By Reneé Pretorius, …with pepper communications.

As a small business or franchise owner, you probably think that ‘PR’ is for major companies that can afford to pay a ‘PR’ consultant a huge monthly retainer to keep them in the press when they are squeaky clean and out of it when they are not so … squeaky clean.

This is a misconception since unlike marketing, PR is mostly FREE. To boil it down to a definition: Public relations is simply accurate, consistent and timely communications that convey the right message to the right audience.

Communications plan

How can a small business owner or franchisee get the most out of PR? Sorry, no magic here. Step one – (with your business plan in the one hand) write a communications plan. It does not need to be a thesis, it can be more like a checklist to make sure you are not wasting time and money losing track of your message and your audience.

Ask the following questions:
What are your key strategic objectives (straight out of your business plan)?
1. Example: Gain 10% of the coffee to go market in South Africa by 2015
Who is the target market (business plan)?
2. Example: Busy coffee lovers
How do you want your audience/ target market to perceive your product (so that they will buy into your business so that you can reach your key strategic objective)?
3. Example: Quick, delicious, value for money
What is the message you want to convey to them?
4. Example: Your favourite coffee is already waiting for you at our counter
Again – who is your target audience (Where do they hang out/ what do they read/ what do they listen to/ what turns them on?)
5. Example: Higher LSM, urban, smart phone junkies etc
What is your communications (PR) objective?
6. Example: Increase awareness of the new coffee to go outlets in Cape Town by 50% by end June 2013.

Then decide how much money and time you have available for your action plan.

Action plan

If you have almost no money and very little time for communications the best way to spend it would be to communicate to your staff. They carry your brand and your message for you. Always include your staff (internal audience) in all your communications activities and train them on your brand values so that they become brand ambassadors.

Then choose the channels best to reach your audience – the mix should also always include print and online media channels.

There are many creative ways in which to get your message across. Keep it relevant to the people you want to talk to and what you want to achieve. Here are a few channels and activities to give you an idea:
1. website,
2. mailers,
3. newsletters,
4. Facebook,
5. LinkedIn,
6. Twitter,
7. Pinterest,
8. YouTube,
9. launch parties,
10. golf days,
11. road shows,
12. community investment activities (charity),
13. awards campaigns,
14. competitions, blogs,
15. gifts, radio,
16. TV,
17. forums,
18. exhibitions,
19. mobile campaigns,
20. editorial in print and online media.

Few small companies or franchises have time and money to focus too much on events as there are so many other opportunities with a great return on (minimal) investment.

Social media

Managing your company or franchise’s communications became easier (and more difficult) with the onset of the digital age and social media networks. Most of these platforms are free. These days you can set up a website through WordPress that won’t cost you a thing. You are not dependant on some journalist picking your story; you can churn out endless content to your heart’s umm… content. But on the other hand, communicating through social media means real two-way communication. Now your customers are talking to you and about you and the only way you can manage your brand is by being in the thick of things with them. Social media communication keeps your brand on its toes (not always comfortable). It is very important that if you decide to go onto Facebook or Twitter that you will be able to keep content very fresh, respond to queries or feedback from your audience immediately and have a damage control scenario plan ready (“no comment” does not count).

The information age also cames with another thing – TOO MUCH INFORMATION! How do you get heard over the din of everybody trying to get heard?

Best bet – meaningful content at the right time.

Meaningful/ interesting content can be difficult to create continuously for a business owner or franchisee who is also the HR department, bookkeeper etc. It will take time, but it is easier if you are passionate about the product or service you are selling and the people you are selling it to. If you have an interest in your product you will know about new developments, legal issues, environmental issues, social issues and all the things that connect your product to its buyers. You will also know who your customers are and what is important to them.

Then talk about it where they will read it, hear it and see it. Piggy-back on relevant themes of the day, news, what is trending on Twitter or what is happening in your industry (i.e. franchises or franchising) for example. Always include why this is relevant to your product as well as your message to your audience.

With all things in your business – evaluate. Ask – is this working? Have we done what we said we would do? What are the results? Measuring your success is possible even in PR!

It is worth it to dedicate budget to either outsource or appoint someone to assist you with your business orbusiness or franchise’s communication or parts of it and it does not have to be that huge monthly retainer. Choosing the right consultant is another story all together.

Related article: How important social media marketing is for franchisors Read here…