Apple. Disney. Marriott. Amazon. What’s your favorite brand? Whether it’s big box stores, e-tailers, or smaller, local hotspots, customers are loyal to their favorite product and service vendors. They come back time and time again. Sure, they can get something similar elsewhere, but why would they? Savvy customers know what they love and where to go to get it, so why do anything else?

Small businesses face stiff competition when it comes to competing for attention. They have to work harder to build brand awareness, reach new customers, and grow lifetime value (LTV). After all, in any business, and most certainly in business-to-consumer (B2C) and direct-to-consumer (D2C) environments, it costs five times more to acquire new customers as opposed to retaining current customers. There are probably several hundred locksmiths in a 10-mile radius, but a customer will stay loyal to a specific locksmith because of the service and value they provide.

One marketing tool that can help retain brand recognition is public relations (PR), and while many business owners may believe PR and marketing are one and the same, rest assured — they’re different. PR represents the way a brand is promoted, and it’s one of the traditional five Ps of marketing (product, price, place, people, and promotion). While we won’t get into the science of marketing in this article, you do need to pay attention to all five Ps for long-term survival.

Affordable PR Tactics That Can Be Implemented Right Away

Some businesses may think any PR effort will drain their bank accounts, so rather than doing something that is a good fit for their business, they end up doing nothing. After all, cash flow is king with most small businesses, so tying up a lot of money in PR doesn’t make sense if there are employees and rent to pay.

Spending just a few hours a week on PR produces results, and more importantly, creates affordable awareness opportunities to easily promote a brand. There are five tactics to consider.

#1: Create Drip Marketing Campaigns

What’s this about “marketing campaigns?” Remember that PR is one of the five Ps of marketing, so one way to create brand awareness is for a business is to put themselves consistently in front of customers and prospects. For the cost of a cloud-based annual subscription to an email program, such as Constant Contact, and a bit of your time, a brand can set up a series of automated email campaigns with a predefined frequency to promote products and services. After a few weeks, the recipient will begin to recognize the brand’s name and pay more attention to what they have to offer.

Here are some basic guidelines for effective drip campaigns:

  • Keep emails short and to the point: There’s a small window of opportunity (typically, a few seconds) to peak a recipient’s interest. Make it personal where you can and don’t make it obvious it’s an email for the masses; the more personalized the email is, the more engagement it will get.
  • Craft attention-grabbing subject lines: Remember, it’s the first thing a person will see. They should be eye-catching, but it’s important not to sensationalize them just for attention.
  • Lead with the value: The benefits of a brand’s offering should be clearly communicated to recipients. What’s in it for them? What’s the big “why?”
  • Adhere to CAN-SPAM laws: Something like Constant Contact will do that, for example, by creating a footer with an unsubscribe option and keeping track of anyone who doesn’t want to receive an automated email.
  • Always include a call to action: Something for recipients to “do” next and connect to a landing page that enables action.

Start slow; don’t break out of the starting gate with too much at one time. Create one campaign, see how it works, and then retool for the next one.

#2: Teach Something You Know

We’ve all been to conferences, sat in on webinars, and attended local meetings where someone spoke. Perhaps the person wrote a book, had some name recognition, or just seemed to know more about the topic than most of the other people in the room.

Speaking in public or online is a great PR tactic because it enhances your reputation and builds trust with an audience. A customer is more likely to buy from a brand they trust and admire, so the reliability of the person(s) behind the brand can do wonders for repeat business.

However, if public speaking is the very last thing you want to do, you’re not alone — 75% of the population suffer from glossophobia, the fear of public speaking.

Whether you realize it, you do know what you’re talking about. If you’re a landscape contractor, then you know how to properly irrigate or xeriscape a lawn. If you sell plant-based shoes, you know all about the environment. Once you conquer your fears, it will be easy to begin picking up speaking gigs by simply letting others know you’d like to present before a group.

One rule of thumb to help you conquer speaker anxiety (that’s worked for many of the world’s best speakers) is remembering that, at some point, you’ll make a mistake. Once you realize that, it will be much easier to get up in front of your audience.

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Start local: Not sure what groups to start with? Consider local Lion, Rotary, and Kiwanis Club meetings. These groups are great training grounds with the need for weekly speakers, and if your product or service is local, then these are ideal audiences. Toastmasters is also a great class to get you thinking on your feet and more confident.
  • Association conferences: If you attend an annual, industry conference, send an email or call the organizer to submit your name and speaking topic for a future conference. While you may be a first-time speaker, emphasize your knowledge, and explain that you know your topic.
  • Create a webinar: Using your email program, send an invitation to your customers and prospects for a one-hour webinar on a certain topic. Consider your platform options with something like FreeConferenceCall.comZoom, or GoToMeeting.

#3: Write Articles and Columns for Business Publications

Everyone wants to be in The Wall Street Journal, but few businesses actually need to be in an international forum to effectively communicate their brand.

Instead, consider writing short articles and columns for publications that prospects and customers may read. Some publications that accept bylined content include ForbesAmerican Express, and Medium. There are plenty of publications that are hungry for content and love featuring real-life contributors who can truly contribute rather than syndicating national news and content.

A pro tip is to find out before submitting an article whether the publication is open to contributed content. Research online the editor’s name and email address, or simply call the publication. Regardless of what you may have heard about media editors being too busy to take a call or respond to an email, their number one pet peeve is having to make sure someone knows about their publication and audience.

#4: Create a News Hook for Your Business

You could spend quite a bit of time producing press releases and sending them out to the media, but most releases are neither effective nor relevant because they aren’t newsworthy. Think about it — “new” is in the word itself… it has to be NEW to be newsworthy.

Instead, create what’s known in PR as “news hooks,” or reasons to ask the media to write about something you’re doing or offering. Here are some of the more popular news hooks:

  • A themed sales campaign coinciding with a holiday, such as Valentine’s Day or any of the November/December holidays.
  • Hold a special event in honor of a milestone, such as a special anniversary for your business.
  • Honor someone in the community with an award or recognition ceremony.

Try brainstorming with your staff or colleagues on what makes a good news hook or a way to attract media attention; getting a reporter to cover what you’re doing is, after all, free PR.

#5: Network, Network, Network

You might wonder why networking is a PR tactic. Who better to tell your story than you and your staff? After all, you are the face of your business, and any 1:1 opportunity is golden.

While it’s hard to take time away from your business to attend a local meeting or social function, especially when pressing matters may seem more important at the time, one networking tip that continues to resonate is to “keep it simple.” Set yourself a basic goal to connect once a week to someone new, whether it’s in person, on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or somewhere else.

In person, exchange business cards and follow up with anyone who can refer business to you or you can refer back to them. Remember, networking is a two-way street. Online, maintain a business presence, but also consider joining groups on LinkedIn and participating in conversations. Networking is a great PR tactic that doesn’t cost much more than your time.

Also, make sure to find local groups — such as The Wing, Soho House, and The Assembly — that are member-based and have diverse individuals you can meet with. Networking doesn’t always have to be work-related. Do fun things you enjoy, you’ll be surprised who else you might meet along the way.

Branding for Your Business

PR doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time, but it does need to be done regularly to retain brand awareness. The PR tactics in this article are only a few to consider; take time to assess what you want your brand to be and create a PR program to address your key goals.

PR doesn’t happen overnight — it takes time. Be patient and be consistent. If you’re going to write articles, write one a month instead of once a year. If you’re networking, don’t put it on the back burner; you’ll never get back to it. Ask your staff to help, too — they make up your team and want to be an active part of your business.

Meredith Klee
Author