Minal meets Ceri-Jane Hackling, Cerub PR
When it comes to PR, how do you feel? I know it’s something that small business owners would love to do, but they just don’t know how!
That’s why I decided to talk to an expert. PR, done correctly, can help open all sorts of doors for small businesses.
Ceri-Jane Hackling, founder of Cerub PR has shared some valuable insights, so grab a cuppa and soak in her expertise.
Minal: Tell me a bit about your business. What do you specialise in?
Ceri-Jane: I founded Cerub PR in 2003 and we provide PR and communication services to a range of B2B and B2C companies.
We work across a range of disciplines, including media relations, internal comms, copywriting, social media and thought leadership.
PR has changed so much over the last 19 years. We work hard to incorporate other services into our offering. This means we are able to adapt our services to our clients’ needs.
We work across a wide range of industries from veterinary pharmaceutical to personal development and HR, right through to charities and business support organisations.
Minal: Why did you start your business?
Ceri-Jane: I’d worked in PR for several years in a variety of companies, working on clients such as Debenhams, Mothercare, Bird’s Eye Walls, and worked as Press Officer for a mental health charity. After a few years, I wanted to leave London. I moved to Buckinghamshire and began working at a PR company but was made redundant shortly after starting.
That was when I realised that I didn’t really want to work for anyone else. I wanted to be responsible for myself and my work, be in control of my destiny and make my own decisions.
Because I’d worked in different industries, it gave me a more rounded view of how PR applies to different companies. While the basics are the same – communications – the tactics are different. The varied experience I had meant that I was able to look at things from different perspectives. Sometimes the obvious solutions aren’t the best so it helps to look at things from a different angle.
How PR can help small businesses
Minal: Why is PR so important for micro and small business owners?
Ceri-Jane: PR is widely misunderstood and most people don’t really understand what it is or how it works. On a fundamental level, PR is in everything you do. From how you present yourself at meetings or networking events, how your website looks, and how you answer the phone.
PR as a discipline is just an extension of that. Presenting your business in its best light and telling your story.
For small businesses, PR can be very impactful and can be extremely cost-effective. Advertising plays its part in the marketing mix but investing money into an advert on a page in a magazine will buy you exactly that. Just that page.
PR on the other hand can go a lot further. With a strong story, the potential is unlimited. As an example, a client of ours was featured in the Mail Online. Suddenly the story started appearing in the China Daily Post, publications in India and across the world. We even got phone calls from Australian talk shows asking to interview our client. She simply wouldn’t have had that coverage if she’d taken out an advert.
In the long run, all that coverage helped enhance her credibility and she quickly began to be a trusted source of comment in women’s magazines and newspapers.
In another case, a business owner we were working with featured widely in his industry press with thought leadership articles. It was only when he attended a trade event that he realised that his target audience not only knew who he was but wanted to speak to him about his thoughts on issues his industry was facing.
Minal: A lot of small business owners find PR scary – what’s the first thing they should do in terms of doing their own PR?
Ceri-Jane: People can be very scared of – as they see it – blowing their own trumpet but if you don’t do it, no one else is going to!
A good place with your PR to start is to look at your existing clients. Write down who they are and what they have in common. From there you can start to see patterns and can devise a PR plan to target customers like them.
If you’re targeting consumers, are they male or female? What age are they? Do they have common concerns you’re helping them to solve?
If you’re a B2B business, what are the industries you specifically work with? Is it the HR department or the finance department? What is the most common job title of the people who approach you?
By breaking down who your customers are, you can identify common themes which will help you to think about what media they might engage with and from there you can do your research into those titles and think about stories that might appeal to them.
Minal: How can business owners target the publications they want to appear in?
Ceri-Jane: The first – and possibly most important thing – is to do your research. It’s really worth spending time investigating the right media and contacts to avoid wasting valuable time later on by targeting the wrong people.
You need to understand the media that you want to appear in and the pages that are going to resonate most with your target audience, whether that’s national or local media.
The best way to do this is to go old school and buy physical copies of the magazines and newspapers you want to be seen in and go through them cover to cover and find out which journalists are responsible for which pages.
If you’re selling a product, see if there are any product pages featuring similar products and find out who’s responsible for them, or if you’re hoping to be seen in magazine articles as an expert, find features editors.
Once you’ve identified the right people and found their contact details, you need to pitch to them in the right way, usually via email.
If it’s a product, you’ll need a press release, a one-page document which explains who, what, where, why and when. It needs to be simple and explain what the product is in the first paragraph to get their attention. Images can also help but avoid attaching images which can make your information go to their junk boxes. Instead, send the image as a link in the main body of the email along with a note explaining that they can find more assets by following it.
Minal: What about TV? Is this something that’s outside a small business owner’s reach?
Ceri-Jane: TV isn’t necessarily out of reach for a small business. It all comes down to the story and identifying the story that’s going to appeal to them.
Don’t forget that the media isn’t there to promote your business so anything that’s too promotional will be instantly dismissed. Instead, think about why your story will interest their viewers. Again, research is essential, watch the programmes you want to be on and familiarise yourself with the kind of stories they feature.
Minal: Do press releases work for small businesses?
Ceri-Jane: Press releases are the best way to communicate news to the press. They should be used for things such as:
- new product announcements
- events or open days
- being shortlisted for or winning awards
- new staff appointments
- company announcements for example partnerships with other companies
- results of fundraising efforts
They aren’t appropriate if you’re pitching a story idea or an article, those are best to be sent in a separate, targeted email.
They should be written like an inverted pyramid, with the most newsworthy information at the top, more detailed important information further down, and finishing with other general information and your contact information.
Make sure it’s no longer than a page, is clear and concise and doesn’t have any spelling mistakes. Ideally, it should be written in a way that means it can be published as it is.
Minal: What should you consider if you want to work with a PR expert?
Ceri-Jane: You need to make sure you’ve got the right fit. The relationship between PR and client should be a close one so you need to make sure you have a team you get on with.
Our clients see us as part of their businesses, so we aren’t just there to write and send out press releases. We’re a sounding board for them and it’s up to us to challenge them if we don’t think something is going to work. You need to trust your agency to give you the best advice and not be a ‘yes man’
You also need to be realistic. Press coverage can take time to come through, so expecting coverage within weeks is unlikely. You need to be patient and understand that PR is a slow burn. One piece of coverage is unlikely to result in thousands of pounds in sales instantly. As they say, it takes time to be an overnight success!
Minal: What are your top three tips when it comes to getting PR for your business?
Ceri-Jane: Understand what you’re selling and what your clients are buying. Often there’s a mismatch between what you think your clients are buying and what they believe they’re buying so clarifying that will help with your key messages.
Do your research. Understand what the best media is for your target audience. On a very basic level (and this is a generalisation!) a woman of 21 is looking for different products and information than a woman of 50. In the same way, a trade magazine focusing on veterinary products isn’t going to be interested in an opinion piece from a travel expert.
Be patient. It’s not an overnight process but it is a great way to raise awareness of your products and services and with persistence and a clear strategy you’ll get there.