Three Keys To Laying A Strong PR Foundation

In a recent New York Times post on working with a public relations firm, Jennifer Walzer lays out some commonsense steps on systematizing and managing your PR firm as a small business owner.

But as we've already seen, the issue that many entrepreneurs have with retaining outside PR counsel (or hiring specialists internally) is that they have budget constraints.

This is the reason a lot of small businesses pay homage to the D-I-Y-P-R philosophy. And as I've said before, I personally am not a fan of D-I-Y anything, unless D-I-Y is the business you're in.

So what's a small business to do? Even if you can't retain a firm or consultant when you start out, here are three ways you can start laying a strong PR foundation from the get-go... way before you send out a press release or start engaging in media outreach.

1. FAQ.
One of the most important PR foundational components is a comprehensive FAQ (frequently asked questions). And I'm surprised at just how many small businesses don't have these written down.

A good FAQ will ask -- and answer -- just about any question anyone could ask about your business (good or bad). And if you're really creative, even better.

Who are you? How was the product developed? Who's behind the business? How do people access it? If you're an e-commerce merchant, what is your refund policy? How do you handle customer privacy? What about online security? The list goes on.

Creating a good FAQ that answers these questions honestly and accurately will serve as a handy reference, both for your customers, the media, as well as yourself.

Many businesses post FAQs on their websites. Several don't. Whether you choose to or not is completely up to you; but having it handy will serve you in good stead when you find yourself having to provide these answers on a regular basis.

2. Messaging.
You might think this means a lot of "spin."

In truth, the "spin" factor is about as far from the day-to-day practice of PR as you can get. What a good PR pro will help you do is to draft, and pull together, the main threads of your business' story that you can then tell through various channels. And often that means boiling down your story into the top two or three "takeaways."

Once you've worked on your FAQ, start formulating your key messages. What you want to focus on here isn't a laundry list (as the FAQ is likely to be).

Here, you want to be quite clear about how your product/service stands out from the rest of the pack. How are you different? Why should people buy from you? Why should they remember you over all others?

First, answer these questions succinctly. Then, condense them into the top one or two things you want your audience to keep in mind when they think of you.

Whether or not you believe we have shorter attention spans these days, you still want to battle as little as possible for attention. So don't try to be all things to all people; instead, focus on the one or two elements of your business that really set you apart.

Those are your key messages.

3. Sound bites.
Once you have your FAQ and key messages worked out, focus on creating a stable of good sound bites. A "sound bite" is, as Mark Twain put it, "a minimum of sound to a maximum of sense."

In other words, it is the essence of what you want to leave your audience with -- like your key message -- but crafted in such a way as to almost immediately be memorable and, thus, linger in your audience's mind.

"Ich bin ein Berliner" is one of the most memorable sound bites of the 20th century. But even if you're not a charismatic head of state, you can use contrast, analogy, or a variety of other techniques to conjure a visual image of what you're saying, in as few words as possible.

You'll find these will come in handy not just when talking to the media, but when creating your elevator speech as well. And social media, particularly micro-blogging platforms like Twitter? Perfect for sound bites.

Once you have these three cornerstones of PR laid out for your business, you will be in a much stronger position to tell your own story, particularly if you don't have the resources to engage external help on a regular basis.

Image: Bill Jacobus via Flickr, CC 2.0