To Succeed Small Business Marketers Must Unlearn Traditional PR

business page close up Don’t get me wrong.  Public relations is still a critical component to any marketing strategy for companies of all sizes. 

Nonetheless, I am convinced that we need to turn our notions of public relations upside down so that it functions within a content marketing context.

I was inspired to think again about the transformation of public relations by a recent post from David Meerman Scott in his blog.  He was sharing some top of mind ideas relating to successful public relations strategies for small businesses.  Here are his top two out of ten:


  1. The old ways to get noticed were to buy expensive advertising and beg the media to write about you and your products. The best way to get noticed today is to publish great content online.
  2. Don’t talk about what your products and services do. Instead talk about how you solve problems for your customers.

I have been on the receiving end of a zillion traditional public relations efforts.  As the owner of a small business magazine, Southwest Florida Business, I was deluged with press releases from local companies who were hoping that we would write about them.  The typical press release contained an item about the promotion of someone to a new management job, the opening of a new location, and sometimes, but much less often the launch of a new product or service.

What was true then–and even more true now–is that press releases that are all about the company issuing them are not all that interesting to their customers. In fact, a great press release has never been more important.  And, it’s all about the Internet.

In the days before the Internet became the dominant source of product information for most buyers, a press release was pretty much a two-dimensional document with a dual purpose:

  1. To get the publication to write about your company by reworking the release or simply republishing it as a story.
  2. Even better, to get an editor or reporter to contact your company with a phone call to ask for more information that might lead to a bigger, more comprehensive article.

Even then, a press release that focused on meaningful solutions for an important market segment would be most likely to see the light of day.  But that depended entirely on the actions of the traditional media companies.

Content and Customers Are King In the 21st Century

David’s first point about the importance of content really has two components:

  1. The explicit point is that intrinsically valuable content will resonate not only with the press but with all of your targeted customers.  Customers now do most of their research online before they will ever contact you by phone or walk into your store. That’s why you must provide relevant and valuable content.
  2. The implicit point is that now for the very first time it is possible to provide a rich set of content on your website or your blog in a way that would have been impossible even 10 years ago.  Thus, a reporter doesn’t have to call you in order to research a story.  That reporter can go to your website or read your blog in order to determine why their readers would care about your company, your products, and your solutions.

Content driven marketing strategies offer you a potentially powerful weapon–even against  much bigger competitors.  If you provide great content that makes it easy for your prospective customers to buy from you, you dramatically improve your odds of beating the competition.  Conversely, if you fail to provide great content, you risk sharing the fate of buggy whip makers in the automobile age.  You may become an irrelevant antique with fewer and fewer customers over time.

Getting back to public relations: if your PR strategy is driven with a customer focus that is backed up by a rich set of customer centric content, you will generate news.  You will also accelerate your sales growth.  On the other hand, if you or your agency is churning out old-fashioned, company-centric press releases that fail to direct reporters or prospects to great content, you are just wasting marketing dollars.

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  1. Posted May 25, 2008 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks Newt. What’s interesting to me is that people mistake “media relations” for “public relations”. They’re different. PR is about dealing with your publics which is so easy to do with great content. Media Relations is using mainstream media as your mouthpiece which is difficult. The most successful business understand this difference.

    I’m looking forward to your book.


  2. Posted July 2, 2008 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Newt, thanks for the interesting post. Even though we are an online business we are constantly having to rethink the way we approach our audience and how to get our message out there. In fact it is no longer just the content we have on the site, but the way we communicate. It’s exciting times indeed. Look forward to reading more in your book.

  3. Posted August 17, 2008 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Here here Newt. Moreover, how does the PR strategy open the way, an invite, the consumer to evolve the brand? Hopefully more people may realise the power of listening in PR – followed by feedback based on the listening – and of creating a community in which the consumer feels a true sens of ownership and shared knowledge from the company culture.

  4. Posted August 26, 2008 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Much as I hate to say it, merely producing high quality online content without any promotion whatsoever is likely to fail. As a writer I find this frustrating, but true.

  5. Posted October 19, 2008 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    that was a very interesting post, high quality content doesn’t guarantee anything. Walt Whitman once said, “A great story needs a great audience.”
    seo san diego

  6. Posted October 27, 2008 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I like your idea of a reporter reading a company’s blog, either instead of calling or perhapse before calling. I think that considering that a reporter might base their impression of your company based on what they read on your blog is a good thing to keep in mind when writing posts.

  7. Posted November 2, 2008 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Valuable insights, Newt. In fact, I’ve been experiencing exactly these conditions (thought I haven’t had time to coherently recognize then as such). As a refugee from the ad sales industry, I started this business with the intention of promoting it without conventional advertising. Instead, we try EVERYTHING we can thing of, and anything that produces results we continue trying. Blogs, site events, substantial content production, I only realize after reading this, is unquestionably our most effective tool for driving and keeping clients.

  8. Newt Barrett
    Posted November 4, 2008 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    F–Exactly, you are establishing credibility online with your current and future customers as well as reporters.
    B-I’m also a refugee–long ago–from ad sales and even owned a regional business magazine from 97 to 01. Even then I realized that traditional advertising was unlikely to pay off for many small co.s with small budgets. Thank heavens for inexpensive websites and online publicity possibilities

  9. Posted January 6, 2009 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    exactly and with the advent of blogging, there is instant exposure and visibility!

  10. Posted October 20, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Doing things traditionally simply states that they are either how everyone approaches them, or that they can be modernized. Press releases are, to my opinion, one of the best SEO strategies a company, whether small or big, to gain some credibility AND authority.