PR Checklist for Small Business

Since Communications and Public Relations affects every aspect of a business, it becomes nearly impossible to turn off the ability to make everything into a PR lesson. From the type of service we receive from businesses to news stories, to video content we enjoy – there’s a Communications lesson at every turn (just look at our Twitter feed).

At a meeting with a budding entrepreneur, and real go-getter, she asked for a few tips on what Communications and Public Relations she needs while embarking on her entrepreneurial journey. We took it as the perfect opportunity to develop a blog post for small business owners on what they should consider from a PR perspective when communicating their business with their various audiences. So here goes! 

PR Checklist for Small Business Owners

  1. Preparation & Planning. First and foremost, prepare. By seeking out this information, you are already well on your way to preparing for what you want your company’s story to be. It’s not enough to have the thoughts about your business in your head; you need to write them down in a way that can be easily accessed by you and your team. This includes your company’s mission, vision, policies and values. These are elements of your business plan that set the stage for how you want to present your business.

By preparing your business plan, you are laying the foundation for the business and how a Communications/Public Relations function can help you achieve those business goals. Corporate Communications should be a function of the business, not an afterthought. By preparing your plan, you can look at all the ways you will need to communicate your company’s messages and what audiences make the most sense.  You may have the most inventive product or service, but if you’re not talking about it to the right people, how will they know? For example, if you want to raise awareness about the fabric you are developing, you may want to target a textile magazine for the Business-to-Business market, rather than a fashion magazine that targets ready-to-wear consumers.

In addition to preparing the business and its story, you need to be prepared for emergencies and crisis. Most small businesses don’t think that a crisis will affect them, but there are plenty of business owners that can tell you how they should have been better prepared to respond to a lull in sales, staff layoffs, company merger, unhappy customers and/or product malfunction. By preparing your business for unforeseen circumstances, and being able to rely on your company’s policies and values, you have prepared yourself to communicate those fundamental things to your stakeholders.

Another element of preparation is budgeting. This could be a section all on its own since many organizations focus on a marketing budget, without much thought to their communications budget. By carving out a percentage of your budget to communications, you are essentially helping with your marketing. Public Relations is not free, even though we may work with media outlets to garner free press coverage, preparing for that interaction is not free. Press photos, videos, branded materials, media relations and content development all require a budget, whether its in-house staff, graphic design, videographer and/or an outsourced consultant, you can only do so much if there’s no budget. So, remember to prepare a budget for your PR activities – we can promise you it will be reused and repurposed in so many ways, it’s worth the investment! 

  1. Develop Your Key Messages. Your key messages are your story. These messages should be clear and are what you want your audiences to hear and remember. They should be used across your various communication channels, including your website, marketing materials, social media posts, sales meetings, customer service responses and any media relations activities.

A big part of Public Relations is in repetition to help people understand what your company, product or service is all about. Your key messages are the main themes you want to share about your company, brand and services. These are the messages that are repeated over and over again, in different ways.

  1. Choose Your Language & Tone. When developing your key messages, you will also want to think about your language and tone. The language you choose to use should represent the type of language your audiences would use. Understand the language you want to use to describe your company, product and services.

For example, if you are a gaming app you shouldn’t use words that people in your demographic wouldn’t use. It’s a gaming app, not a mobile entertainment application. The words you choose to talk about your company and describe what you do need to be decided upon early on, so all your communication activities can use it. Remember, repetition is key. Think about your audience when selecting the type of language you will use for your company, and what might resonate with them.

Your choice of language also helps set your tone. When communicating your brand, think about how you want your audiences to feel about your company. Choose something that is appropriate for your business. A bank may not want to set a playful tone when they are closely monitored by regulatory authorities; they also want their stakeholders to feel like their money is being well-managed.

When choosing your tone, ask yourself, “How do I want my customers, partners and investors to feel when interacting with us?” Will you be a more formal organization with playful tonality, like Google or WestJet, or will you choose to be very corporate, like Apple or ATB. Or maybe, something in between.

  1. Branding. Understand that your brand is more than just your company name and logo. Branding is how you present your company, product and service to mass audiences. Your brand is everything you want people to understand about your company, its products and services. Your brand is everything from your business cards, to your customer service response time, to your promotional items, to your Instagram images, to how you speak to the press. How you represent your company to your different audiences is your brand and should be reflected in all your communication channels.

  1. Remember Social Media. Your communication channels should always include social media. By having a social media channel that highlights your brand and reiterates your key messages, you are telling your side of the story. You are able to share your brand, from your perspective, to the audiences that matter to you. Companies with no social media presence tend to lose credibility.

That said, you should not use EVERY social media channel right away. Choose one or two social media channels to start with, maybe Instagram and Facebook, where most of your audience can be found. Or maybe LinkedIn is a better platform for you to use to reach your audience. Slowly build the content that aligns with your key messaging on your social channels that fit your brand and tell your story. Social media gives your potential customers the chance to interact with the brand and get a better understanding of your products, services and what you stand for.

  1. Be Consistent. The most important factor in all Public Relations is around consistency. Stick to your key messages and be consistent in how you tell your story. Remember that your language needs to remain consistent in how you describe your company. For example, if you choose to be a gaming app, then always refer to yourself as a gaming app rather than a game app or mobile phone game. Remain consistent in the language and tone you have set for your business.

If you are going to embark on a media relations campaign, be consistent with reporters and editors. Don’t just call on them when you need something (a PR consultant maintains these relationships on an ongoing basis and can be called upon when you are ready to take the media plunge).

Be consistent with your social media, as well. If you are going to start a Facebook page, make sure you have the resources dedicated to managing it and creating content that will fall in line with your brand. We have seen too many brands create multiple social media channels that fall to the wayside because they just didn’t realize how much time it takes to create content, upload the material, schedule activities, engage with customers and respond to inquiries. (Again, you can outsource this function to help build your social media followers and engagement.)

This Public Relations checklist is only the start to what the PR and Communications function can do for your business.  You need to think about measurement, leadership, media training and a variety of other things PR is responsible for supporting. The communication function has everything to do with a business’ bottom line; failing to get it right comes with negative consequences. Ensuring PR is part of the overall business function, however, has a much more positive outcome.

Post provided by Pamela Muñoz.

Julie Geldart