Public relations is somewhat of an uncertain specialty for small business owners. Is it marketing or advertising? Is it buying media placements? Is it reputation or crisis management?
That’s why I invited a colleague and friend, publicist Michelle Tripp of Hip Cat Media, to join me for a blog interview. Michelle kindly answered 5 common PR 101-type questions to help small business owners understand what PR is (or isn’t), how and why to use it for their own small businesses, and how to get started with it. Michelle’s bio, contact info, and social links can be found at the bottom of the post.
PR 101 for Small Business Owners
Q: We work with small business owners and solopreneurs. To start, can you tell us a bit about public relations, and how it is the same and different than other business tactics like marketing, advertising, and using social media?
A: Public relations is used to educate, persuade and build reputations. “Back when” it mostly meant media relations, pitching stories to the media, and earning media coverage. There was a definite line between advertising and public relations. Now, the lines aren’t necessarily blurred, but you will find that PR is just as important to the overall marketing plan, but moreover, public relations is communication. When a crisis hits your business or your community, the PR pro is there to assist the media in reporting the news. If you are hit with negative publicity, it is the PR and Communications department that assists you in defining your message. PR, social media (organic and paid), earned media, community relations, all plays a part in building your brand.
When many small business owners or solopreneurs think about public relations, they tend to focus on a select set of skills or tactics, such as media relations or events. While these skills and tactics are definitely in most PR pros toolboxes, there is more to what public relations can do for a small business owner and the solopreneur that fits within your existing marketing mix.
Q: What are some common ways you’ve seen small businesses utilize PR?
A: Many small business owners have an innate sense of community and many embrace their local communities (or online communities if e-commerce) by giving back, being empathetic to the world around them, and providing value by engaging and mentoring those around them. While some may not view this as public relations — it is. It’s part of many organizations’ Corporate Sustainability Programs, it is building a reputation through Thought Leadership, and it’s media relations through telling the story of why you do the things you do for the community.
Q: What are 3 things a small business owner or solopreneur needs to know to pitch the media for their business?
A: Number one: Building a relationship with the media is just like any other business relationship. You have to genuinely connect. Follow them on social media. Comment on their posts, engage! Number Two: Research the media outlet. If you want coverage in a publication you need to do your homework. What topics has the reporter covered over the last six months? Number Three: Provide Value: You are helping the reporter/journalist/blogger write a story. Provide details, offer additional resources such as graphics or photos.
Q: What are a few important things a small business owner or solopreneur should ask someone they are considering hiring to assist them with their PR?
A: First, if anyone tells you that they can guarantee media coverage, thank them for their time and hang up the phone or walk away. PR practitioners work off of a code of ethics that mirror the same code followed by journalists. PR pros are excellent storytellers, strategists, communicators, event planners, marketing wizards, and copywriters. Oftentimes, you may think that you only need someone who can talk to the media for you. Ask them about their experience in social media, content marketing, email newsletters, and website wireframing and copy. PR pros are masters of many skills and we are able to connect the dots in places that you may not have considered.
Q: What has been your biggest PR success story?
A: One of my first positions in public relations was with a small, boutique public relations firm in Denver. We represented many lifestyle and luxury brands. One of those brands was Tehama, a golf and lifestyle brand co-owned by Clint Eastwood and Nancy Haley. As the lead on the account, I was in charge of media relations, brand building, and reputation for the company. Our media list at that time included all of the big national broadcast outlets and morning shows, as well as the local and regional press.
My personal goal for the account was to land Tehama on a national morning show. I not only landed product on the Today Show, but I also landed a feature story and interview on Good Morning America featuring Clint Eastwood and Nancy Haley with Lara Spencer. The interview took place in Carmel Valley, California — I was born in the area, but living in Colorado — and I was literally eight months pregnant with my first child — so, I had to get special permission to fly. I spent the day on Clint Eastwood’s private golf club helping secure a great media spot for an awesome client that helped them receive a lot of attention from other media outlets and the fashion industry. It was a great personal success, it taught me a lot, gave me confidence in my abilities as a publicist, and was a ton of fun.
About Publicist Michelle Tripp
Michelle Tripp is a publicist, marketer, and social media strategist with more than 25 years of experience in communications for both private and public organizations. She has worked with international and national consumer and trade media, such as Good Morning America, The Today Show, Ellen, Education Week, Real Simple, Hydraulics and Pneumatics, and Rubber and Plastics News to name a few.
Michelle has supported nonprofits, lifestyle and consumer brands, B2B companies, and managed and publicized large-scale community and organization events. She has created social media strategies and tactics to help organizations create their own communication channels to effectively share their stories. When a crisis hits, Michelle has been there to assist her clients with strategies and tactics to soothe fears and communicate openly and honestly with the organization’s audiences.
She has led large-scale internal communication strategies for a global organization to increase awareness and create buy-in from thousands of employees, and develop training and implementation of large scale social media strategies and tactics. To Michelle, branding isn’t just a color chart and font selections, it is personal – regardless if it is an organization, an author, a nonprofit, or a performer.
In her spare time, Michelle enjoys spending time with her family, listening to Audible books, watching cheesy Hallmark movies, dissecting each and every This Is Us episode, and working for splat points at OrangeTheory (when she can make it there).