11 free ways you can use PR to grow your small business

In this 10-minute read:

  • What is PR for small businesses
  • Why should your business have a PR plan
  • Earned media
  • Owned media
  • Social media
  • Free ways to use PR to help your small business

What is PR, and what does it have to do with your small business? PR stands for Public Relations, and in the simplest terms, it concerns every communications tactic that uses an intervening group to influence another group.

More specifically, PR for small businesses includes media relations, events, social media, producing content—any way to increase the exposure for your company that doesn’t cost anything other than time.

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The “intervening groups” you are hoping to influence can be local or national press, social media influencers or followers, chambers of commerce or similar organizations, or even other successful business owners in your area with a large pull on their customers and associates.

In this article we’ll go over the whys and wherefores of various free and “earned” ways (more on this later) to spread the buzz about your company via PR.

Why should small businesses have a PR plan?

To grow your business, you need to use all marketing avenues at your disposal.

You should definitely have a marketing budget—read our article on how much small businesses should spend on marketing to learn more—but you should also engage in free public relations efforts and budget some of your time every week toward your PR efforts.

With PR, you’re trying to build brand and company awareness for your business, products, and services by deliberately managing the spread of information on your business’s behalf.

Building awareness is a crucial step in developing a healthy “funnel” of future customers, and PR is a cost-effective way to use others’ resources to get potential customers thinking and talking about your business.

african american man smiling reading social media on his phone

Let’s first go over the three main types of media that you’ll need to address with your PR efforts, and then we’ll discuss specific tactics and ideas later on.

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The three main types of media for small business PR efforts: earned, owned, and social

Earned media for small business 

Earned media refers to anything you’re doing with news media/journalists, bloggers, YouTubers/reviewers, chambers of commerce, and similar. Social media “influencers” may fall under this category as well, depending on whether you’re paying them or not. 

(If you’re paying for influencers’ services, it’s more technically a marketing play, whereas if you’re attempting to get their attention and merit their mentions/endorsement of your products and services of their own volition, that would qualify as “earned” media coverage).

attractive female field reporter for small business PR

When you focus your PR efforts on obtaining earned media from local news outlets, you influence these outlets to hopefully reach your target customers.

With influencers and YouTubers it’s the same deal. With chambers, you hope to influence other members, businesses, and by extension, more customers on your behalf.

Owned media

Owned media for PR refers to anything you create and produce: websites, email campaigns, blog posts and other articles, videos, tutorials, podcasts, etc.

Owned media often crosses over into social media, due to the nature of “sharing” content on these platforms. (You should cross-post any YouTube videos you create on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for example.)

Be sure to read our helpful how-tos:

Social media

Everyone knows what social media is and that it’s vital for successful small-business marketing, but few people realize it’s technically PR (unless you pay for Instagram Ads or Facebook Ads).

It’s a sort of hybrid that includes aspects of “owned” media (since you are the one creating the content you share) and “earned” media (since the platform and distribution are controlled by outside companies).

In addition, if your PR efforts on social media platforms result in shares/likes/subscribes/friends/followers, you are effectively “earning” that buzz and your followers and friends (along with the social media platform) are acting as the intermediary between you and your potential customers (their friends and followers).

Read our helpful guides to get started:

11 top PR tips and techniques for small businesses

Vital: Claim your online business profiles and review platform pages

Before you even think about engaging in PR efforts (or any other marketing), you first need to claim and complete your online business profiles on all the major sites.

The first thing reporters or influencers are going to do when you approach them with a potential story is Google your business, and what they find (or don’t) will have a large impact on whether they consider you a legitimate, valued source of information or interest.

Read our step-by-step guides:

Your business profiles and reviews will be the first—and maybe only—touchpoint reporters have with you. Make sure you’re active on these platforms, are working to get regular reviews, and are responding to those reviews. 

Did you know: businesses that claim their free online profiles on at least 4 review sites earn 58% more revenue? Read more in our report on the impact of reviews on revenue.

Make sure you know your story

Do you know your “elevator pitch” by heart? Do you have a solid handle on why your business is different from all the others?

You need to know your story, and if you don’t have one, you need to create one. Media (and everyone else) loves a good story.

Hello I'm your brand nametag for small business PR

Work hard to develop every aspect of your brand before you try to get other people to talk about you and your business. Make sure there’s something important or interesting for them to talk about, or they simply won’t.

Go deeper: How to create and build an effective brand

Engage in and create content for all media platforms relevant to your business

You should budget time to participate in all the various platforms relevant to your business and industry, including online forums if applicable. 

In addition to piggybacking on your local news media, for small businesses, the most likely platforms for success are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and possibly YouTube (if relevant to your business, style, and type of content).

Set up web alerts for your business

You need to be aware of the buzz that’s circulating around your business and brand. Setting up Google Alerts is a free and fairly effective way to get started. 

You should also set up Talkwalker alerts. These two alerting services catch different things, and you should be using both.

You might also consider budgeting for specialized reputation monitoring solutions or services.

Whatever tools and services you choose, it’s vital that you have a good idea about how your efforts are paying off, and are aware when people are saying anything—good or bad—about your business.

Join your chamber of commerce and other relevant business associations

When you join your local chamber, you can take advantage of the organization’s PR machine and get a wider audience for your efforts—local newspaper and TV media connections, business openings and closings, community events, chamber newsletter/website, etc.

Be sure to go to the events, mixers, fairs, meetings, etc., and consider volunteering to serve on the board. 

The tighter you are with chamber leaders, the more favors they may to grant you, including access to PR/media resources and contacts, or being featured in their own PR efforts.

Read more: Chamber of commerce basics and why you should join

Become an expert or thought leader

If you can establish your business as the expert in a particular discipline or a thought leader, news outlets and social media users will consult you for advice and listen to your PR pitches.

For example, if you run an auto shop, you can post a free auto repair tip video on social media on a weekly basis. Identify your local news outlets and offer to be a resource on big travel days like Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

Tax preparers and accountants can be valuable resources for local media on tax tips and other money-saving stories.

There are actually several hugely successful YouTube channels created by local landscaping or plumbing companies. They are now seen as experts in their field and their videos receive millions of views (and make many thousands of dollars for these businesses, in addition to generating great PR).

plumber fixing a sink for small business PR

Portray yourself as a credible expert, pay it forward, and watch the positive buzz return!

Pitch stories, content, and/or statistics to local news outlets

In a similar vein to becoming a thought leader, you should remember to pitch all of these stories to local media.

Reporters are always looking for interesting content, and if you can offer them pre-baked stories backed by statistics and industry data they don’t have, they’ll thank you for it. 

We mentioned local auto service shops pitching news outlets for big travel events, weather changes, maintenance/safety tips, and the like. 

Restaurants might offer data or stories on proper tipping, call-ahead or online/app ordering, diner etiquette, or avoiding food-borne illness.

These are just two examples. Think about what knowledge you have to offer, and get pitching!

Get involved in the biggest local events in your area

Most areas have big events, expos, fairs, conferences, etc. that you can take part in, volunteer for, or sponsor. 

Consider something like the New Mexico balloon festival, gluten-free food festivals, music festivals, local business expos, “taste of the town” events, county fairs, comic conventions, and similar.

Make sure you are highlighting what you’re doing to contribute to the good cause or solve whatever problem for people. However you can make connections between your business and the buzz surrounding a local movement or exciting event, do it.  

Share a human interest or other positive story with local media 

Local news outlets love this type of content. Do you have an incredible employee that’s home from recent military service? Are you involved in habitat for humanity or other charitable services? Do you have a younger customer who loves coming to your restaurant because it’s the only place they feel safe? Cancer survivors? Special-needs employees? 

Realtors, auto services, or restaurants might highlight how they have accommodated people with special physical or dietary needs and show others how to do the same.

smiling boy in wheelchair for small business PR

Shining light on a problem people can get behind is another good way to generate positive buzz. Some possible ideas include pet adoptions, food for the homeless or the poverty-stricken, disadvantaged business owners who started with nothing and built a successful business, anything with a human interest spin. 

There’s nothing wrong with generating positive buzz for your company while you’re doing something positive to make the world a better place.

“Hijack” a national pop culture event

Think about the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Olympics, Fashion Week, big auto races, elections, the Academy Awards, etc. 

What do they all have in common? TONS of expensive media coverage and popular buzz. 

You can exploit these events in fun ways to generate positive interest in your business. Here are just a few possible PR stunts to get you thinking:

  • Hold the “world championship of pizza” that you only do every year during the Super Bowl, March Madness, or World Series
  • For the Olympics, plumbers can hold (and film) events like “how long does it take you to plunge a toilet/snake a sink/connect a dishwasher?”
  • Clothing retailers and thrift stores for Fashion Week could hold their own runway experience with bargain clothing
  • Auto dealers or service shops: for the Daytona 500 or Indy, maybe one of your customers has an old race car people can come check out in your parking lot
  • Tax season and elections can be used in multiple ways to generate ideas and buzz about whatever products or services you sell. Get creative!

Highlight your big events and milestones, and pitch to local media

Make sure you create buzz around all your big events and business milestones (1 year in business! 50,000 customers served! Over 100,000 tires sold! 30th anniversary of your business! etc.) and pitch these to local news media and chamber of commerce (as well as all your social media channels). 

People love to talk about local businesses that make good, and this is another great way to generate positive buzz.

Reputation management software can improve your results

With Womply’s reputation management solutions, you can read and respond to all your reviews for all of the popular sites in one place, and get notified for every new review.

You’ll also be able to facilitate getting more reviews from your happiest customers, and receive alerts when someone posts something about your business, so you’re never caught off guard. 

Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

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