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The past 18 months have been challenging for businesses, but none more so than small and midsize businesses (SMBs). They’ve had to scramble and pivot to stay relevant in a COVID world. Despite the challenges, many have not only survived, but thrived, and are ready to grow. For some, that means launching a PR strategy to help bolster their brand and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

We asked four PR professionals that work with SMBs— Patricia Baronowski-Schneider, president and CEO of Pristine Advisers; Ronai Rivera, owner at Anomaly the Agency; Colin Bennett, founder and owner of C.L. Bennett PR, and Luiza Leal, marketing specialist and professional writer—for 3 ways PR can help small businesses as they prepare to move forward post-COVID.

Listening is Key

Remote PR Jobs: What is the best piece of advice you can give a new PR professional when they are targeting the SMB space?

Baronowski-Schneider: I believe the best piece of advice I can give is to do your homework. I also tend to do a small audit on my end first (who are they? Who are their peers? How active are they (if at all) – how active are their peers? Any media exposure? How is their website functionality? This gives you an idea of whether or not they intend to be active and also, why they should be (if their peers are more active than they are) – at least at this point you would have facts of which to present your case.

Leal: Mid-market executives are usually busy and have constrained resources. For that reason, how they look for solutions is different from how large corporations do. Their approach to solving issues is more similar to consumers, for example, by doing their own research, considering multiple options when choosing a particular service or product, and looking for the biggest bang for their buck. Be personable, take time to listen and understand the clients’ issues, offer solutions, and make them feel valued.

Rivera: Move with confidence. Know your worth. Do the research. Prepare to pivot. Relationship building goes a long way, especially with SMBs. Meet people where they’re at while educating them on where they can be. This is one of many keys to positive change in your career with SMBs.

Remote PR Jobs: How is approaching SMBs different than targeting larger enterprises?

Bennett: SMBs are very specific in what they’re looking for. Explain to them what you can do for them if they listen, and if you listen to them.

 Rivera: SMBs tend to have smaller budgets and require a little more direction and education on what exactly PR professionals can do for business. It’s important to begin with educating them on the importance of PR and why creating a budget matters. Finding ways to work around their potentially low to non-existent budget while still providing high-quality work is key.

Embrace Engagement

Remote PR Jobs: What trends do you see happening across the SMB space that PR pros can capitalize on in their pitching?

Leal: Technology was instrumental for businesses to overcome the restrictions and social distancing these past years. With businesses migrating to the virtual world, new trends arise. PR professionals should consider that people now spend more time on social platforms and have reduced attention span when reading online. Building engaging and easy-to-read online presentations, concise and straightforward proposals, and having the initiative to connect with prospects using social platforms are good strategies to capitalize in this new business world.

Baronowski-Schneider: I see that many things are becoming AI-generated. It is almost impossible to talk to a live person anymore as everything is becoming automated. You can write news articles, presentations, blogs, etc. all by typing in a key-word and AI autogenerates it. This will allow PR people to capitalize on the “help” that we now have. No longer do we need to develop a pitch or do tons of research to find out what is being said, what is trending, etc. It can all be generated by AI means.

Rivera: Small businesses are at the very top of the list, in terms of what’s trending in business right now. Capitalize on supporting local and the benefits of working with smaller, more intimate businesses as opposed to larger enterprises. At a time where maintaining distance has been at the forefront of our everyday lives, creating stronger relationships, whether online or in-person, truly makes all the difference.

Dig for Differentiation

Remote PR Jobs: What is the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome when pitching the SMB space?

Rivera: Relevancy. Because SMBs are becoming increasingly popular, and because there are topics that are considered higher priority at this time, finding the “one thing” that truly sets SMBs apart and still somehow relates to more critical current events can be tricky at times.

Baronowski-Schneider: The most difficult thing is weeding through a lot of noise. With the world being remote for so long, it seems everyone under the sun is some sort of “coach” in one way or another. I get a minimum of 10 pitches a day for this, so imagine how many SMBs get. On top of it all, these random emails and advertisements that pop up on everything we touch all claim to solve the problem, make huge profits, make your life easier, etc.

In delving further, you can see how the majority are false claims. For example, I was pitched a business who didn’t realize that I, too, was a PR professional. Their pitch was, “why pay thousands of dollars to an agency who may or may not get you media exposure. We can guarantee you two media hits a month for only $1k a month.” When I asked, “what publications are you guaranteeing my media?” they replied with a basic online platform that they had. Basically, they had a platform with a staff writer who would write two articles a month and post it on there. When I asked, “then what?” there was silence.

I thought the original pitch was clever in that it made sense, but they obviously didn’t catch on that I would know how this was a go-nowhere system. No one knew of this online platform, so who would even find out about these articles? No one. That is where the marketing comes into play. Sure, you can get a media hit anywhere – but it is when you market it across the masses that it has value. If they weren’t going to do that part of it, then what was the point? Nothing other than making them money.

Sadly, that is where difficulties come in for PR folks. SMBs all want the cheapest means possible, so it is a matter of explaining how you get what you pay for. It is also a matter of explaining the work involved in doing a good PR campaign – which is in-depth and thorough – not doing half-hearted work for a dollar and a dream.

Bennett: Getting the potential clients to change their practices or even accept that they need the help in the first place. My best clients were those that were already open to the idea because they would ask questions on how the whole process works and that it’s not magic.