x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Insights on raising your SME’s media profile in this digital age

You can pay an external company to handle your firm's publicity – or find someone capable in-house.

What’s the best way to raise the profile of a small to medium-sized company in the media? We launched two years ago and are now at the stage where we would like to increase our exposure in the marketplace. Is this something we should do in-house or should we hire an external PR agency?

This is a great question and it’s something I only got the hang of much later in my business life. The first important thing to understand is the difference between marketing and public relations (PR).

Marketing is the process of promoting, selling and distributing a product, from the purchaser to the customer. PR encourages the public to better understand the products or services the company provides and builds a relationship between the company, its customers and its products.

My objective in defining these two key terms is to underscore how marketing feeds into PR. Let’s take the example of a company distributing tea. Let’s call it The Tea Company (TTC). In this highly competitive market TTC devised a strategy to source and sell organic teas with digestive properties. Securing the supply of these speciality teas is just one part of their plan. To promote these teas to the consumer, TTC will need to commission standout product packaging, design and print brochures, attend trade shows, develop a social media strategy and conduct advertising. These marketing activities will require financial investment and thorough planning.

Investing in these marketing activities also generates content. As their content develops, TTC will need to build interesting marketing angles for its new teas that “spin” a great story – perhaps something about their organic certification, their medically proven digestive benefits along with high- resolution images of their striking packaging.

Good content makes for newsworthy stories. Journalists love a good story and are sure to pick up on this interesting tea story. However, a journalist’s story emphasis might be quite different to the original content TTC wrote. For example the journalist might focus more on TTC’s cool packaging rather than the organic tea and its benefits. The journalist is likely to release the story in print, online, on Facebook, on Twitter and even on Instagram – perhaps simultaneously.

Three important points emerge for the SME looking to raise their media profile.

• First, good marketing content generates great stories that create media interest and thus good PR. While marketing has a financial cost, PR can cost nothing.

• Second, once a story is released to the media the SME is unable to anticipate the development of the story as it disseminates across multiple social media and print platforms.

• Third, marketing gives the SME authority and control over its creative content. However, the rapid growth of social media is increasingly blurring the boundary between PR and marketing.

Increased exposure in the marketplace requires an SME to develop a well thought out marketing strategy that delivers strong content while recognising the ambiguous boundaries between free PR and marketing. Inevitably the SME has to prepare itself to cede control of its content to the vagaries of today’s digital media streams.

The usual way to communicate news to the media is via a press release. When the people at TTC spun their great organic tea story, they could have written a press release and distributed it to the media via email, or they could have appointed an external PR agency to write and circulate it. If you have good content the press release tends to write itself.

The advantage of using an external PR agency is its market knowledge and its connections with the media. Agencies also handle routine press inquiries, media events and provide advice on building a PR strategy around your marketing content. External PR services can be obtained for anything upwards of Dh8,000 a month.

The decision to outsource PR will depend on the small to medium-sized company’s needs and available resources. Given how social media’s instant penetration has eroded the boundaries between PR and marketing my personal preference, resources allowing, would be for the company to manage PR in-house. Surely a creative, literate and tech-savvy member of the company’s marketing team with an intimate knowledge of its creative content can cultivate the media contacts and take care of the SME’s PR function just as effectively as a PR company?

Yunib Siddiqui started his first business in London at the age of 22. He is the chief executive and owner of Jones the Grocer in the UAE. He can be contacted at SMEbizCorner@gmail.com