Squirrel V Rat in PR Battle


How SMEs and SMPs Can Benefit from Effective PR


By Drew Johnston


Squirrels, it is said by some, are really just airborne rats with good PR. “PR” as most are aware is an acronym of “public relations” and when it comes to squirrels, good PR means that the broad mass of the population regards them in a positive, affectionate, even kindly light. Most people, especially children, take some small pleasure in seeing squirrels cracking open nuts or dashing up and down the trees and branches of our parks and gardens, doing, broadly speaking, what squirrels do best.


Rats, on the other hand, have long been regarded as unwelcome carriers of disease and have had, since the beginning of recorded history I suppose, “bad PR”. Some people, admittedly a tiny minority of our fellow citizens, keep rats as pets and are only too willing to tell us that “despite what you might think” they are scrupulously clean and endearing creatures.


That is not, however, the way they are perceived by most of us in spite of the fact that grey squirrels, just like rats, are often classed as “vermin” because they eat both eggs and baby birds and destroy trees by chewing through the bark, making them vulnerable to disease and fungus.


What does this tell us? First, I think, that if you want to have people on your side it is helpful to have “good PR”. And if you run an organisation, an SME or an SMP, which interacts with others, whether customers, suppliers, other businesses, banks, professional advisers and in many cases, the general public, being regarded in a positive light is something for which many are prepared to pay good money.


Why would they do that? The answer is surely obvious. Having good PR, by which I mean being widely-known with a good reputation for delivering quality products and services to consumers or other businesses, together with broad recognition for ability, competence and customer service in a particular business sector or local area or amongst fellow members of the wider business community, is a significant intangible benefit that most people running businesses would love to have.


But what if you own or run a business which is largely unknown to anyone in the wider business community aside from the customers or suppliers you already have? How do you tell more people about your organisation’s unique strengths? Might it not be constructive to find a suitable way of telling them? And might it not result also in your organisation winning more business?


Every organisation which interacts with others ought to present a positive picture of itself and its activities to the world. Why else would most businesses, the majority of which don’t actually conduct direct sales over the Internet, have a readily accessible website?


So, how do you go about building your business by raising your profile and letting a bigger audience know that you are good at what you do and want to do lots more of it for many more customers? Some obvious ways of winning more business are by asking happy customers for referrals, advertising and networking; another is by using direct means of raising your profile in the media.


It is said that referrals form the basis of all successful growing businesses. But don’t forget you have to ask for them. Your customers don’t always appreciate that you have an urge to work your professional magic on businesses other than themselves. Ask and you will often be given.


Advertising, whether in a print publication or on the Internet, is a proven means of raising profile and becoming better-known. One problem though is that it can be prohibitively expensive. In my experience one-off advertisements, even when the advertising sales person assures you that you are being given the deal of the decade tend to be a waste of money.


On the other hand if you can commit to a planned series of advertisements over a sustained period of time, three months or say, six months, in the right publication or website, and you can negotiate it a cost you can live with, advertising can be productive in raising your profile.


Most big regional publishing groups have a sophisticated approach to online advertising and can usually provide a tailor-made package which gets your business good exposure in front of your target audience. Investigating whether your business might raise its profile from making your website readily accessible by use of Google ad-words is also worthwhile.


Networking, in my experience, is one of the best ways to broaden your bank of business contacts and, through building relationships, winning new business. Most chapters of BNI reserve a slot for an accountant and while there is a cost involved, many accountants in practice believe their BNI membership is exceptionally worthwhile. Do a good job for one member of your BNI chapter and the chances are he or she will refer you to their contacts.


Other networking groups, whether formal ones like Rotary or less formal ones made up of self-employed folk who simply like to meet up regularly for a coffee, are well worthwhile joining; put yourself about, get talking to people and its astonishing what can sometimes come of it.


A positive media profile is more important than ever as a result of the Internet. Not very long ago a double page company profile in a widely-read newspaper was often used later that week, or next, to wrap someone’s fish and chips.


Today, almost all newspapers and magazines carry an online version and most of the stories the print edition carries end up, for good or ill, and for the foreseeable future, on the net.


It is odd, I agree, but I have found over the years that appearing in the media impacts upon decision-makers as though it were an objective third party endorsement of your firm’s or company’s credibility. You would be ill-advised not to make the most of this potentially very powerful tool.


So how do you go about it? There are lots of ways. The business sections of many local newspapers and regional business magazines run regular “People on the Move” columns in which you can publicise newly appointed employees with valuable skills. If you send their pictures and two or three paragraphs about how they will enhance your organisation’s ability to better service customers, there is a reasonable chance it will appear in print. Some newspapers charge for running such stories but a number do not.


Next, if your firm is involved in the local community make sure its contribution is noted in the local media. If your firm acts for a well-known local charity or a well-regarded local cause, make sure it gets a name check in the charity’s newsletter or annual report.


Another way of building good PR is by offering a local newspaper a draft article on topics such as, for example, completing and filing in an annual tax returns or explaining how the rules on Inheritance Tax can impact on people in the neighbourhood.


An article commenting on how the Chancellor’s Budget might impact upon local people is also worthy of consideration. And even if your local or regional newspapers fights shy of publishing your unsolicited article, you might think about writing a letter for publication which showcases your insight and expertise on the subject.


Just be pro-active: when you have a client who has won a major contract, or taken over another business or even sold-out for squillions, it is worth asking them to credit your contribution when the client in question speaks about the deal to a newspaper reporter. If you get a name-check everyone reading the article will realise that you are clearly very good at what you do and be suitably impressed.


On the other hand, unless you have the time and energy to get the job done effectively, the easiest way to raise its profile is by hiring an experienced PR company with a proven track record.


The best way to find the right firm is to seek a recommendation from acquaintances whose businesses appear regularly in the media and who, likely, already use a PR company.


It’s a tough world out there for everyone, SMEs and SMPs; but you can gain a margin of advantage over the competition by using PR to let your target audience know how good you really are.




A version of this article appeared in the January/February issue of Financial Accountant.