus” and TV reality shows. For those who have forgotten their high school history, Brutus and Caesar were pals until Caesar started making like a king. Brutus thought a republic with fair representation a better way to go. Seeing his friend’s grandiose ideas, Brutus felt his only option was to take Caesar out-stabbed him in the back. About 3/4ths of the students supported Brutus and the push for democracy, even though killing was extreme. We talked about the challenge in public relations about taking on a client who goes against the administration and when that is appropriate, overcoming oppressive regimes.

My friend invited two of us working in the field of public relations to come “judge” the media efforts. We committed nearly three hours of our time to observe 4-50 students present their cases and provided feedback on the elements of persuasion and public relations they showcased. Gladly arranged my schedule to accommodate this educational endeavor.

But the high school administration became Brutus. My entire experience was ruined when I went to my car. You see I couldn’t find any parking upon arriving. I got to the school at the appointed time but couldn’t find parking and still had to negotiate signing in at the front office. The 6-8 visitor parking spots were all occupied, the street parking was full, so I parked in a spot clearly marked faculty. There were several open faculty spots, not like I was preventing faculty from parking closely. When I returned to my car an astrobright gold piece of paper was on my windshield. The note read

You have parked in a faculty designated parking spot. In future, park in the designated visitor parking. -High School Administration.

Clearly the administration knew I was a visitor and not a student. What an abysmal way to treat a visitor. I had to sign in and state my purpose as a guest. They knew why I was there–to share my expertise with their students. And yet, they left a nasty gram on my windshield. No one asked me where I parked when I checked in. But they sure wanted me to know where to park if I ever came back.

If the high school teacher who invited me wasn’t my best friend, I wouldn’t ever go back. I’ve painted a mural on the wall over a hot summer weekend for the class. This is the third year I’ve volunteered time to provide professional insight to student class work. And one moment could easily have ruined our relationship (mine with the school, not my friend). I told my friend about my disappointment, so this isn’t a surprise. But she wasn’t surprised either. The school administration’s heavy handed approach created a great analogy for the class assignment, fulfilling both Caesar and Brutus parts.

10 Tips on Mentoring Young Professionals

For the industry to improve we need to mentor the next generation. For the last 20 years I’ve been pairing journalism students with public relations professionals in an award-winning mentorship program through the Public Relations Society of America Sierra Chapter and the Theodore Conover chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America. For pros who are willing but had never done this before, I crafted a list of ways to get started. Find a young professional (or 9) and help them grow.

1. Make time. Spend an hour a month with the student. If you can cover food, bonus. Remember when you were a college student.

2. When you meet, share your knowledge about the industry, your specialty, trends you see.

3. Provide insight into the best skills to develop while still in college-whether through course work or club participation or internships or hobbies.

4. Prepare students to handle challenges, confidence, negotiation for internships, jobs, salary.

5. Review resumes and cover letters and online platforms.

6. Suggest interviewing techniques. Describe what qualities you’d look for in an employee.

7. Allow the student to shadow you for a day or a half a day or even a couple of hours.

8. Take students to networking events either PRSA or a professional development group in your field. Help encourage them to meet new people.

9. Share interesting articles or leading edge information that you’re reading/watching/studying. Discuss the info and insights at the next opportunity.

10. Open doors if you can-to internships, to starting positions, to travel opportunities.

Enjoy. You’ll probably find you learn as much as you share. And you’ll have a life long friendship.

What to know before you pitch a blogger

Bloggers are media. They have more and more influence and reach than ever. You can be a blogger and follow blogs. Dip your toe in the blog water and just join a blogging group. You can participate on several blogging groups such as Blogher, DivineCaroline, Betterfly. Follow those bloggers who match your interests, business type, etc. Then you can get a feel for connecting to them. When you want to pitch them, make sure you do your homework. Just like with traditional media sources you’ll want to know

  • the blogger’s audience-who reads them
  • their reach-where else besides their blog can you find them: books, media outlets, social media
  • their look and style. The Blaspheming Bitch is delicious, but may not be for your business audience
  • what their criteria is for working with them. The best interchange I’ve seen is from TheBloggess. She was pitched to cover a celebrity. She doesn’t do celebrity endorsements. She gets so many of them that she has a standard, if snarky, reply. Great advice. Someone took offense to receiving the Will Wheaton collating paper photo. She wrote a blog on the worst PR pitch that got the PR firm fired for the way it was unprofessionally handled. Just a warning, she swears. A lot. So do I, just not usually on my blog.
  • Just as with regular media, don’t try to get the bloggers to be your personal salesman or pitch woman. They don’t do that.

How to manage and address your reputation

Your word and your reputation cannot afford a poor image when you’re a business owner. You might have the best bed and breakfast or the savviest bookkeeping skills or the cleanliest service, but if your referral reputation doesn’t match that, you could be out of business.

Know what’s being said about you and where. Check your reputation. They can manage negative comments for a price;  you can see where you and your company are listed for free.  They can also help you correct all the bad info out there. You’d be surprised what comes up. I did a search and one source had me working for a company I know, but have never worked for. Another client is battling outdated info. Some sources have her business location that’s been inaccurate for more than 10 years!

There are tons of review sites: Google Places, Yelp, Consumer Reports, AngiesList and hundreds more. They can be related to service, trips, professionals, teachers, the list is endless. Then several business sites such as and CraigsList also have review options. Your name and reputation could be anywhere. Know it. Check it regularly.

If your business is getting less than stellar or 5 star ratings, here are a few recommendations on how to address:

  1. If there is a system problem, fix it. Make sure cleaning staff have maps to location. Call two days ahead to confirm date and time and location for service or reservation. Address the scheduling needs for the client. Whatever it is that leads to the common complaints, address. It’s amazing how a poor tracking system or timing can impact customer service.
  2. If there was a lack of clarity for coupon test services like Groupon, be sure to clarify the expectations for any further patrons. Sometimes the expectations aren’t clear and so the client gets disappointed
  3. Reach out to every client on the bad reviews, assuming you can identify them and offer a  compensation for their service challenges. Either another stay, a free meal, something to try to make it work.
  4. Take advantage of using the owners comment section to indicate how you were willing to fix this situation. You should apologize on each one and not leave them hanging. DO NOT ARGUE as the owners response. If you disagree with their assessment, don’t say so on a public comment. That just starts a disagreement war and you’ll lose. Perception is key; they didn’t like the service, doesn’t matter what went wrong. I’d use language to the effect:“ We are sorry you experienced service that didn’t meet your expectations. We have improved our follow up system and are providing staff clear directions. We are adjusting our schedule to address delays. We want you to be satisfied with your  service and are willing to make it up to you if you’ll give us a chance.” If they take you up on it, you may or may not salvage a client. But if you at least show you are willing to try, anyone else reading the review can take that into account.
    1. Don’t use the exact same language on each, address the biggest concern and tell them how you’d like to fix it.
    2. Contact the review site directly. Check if they filtered” positive comments; if the positives are legitimate, then ask the review site to put them up. Understand that if you get friends to put up comments all on the same day as the negative, that can be filtered.
    3. If any of the  negative reviews aren’t accurate or you have a different perception of what actually happened you can actually challenge the review with most review sites—but you may not be successful.

It’s tough to please clients. You might also consider sending each client a follow up email after their service and ask for a review on the site you preferand provide them to the link. You could do this every Friday or something. Make it easy. Send it to the clients who love your work and your staff at first. But get in the habit of sending to all clients; checking the reviews and RESPONDING to them—good or bad.

Just remember to always respond to negatives. Try to make it right. Get in the habit of seeking positive comments. Pay attention to what’s being said about you. It matters. It’ll save your reputation.


Public Relations Like Hosting a Dinner Party

I’m turning 50 this year. As part of embracing the new decade I decide last birthday that I would host 50 dinner parties this year, one for every year on the planet. That’s just about one a week. You’d think I love to cook-I don’t. But I do love entertaining, I CAN cook, and think table decorating is fun. These last 11 months really showed me how planning for dinner parties much like public relations. It required understanding the challenge, determining a message and positioning of the dinners, strategies and tactics for execution and objectives and evaluation for assessment. The budget and timeline required flexibility, but still played their role.

The first challenge is to determine who to invite. My life is blessed with dozens of friends and hundreds of acquaintances.  I needed to decide who to target–just the top 10 wasn’t enough, we’d all get bored after 3 months. I could just focus on the dozens, but what would I be missing if I didn’t get to know some acquaintances? So, much like one would in a PR strategy, I focused on attributes. I wanted to invite people I knew I liked, who could hold a conversation, be flexible in meeting different people and that I wanted to spend time with getting to know and investing my heart, and my dinners with.

The second challenge was positioning. Folks needed to know they may or may not get invited back, because I have a lot of friends. I had to convince them I can cook–few actually have seen me do that. And to assure them a good time at my house–not dining out.

Then came the strategy invite people who fit the criteria, work with the schedules available and try to pair interesting groups together.

The measurable objectives kind of easy: needed to accomplish one a week, but barring that it could two or three in a week. (I’m doing a lot of catch up this month, September wasn’t conducive to too many dinner parties). The dinner party size had to vary but could be no more than 10, because that’s all the chairs I can fit around two tables in my dining room. But a dinner party could include as few as one guest. I had to be host–sometimes I was out of town, so I picked up the tab. Sometimes it was potluck, those generally were at my house. Had to be dinner–not lunch, brunch, or breakfast.

The tactics included the invite (email only); the scheduling; the meal plan; setting tables, including decor; buying appropriate supplies; fixing the meal (or my part of the potluck or choosing the restaurant); and enjoying the dinner party.

The budget varied–mostly depended on whether I added filet Mignon or how much wine. Some meals very simple and didn’t cost much to wow the guests.

The evaluation certainly the dinner party idea a huge success. The Output has been merely counting whether I did the dinner. I chronicled them with photos, so I could keep track and see who I had invited. The outcomes turned out to be interesting–at first I only wanted to cook. But dinner out with people who heard the plan worked. An offer to do breakfast didn’t sit well–wasn’t what the intention of the dinner parties were. I have only had two meals with family and only a couple of meals with the people I feel the closest too, some not at all. I already get together with a group of women regularly, so the dinner party seemed redundant but also a logistical nightmare.  Unexpected results were improved cooking skills, an interest in recipes and trying new flavors, great new wines. The best number for guests? Six diners around a small table makes for easier food preparation, more time for the chef to be with the guests, and great conversation as a whole and in groups of 2 or 3. I have the most interesting friends; more friends than acquaintances and an ongoing passion for relationship building. Isn’t that what public relations is? It should be. Are you thinking as if you’re hosting dinner? You should be.