Public relations is a term that's widely used but often loosely defined. That's because the definition has evolved and been stretched over time. In the early 20th century, PR emerged as a field rooted in propaganda, and for a time people used the terms synonymously.
Over the past few decades, up until the new media age, reputation and publicity-driven PR was the norm. However, in the past several years, publicity-driven PR campaigns, which by nature tend to be static one-way communication, are being replaced by a modern, dynamic approach.
In this new digital economy, savvy brands are shifting their efforts to more comprehensive communication models focused on digital content, social media and emerging interactive platforms, further blurring the once well-defined lines between PR, advertising and marketing.
Changing from an old-school, one-way publicity model to a dynamic, interactive mass communication PR model is, or should be, a requisite for all small businesses, as publicity-driven PR campaigns alone will rarely translate into direct, tangible success.
Today, three factors drive modern PR: influence, credibility and relevancy.
One of the best ways to establish influence is by becoming a thought leader or subject matter expert. Thought leaders reach audiences, small and large, by routinely sharing their ideas, experiences and expertise. Much like a thought leader, a subject matter expert is someone who is laser-focused on one or two particular topics or fields.
Becoming a thought leader or subject matter expert takes planning and commitment. Here are some ways to accomplish that and build influence in your industry or community.
- Writing a regular column for a news publication.
- Creating a large, engaged following on social media.
- Building, maintaining and promoting your own blog.
Establishing influence gives you the ability to motivate the thoughts and actions of others. As a thought leader or subject matter expert, your followers will feel compelled to share and engage with your content and social media activity, causing your influence to ripple out to extended networks.
Establishing credibility is crucial for small businesses, as the modern marketing landscape favors brands that consistently build transparency and trust among their target markets. Quite simply, consumers want brands to maintain a reputation and level of credibility worthy of their business.
The most effective way to establish that trust is by earning and leveraging third-party credibility - recognition, associations and direct endorsements from respected entities outside of that organization.
A few simple ways your small business can gain credibility:
- Being quoted in a news article as an expert source.
- Winning a respected, reputable award.
- Receiving positive online business reviews.
You can market and advertise how great your brand is, but that won't compare to the impact of earning and leveraging positive recognition and endorsements from others. Not only will these methods establish credibility for you and your company, but they'll also add an element of popularity and prestige to help you outshine the competition.
You and your company can be influential and credible, but that doesn't guarantee you'll be relevant to the audiences that matter most. Relevancy means that your brand is present in publications, platforms, events and other areas that put you in front of your key audiences.
Beyond being present, you need to be able to compete for visibility against other brands clamoring for attention. This requires a focused, integrated PR and marketing plan to establish and elevate your company above the competition.
Some ways to build your company's relevancy include:
- Ranking on the first page of results in Google Search.
- Being active and engaged on the right social media platforms.
- Maintaining a steady presence in key media outlets.
If you aren't relevant to your target audience, you're likely forfeiting a sea of business opportunities to your PR savvy competitors. But by making yourself present and spending the time and resources to stand out, you can open powerful new pipelines for business growth.
As marketing and technology continue to evolve, so will the role of public relations as a tool to influence, engage and build relationships with your key audience across several platforms. In order to shape public perception, small businesses must shift away from the static publicity school of thought toward a modern, dynamic communication model centered around influence, credibility and relevancy. It's never too late to launch or revitalize your company's PR efforts, and with these three strategies, you can begin taking your brand to the next level of growth.