Small companies looking to create their story and magic can do so through marketing and PR. However, for most small businesses this can be a challenging and costly endeavor. Committing to a yearly contract with a PR agency can feel scary and out of reach when your budget for marketing is very limited or even non-existent.
For smaller brick and mortar businesses, “a la carte” PR services can be a more affordable transition into working with an agency while still benefitting and leveraging the expertise of an established and well-connected PR firm.
I co-own and operate two music schools located in Los Angeles. When we opened our second location, I felt like we needed outside help to generate exposure, get our name out into our new community, and help us hit the ground running. I knew that a PR agency would be the most effective way to achieve this. I learned a lot along the way.
Here are 5 affordable ways a small business can have a successful PR campaign.
1. Negotiate a low monthly retainer for 3-6 months with a boutique agency or publicist
The traditional model involves paying a certain amount of money up front each month. The number of hours you get depends on the hourly rate of the person working on your behalf – so if you are paying $1000 and your publicist charges $100 an hour, that equates to 10 hours of work completed against your retainer each month. Most smaller boutique agencies consider $2,500 a month to be a minimum retainer, while larger agencies may consider $10k+ per month to be a starting point. Of course, the more you can spend, the more time your PR team has to pitch you to the media and provide support. Retainers typically require a commitment of at least 6 months. This is because PR is considered cumulative and most PR firms say that consistent work and outreach will obtain the best results.
2. Ask what kind of packages they offer for small businesses seeking to “try out” the agency
iMinds PR, a Pasadena boutique firm, offers a Starter Pack to build a relationship with many of their smaller clients. iMinds PR came up with this idea to serve smaller businesses who could do some of their own PR work in-house and be augmented by their knowledge base and counsel. This type of initial relationship is important to allow any agency to fully understand your business and help them convey it effectively to the public. Knowing your business well helps an agency highlight the valuable parts of your company, like how it stands out from the competition, as well as give you your desired exposure in your marketplace.
3. Retain an agency or publicist for a short-term project or event
Using PR expertise ongoing, is a luxury that most small companies simply cannot afford. Choosing a specific event that has a start and end-date is a great way to understand the return on investment (ROI) for the expense and to assess the value of PR services in the future. To have a successful opening of our second location, we organized a large one-day event to rally the community around a local charity that would help us get our name out there and also help raise money for their foundation. I researched and interviewed PR agencies who had experience in the education sector. Working with a firm on this specific event without a long term commitment helped us understand the ROI of the event and have clear goals and expectations on deliverables.
Unlike the retainer model, a PR project is a one-time fixed cost. Agencies might offer this to a new client as a way of proving their value. These projects could be centered around specific events, media pitching, new website or a blogging campaign as examples. With these types of projects, the client pays one price, no matter how many hours the project takes to complete.
4. Negotiate cost and be upfront about your budget and the size of your company
Many PR agencies work with clients of all sizes, however the majority of their revenue is derived from larger companies with monthly PR budgets similar to a small business’ monthly revenue. It’s important to be upfront about your size, market, financial goals, and most importantly, budget. A PR agency should be able to offer realistic programs that will not be financially out of your reach. A good PR agency will tell you what they can and cannot do within your budget. In many cases, they work with you to give you the tools and support to handle the parts of the project that make less financial sense for them to do. As a small business owner it’s unrealistic to hand everything off to a publicist or PR agency. You need to get your hands dirty and do a portion of this work yourself.
5. Hire a “hungry” freelance publicist part-time
Using a freelance publicist or good social media blog writer can work well with low budgets but is not always as effective and all-encompassing as working with a PR firm. The right person could generate some good exposure to your growing brand and publicly give it a sense of maturity. If you know someone, who is willing to be a brand ambassador, on the cheap, this could be a good way to get some low-cost PR. The downside is that you could be sacrificing access to big ideas, creativity and connections that only come with a successful and experienced PR Firm. Additionally, you will be required to work more intimately to manage some of the details, rather than if you were working with a firm. You need to balance that time spent versus the time working on other more strategic efforts required to run a successful small business.
The decision on how to work with a PR agency or publicist should be made as you set your goals for growth and consider your options. Compare this against your current capabilities, budget and specific needs. Each agency has its own expertise, personality, connections, and set of services. It’s worth taking the time to find the right fit. Good Luck!
iMinds PR (www.imindspr.com) is a boutique PR agency in Old Town Pasadena with a wide range of clients from social good and not-for-profits to arts and entertainment, technology, travel, tourism and special events. iMinds PR offers PR services giving clients the option to purchase packages of PR campaigns, including social media and event production. It all starts with a phone call, then a kickoff in-person meeting to start your new project that will help you get exposure and grow like never before. iMinds PR works with organizations as a PR partner so their job is to provide expertise, mentorship and strategic insight related to communications. They are outside the organization but positioned as another team member, providing mentorship, creative input and small and big picture ideas looking at your organization or project as a whole, not just from a narrow PR lens. At the end of the day, president and founder of iMinds PR, Carla Sameth, has always said that “it is key to work with people who have passion, curiosity and creativity so that they can truly tell your story in a way that engages your target audience.”
Entrepreneur/Co-owner at Green Brooms Music Academy
Manuel Lozano, an outdoor enthusiast and entrepreneur/co-owner of two music schools in Los Angeles. Manuel is dedicated to inspiring and motivating other dads to be more hands on and involved with their kids. To follow his adventures with his daughter Iris, check out @happierdad on Instagram and Twitter.