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PR agencies give small businesses a big presence

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Shakira Brown, the chief executive officer of SMB Strategic Media.
Shakira Brown, the chief executive officer of SMB Strategic Media. - ()

The owners of the Millburn Short-Hills Athletic Club felt their revenues were getting cramped, so they reached out to SMB Strategic Media, a Hamilton-based small-business PR shop for a pick-me-up.

Shakira Brown, the chief executive officer of SMB, said that after speaking with the athletic club’s owners, she understood that they no longer had a clear understanding of what their business was anymore “and no traditional PR campaign would solve that issue.” The owners engaged SMB to create their new brand messaging strategy.

Tailoring a message

The athletic club had a unique target market: people who wanted to move better and maintain their agility as they aged, instead of losing weight or getting buff. So Brown’s firm—which has a fluctuating number of freelance workers—helped the owners to redefine their business proposition.

“Once we developed a new mission, vision, value propositions and business description, my firm recommended they change their name because the current one no longer fit the new focus we defined for the fitness studio,” she said.

SMB Strategic Media’s recommended a new name: Longevity Personal Fitness. The client agreed, and also followed additional advice, which included a new website, exterior signage and eye-catching window displays. “In 2016 they shared that they had one of their best summers in 24 years of business; and today are in a whole new positive direction,” she said.

Selecting the right public relations firm can help to boost the bottom line of any business—but resource-strained small- and medium-size companies may feel it’s not in their financial reach. Brown, who’s been in the PR business for nearly 20 years and has operated her consultancy since 2004, said that early on many small business owners told her that they could not afford PR services.

Reminder: Insurance is a necessity

Public relations firms, like just about any other business, should carry insurance, notes Esther Tanez, CEO of the Newark-based insurance agency E.S.T.I.R. Inc.

Here are some “must-have” policies. The policy limits will vary depending on your agency’s individual circumstances.

• Business Owner Policy that includes claims for libel and slander
• Interior coverage, in case of fire damage
• Products and liability—If your agency makes a mistake on an ad, or say, the date a sale ends
• Commercial Auto—in case you or your employees get in a vehicular accident
• Cyber Liability—if data you store gets hacked and exposed
• Directors and Officers—covers your board members
• EPLI- Employment Practices Liability Insurance—“This is huge” if an employee alleges harassment or discrimination
• Excess Liability, or Umbrella—a sort of “catch all” if liability exceeds your primary coverage
• Workers Compensation—covers workplace slip and falls and other accidents. May be required by state law if you have any employees.

Low overhead can mean competitive pricing

“Then it occurred to me that I had developed a low overhead business model offering both Madison Avenue PR firm and corporate communications experience,” she said. Today, her company’s focus is “100 percent on providing affordable public relations, branding and social media marketing strategy services exclusively to small businesses.”

It’s a field that continues to change. “We live in a socially conscious world,” said Brown. “No longer can you set out to do something for a self-serving public relations purpose. If you connect your business to your intended audience by making a difference or a clear selfless purpose, you will not only receive the attention you desire, you will earn the recognition you deserve.”

“Making a difference doesn’t have to be something philanthropic,” she said. “It can be as simple as making someone smile or providing a memorable experience they share via social media.”

Take your own advice

When Gillian Small launched her eponymously named PR firm in Hoboken three years ago—after working for a series of larger agencies—she tapped into her own public relations talents to snare her first client.

“We try to build relationships with the media so we can showcase our clients’ stories,” she said. Fortunately, Small took her own advice to heart. She stayed in touch with Monif C., a New York City-based modern plus-size clothing company where she interned on college. That kind of “in” got the first gig for Small’s company.

“Within four months, we got Monif an exclusive on YahooNews that went viral,” said Small, president of Gillian Small Public Relations. “She was one of the first to launch fashionable plus-size clothing, in 2005. By 2015, the plus-size industry as a whole was breaking out, and CBS News did a segment on the industry’s growth and focused on Monif.”

 The kind of exposure Monif C. got from the viral Yahoo story gave the company a leg up, Small said, but a business can’t coast on exposure alone.

Business owners have to pitch in

“Business owners looking to start a PR campaign have to be sure they’ve got enough product to meet demand,” she said, acknowledging that they have to strike a balance to avoid overstocking or understocking inventory. “They need to be sensitive to development and replenishment time and shipping ability, so they don’t run out stock if demand picks up suddenly.”

Another demand-related issue goes to the heart of PR: generating publicity.

“Our clients have to be able to meet the demand for speaking and other engagements,” said Small. “If a TV station, newspaper or other media channel requests an interview, the business owner needs to have someone who can quickly hop on the phone or otherwise make themselves available. Media companies are on a tight schedule, and if you burn them once, they may not come by again.”

Focusing on smaller businesses can be a challenge, since the client’s budget is usually tight, “but a PR firm with low overhead can work with that and still turn a profit,” Small said. “But in turn, we have to be very creative to get our clients’ messages out within the constraints of their spend. Everyone talks a large firm like Apple, but when you’re a small business, you’ve got to work harder to cut through the noise. It can be done, but it takes a lot of work.”

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