Public Relations and the Small Business

Today’s business climate requires the creation and maintenance of relationships with not only clients, but also with the public that the business serves. Professionally trained in communication as well as journalism, public relations practitioners strive to form such relationships.

Oftentimes, the discipline of public relations is misunderstood. While the practice does share many components with advertising and marketing, public relations focuses more on the image and esteem of a company, not merely individual products or services. Having said that, let it be noted that successful public relations can greatly contribute to the bottom line. However, public relations accomplishes that feat using methods different than those of similar fields.

The relationships previously mentioned are a major goal of public relations. These relationships are built on a foundation of honesty and openness, creating mutual understanding and dependency. Public relations uses a system of candid communication and feedback to establish trust between a business and its public, thus generating a sense of trust toward the business. With the recent flurry of scandals in the business realm, said trust and corporate image have never been more vital to success.

PR practitioners utilize a wide array of tools to fully realize that two-way communication. At the heart of this lies media relations. Practitioners use their skills as a journalist to develop media kits, press releases, fact sheets, video news releases, and annual reports. Written in news style, these utensils can easily be converted to an actual news story. They are then sent to media outlets in hopes of publication or coverage, hence garnering free publicity and advertising for the business.

Forming close ties to the media gatekeepers also assists in another key aspect of public relations – community relations. Successful businesses essentially become a member of their community. Public needs are assessed, and, through various corporate-sponsored events or campaigns, are met. Again, this helps establish the integral sense of trust. Trust is also gained through the release of corporate information to the public. Once more, practitioners use their journalistic talent to reach the media for these purposes.

The practice of public relations and its endeavors involves many more components. Before any action or campaign takes place, a great deal of research must be achieved. This allows for a well-informed, cost-efficient, and timely plan to be implemented. Through research, public opinion is determined through the use of surveys or other means. Knowing how the public feels about a business, practitioners are then able to develop specific key messages to send to target audiences. Also, knowing which audiences to speak to enables the selection of the proper media outlets in which to send the messages. In a nutshell, public relations practitioners know what to say to whom, and when and where to say it.

Following along those lines, perhaps the most noticeable aspect of public relations is crisis communications. This has recently become a significant area of expertise. Practitioners are trained to prevent crisis situations. When a crisis does arise, public relations assists in making the situation a controllable one, and, hopefully, one that can retain a positive image in the eye of the public.

While most small businesses budget for advertising or marketing, few have yet to include public relations in their spending. Those select few understand the practice’s subtle means of promoting and informing. Even though many small businesses may not have the means to hire a full-time practitioner to their staff, firms can be enlisted on a per-need basis. Consider it money well spent.

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