Be Your Own Flack (“B.Y.O.F.”): So what is PR, anyway?

Before I started my business, I thought PR was about getting press.  Period.  A bunch of my friends are entrepreneurs, and they hire PR agencies to convince journalists and bloggers to write about them, TV shows to feature them, and twitterers to tweet about them.  Some of these friends have entirely separate crews to handle their publicity (but isn’t that part of the whole PR thing?).  So I sat down and asked some of my most successful small-biz owner friends what they pay for these services.  And I about died.  Since I’m running a start-up, my PR budget is exactly zero.  As I mentioned in my first post, it was about then I decided I’d do this PR thing myself.

But where to start?  I sat down and thought about what “public relations” meant to me.  Since I have no formal PR training, everything I know I’ve learned from reading books, articles, blog posts and tweets; from watching how companies on (and off) Twitter have worked to brand themselves; from years of contributing to and being a consumer of corporate PR.  And, of course, from being a heavy-duty consumer of popular culture.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Branding.  I’d first have to create a coherent brand for What’s Your Twenty.  A consistent message that my company would send to the world about what we are, what we stand for, and why people should care.  For me, this was point zero.  Everything below is about disseminating this message to the world once I was clear on what exactly that message was.  I’m looking forward to introducing you to an expert (or two . . . .) who’ll give us do-it-yourselfers a few tips.
  • Website.  Another sticky point for someone who doesn’t know the first thing about HTML (or any of those other coding languages for that matter) and has no budget.  As you can see, mine’s still under construction (more on the whole process in a post coming soon – the fantastic Marcy Capron [full disclosure:  she’s my cousin, but she rocks!] is building my site, which I’m busy adding content to now).  But websites are key.  They reinforce your brand and are your lowest hanging fruit in terms of an opportunity to convey your message to your clients, prospects, and colleagues.
  • Blog.  As my friend Elizabeth Beskin said during a recent social media presentation for event planners at the Oak Room, your website is your digital brochure and your blog is where the real personality behind your brand comes out.  Mine will launch simultaneously with and be a part of my company’s website.  Some find it more effective to keep their blog completely separate.  We’ll talk to people about the pros and cons of each.
  • SEO.  Okay . . . I must admit.  I had to google this one to find out what it stood for—let alone what it meant.  I mean, I had some idea—but Search Engine Optimization is key.  What’s the point of having a website and a blog if no one’s looking at it or reading it?  You have to help these Google and Bing searchers out—you have to drive traffic to your website with keywords and indexing and lots of other stuff I’m far from an expert at.  Sometimes the person building your website knows how to do this really well—and sometimes, you’ll find, you’re better off hiring someone who’s an SEO expert to make your site most visible. We’ll be talking to an expert or two and learning all about it together.
  • Social Media Strategy.  Every [small] business needs one, crafted to reinforce the core message of your brand.  I started where I’m most comfortable, on Twitter.  I also created a Facebook Fan Page, which I really need to update more frequently.  Now that the event side of the walkie biz is up and running, this should become a lot easier.  But there are lots of other things I do in terms of social media, too.  You guessed it, more coming soon.
  • Networking, Networking, Networking.  Why is networking on my PR list?  Because when you own and operate a small business, you are your brand.  I go to tons of networking events—first, I love them.  It’s great meeting new people, hearing about their experiences and figuring out how you can help one another.  But I’ve also found that for small biz owners, it’s a critical component of being your own flack.  You have to get out there and meet people—not only potential clients, but also industry colleagues, marketing/branding/PR thought leaders and anyone else you think you might learn from.  From joining professional associations (I’m a proud member of ISES, the International Special Events Society) to TweetUps and MeetUps and Twitter Chats and industry events (just to name a few) it’s so important to just get out there.  Lots more on this one soon.
  • Marketing.  I was debating whether to make this a separate bullet, since it’s so tied up with the others.  But there’s one person I met on Twitter from whom I’ve learned so much about marketing that she single-handedly won her area of expertise it’s own shout-out.  I can’t wait for all of you to meet her.
  • And . . . you’ve been waiting for it . . . Press.  You’re working so hard at building your brand, getting the word out, driving traffic to your site, networking, networking, networking.  It’d be nice to see a media outlet other than your own blog recognize your hard work and feature the brand you’re working day and night to create.  And this, my friends, is not easy.  It’s the main reason why small business owners hire PR firms.  And don’t get me wrong, as soon as my business is big enough, I’ll hire one, too.  But until then, in upcoming posts, I’ll be letting you in on all the secrets I’ve discovered thus far.  Secrets that, hopefully, can help you make enough money to hire a pro!

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be talking with experts in each of these fields and sharing with you what I’ve learned from them.  And with a little luck, you too will be able to be your own flack.

Okay, PR pros, what am I missing?  Small business owners, what else is on your list?  What would you like to know?

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