Traditional News Rarely Cares About Traditional Small Businesses

There is a common experience for public relations practitioners in which firms’ prospects get a hankering to gain publicity or fame because they believe it will help their business. Sometimes- as is the case for adventurous consumer brands such as Red Bull or Coachella music festival- extra publicity can lead to extra attention, resulting in increased sales.

Yet for many smaller companies, traditional PR focused on gaining attention by landing stories in mainstream newspapers is at best a shot in the dark and at worst a fool’s errand (much like juxtaposing contrasting clichés in a single sentence in the middle of an article on public relations).

This isn’t to say PR is an ineffective tactic. Large companies push PR successfully as a single tactic in a larger suite of diverse marketing strategies. Quirkier or more fashionable organizations such as new bars or restaurants deploy PR to bring in reviewers or pack the place for grand openings. However, your average home contractor, accountant, lawyer, or dry cleaner is probably better suited dedicating its dollars elsewhere.

This isn’t to speak of the B2B market. In business-specific media, it makes sense to position your company as a business leader, so landing stories in Business Insider, Forbes, the local business journal, and other similar publication may be beneficial. But business media is its own animal. Business publications are not in the standard reading diet for the general public, and in standard newspapers, business news is relegated to its own section.

When small businesses that are not made to land stories in traditional media hire PR firms, it turns into a raw deal for everyone. At first, both sides are thrilled; the customer is excited about the prospect of extra attention and potential customers, and the firm is happy to have another client on retainer. But as months go by and the retainer invoices continue to roll into the customer’s inbox without another story landing in ink (or digital type), the customer gets angry, and the firm starts staying up later and later with less and less ideas on how to use its incoming cash effectively.

Therefore, instead of spending dollars on outreach, it makes more sense for companies to focus on sales, small marketing tests, tools such as better accounting widgets, or extra help to make sure day-to-day tasks are covered. An auto garage may not make for a great story that will cause customers to stream through the doors, but advertising in the paper could create a return for those seeking out a mechanic.

In other words: before spending money on a PR firm, businesses should determine whether or not landing in the local paper is likely or helpful. If you’re a business owner or executive decisionmaker, ask yourself three questions and answer them honestly:

  1. Is your company one that would land in the news cycle because it is relevant to the world around you?
  2. If you did land in the paper, would it help your bottom line?
  3. Or would it just be nice to see your picture and the business name in print?

Let the answers to those questions guide you in making a decision about spending your budget on outreach to the media.

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