The Power of PR: Tips from Small Business Owners Doing It Right

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The Power of PR

PR has had to evolve over the last couple of decades, thanks to the Internet and the emergence of social media. When it comes to PR, there are many different “flavors”—everything from high-profile firms that work with Fortune 500 companies all the way down to the PR consultant who works for solopreneurs. Some businesses don’t rely on outside PR help at all, opting instead to handle everything in-house.

How (and if) your company handles PR will very much depend on your business size, your budget, and your goals. For inspiration, we’ve invited some small business owners to share their PR experiences and recommendations for getting the job done right.

Be strategic.
Marjorie R. Asturias is the president and CEO of Blue Volcano Media, a Dallas-based digital marketing agency that specializes in helping small- and medium-sized businesses launch and manage their online promotions and campaigns.

Asturias is no stranger to successful PR. “I’ve been using PR to promote my business since long before I founded the agency nearly four years ago. I landed my first major media mention in 2006, a mention in a big New York Times article on the growing influence of beauty bloggers. Since then I and/or my company have been interviewed for articles that have appeared on,, Mashable, The New York Times (again), American Express OPEN Forum, Reuters, and a number of other high-traffic, highly regarded online publications.”

Asturias handles all PR in-house, and she says it’s important to be strategic about who you pitch to. “I ignore just about all the HARO [Help a Reporter Out] queries from anonymous media outlets. Sure, they could be CNN or the Sunday Times, but they could also be a small blog with little visibility. Because some HARO queries require an investment in time—which most small business owners have very little available outside of their core business functions—I want to maximize that investment by focusing on the pitches to publications that I know.”

Asturias adds that you should also be strategic about what you pitch and how you pitch. “I don’t typically send pitches to every query that relates to social media or digital marketing. I’m very mindful of our brand—high-level strategic consulting, emphasis on creativity, laser-like focus on customer service—and want to make sure that our pitches reflect that. I keep pitches relatively short and focused on the question(s) posed by the reporter.”

Need help coming up with winning pitches? Check out our article Pitching Story Ideas to the Media: Hints & Tricks.

Be persistent, creative, and willing to take some risks.
Debra Cohen launched Home Remedies of NY, Inc., a contractor referral business, from her basement and grew it into a cottage industry nationwide exclusively through a targeted and ongoing PR campaign. She handles all of her PR efforts in-house as well. She, too, recommends a strategic approach and adapting your strategy to each publication and its readership. Persistence is also key—don’t give up and keep pitching.

Cohen explains, “For example, I created a media contact list that targeted home improvement publications. I created a few different strategies that were relevant to their readership. Eventually, I made a good contact at Remodeling who liked the angle and I was included in an article in Remodeling called Referral Madness.”

Cohen has also gotten creative in where she pitches story ideas. “I’ve also pitched my story to various magazines as a mompreneur to appeal to stay-at-home moms, career changers, etc. who are looking for a viable home-based business. Through creating a strategic media contact list of women’s publications, I’ve generated articles in Woman’s Day, Working Mother, and All You, to name a few.”

What advice does Cohen have to other small business owners? “Be creative with your pitches and get to know the publications you’re pitching, their editorial style, etc. Then locate the appropriate editor and contact them via e-mail and follow up by phone. Keep your pitch concise and relevant to their magazine.”

That said, sometimes casting a wider net or even taking some envelope-pushing actions could yield big PR pay-offs. Jason Lucash is the co-founder of OrigAudio, a thriving speaker company that got its start in 2009. Lucash says, “Changing the rules of the game is pretty much what we do at OrigAudio—and that holds especially true for our use of in-house PR. It is how we’ve won Entrepreneur of the Year, Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions, and most recently INC’s Top 500, without spending a dime on advertising.”

Lucash and his co-founder, Mike Szymczak, launched OrigAudio out of Szymczak’s garage while working for the backpack giant, Jansport. Lucash says that once they scored Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions list, they quit their jobs and have been using PR to grow their business ever since. Lucash says, “Some of my favorite advice to fellow small business owners is that there’s no such thing as bad press. Always push the envelope—just last month we gave away 5,000 of our most popular speakers. Crazy, right? But it gave us the opportunity to receive an insane amount of press, new customers, and media attention. Always keep reaching to create a new and interesting story around your brand, because after all, why be the same when you can be different?”

But don’t be annoyingly aggressive.
Benjamin Webb, a PR professional, laments in this article, “Why does this, the worst-paid of the marketing disciplines, engender such disdain, whereas other sectors are tolerated, even considered cool?”

Unfortunately, the poor habits of some unscrupulous (or ignorant) folks tend to ruin PR for all the legitimate practitioners. Don’t fuel the flames! Understand that there’s a fine line between polite persistence and annoyance. It’s never OK to harass editors. You should also avoid blasting a generic email to your entire media list. Why? Simple, as both Cohen and Asturias noted, custom pitches—ones geared towards a particular publication—are the ones that tend to be the most successful.

Need more tips on what to avoid doing? Check out HubSpot’s presentation on PR practices that journalists hate.

Get a little help from the other side.
Becky Blanton says working with someone from the other side—like a journalist—can help you experience PR success. Blanton explains how one of her current clients came to work with her, and all because of her media chops: “Kissito Health is a non-profit organization that let go of its PR company in favor of using a journalist (myself) to get the kind of PR they wanted.”

Blanton says hiring a journalist is a smart strategy since “a journalist will get to know you and your company and can easily spot newsworthy stories.” Another benefit? Blanton says hiring a journalist is cheaper than hiring a PR firm. Regarding where to find good journalists, she recommends checking out the site Displaced Journalists for leads. According to Blanton, Susan Older, a founding editor of USA Today and a former bureau chief for UPI (United Press International), created the site.

Don’t forget to do your homework.
Here are some additional sources to help rock your small business PR:

How does your business handle PR? Do you handle it in-house, or do you outsource it? Share in the comments.

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