PR’s David & Goliath: doing media relations for SMBs vs. large corporations

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By Linda Forrest

Back when I was doing publicity in the music industry, working largely for independent artists, I’d often discuss with my colleagues what it would be like to be the publicist for a major, in-demand, household-name artist, how different the job would be. Rather than spending the majority of my time on outreach, I rather imagined that the role would be relegated largely to that of gatekeeper, traffic cop and reputation manager.

When it comes to media relations for technology companies, the same discrepancies apply – there are some distinct differences between doing media relations for a small- to medium-sized business and doing the same for a multinational conglomerate. But there are some best practices that hold true regardless of whether the company you’re promoting with its media marketplace consists of two employees or two thousand.

A smaller company is less likely than a large company to have internal PR capabilities

Startups and small companies need to strategically allocate every dollar to deliver the most profound ROI, otherwise the entire business is in jeopardy. Therefore, in smaller companies, specialized roles, like that of PR practitioner, are often allocated to external resources. With larger companies, the ROI on every single marketing dollar is less tied directly to the well-being of the company; when larger companies hire PR firms, it’s usually to augment internal capabilities rather than add capabilities the company doesn’t already possess.

With a startup, you’re probably more likely to see the founder and CEO as the PR contact (he or she is the chef, cook and bottle-washer too) as an agency, whereas with a big corporation like Microsoft, there’s a list of PR contacts as long as your arm – some internal, some external (usually with a known industry player, a proportionately large global PR firm.)

As of 2008, there were approximately 9,000 PR agencies in the U.S., ranging from one-person operations to multinational corporations. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that employment in the field is on the rise:

Employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow 24 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The need for good public relations in an increasingly competitive and global business environment should spur demand for these workers, especially those with specialized knowledge or international experience. Employees who possess additional language capabilities also are in great demand.

The recent emergence of social media in public relations is expected to increase job growth as well. Many public relations firms are expanding their use of these tools, and specialists with skills in them will be needed.

Employment in public relations firms is expected to grow as firms hire contractors to provide public relations services, rather than support more full-time staff when additional work is needed.

A smaller company is more likely to have budgetary constraints, devote marketing dollars to other activities

Smaller revenues mean smaller marketing budgets. Despite the fact that PR is proven to bolster fundraising efforts, a small number of startups that were looking for investment deployed this tactic, according to a PRWeek article from 2008:

  • Startup companies that engage in PR campaigns are 30% more successful in getting funding within one to three months than those that don’t.
  • Forty-four percent of the respondents who used PR outreach received funding in the one-to-three-month time period versus 14% of those that did not.
  • Seventy-eight percent of respondents who said PR helped in their funding efforts are planning to use some of their VC dollars for additional PR.
  • Ironically, the survey also found that only 18% of the 300 startups surveyed had a PR program in place during the funding process.

PR requires significant sustained effort, human resources and expertise to be done well. When there are limited marketing dollars to invest in various marketing methods, they tend to be allocated to “easy” marketing activities – Google ad word campaigns, for example, according to a 2009 blog post on Buzzgain.

Media relations for smaller companies consists predominantly of outreach, where larger organizations elicit more inbound inquiries

It takes a sustained PR effort to establish what we call a Rolodex factor with the media, the point at which your most influential media know to call you for perspective on issues in your marketplace, which they include in their coverage of events and issues that impact your market. With a large corporation, the public – media included – can be very familiar with your company, its products, its position in the market and the Rolodex factor is pretty much a given. This is where my gatekeeper/traffic cop analogy comes in: the job becomes more about routing calls to the proper departments, managing access to designated spokespeople, governing messaging and positioning.

When you’re a smaller company, unless you’re truly the next big thing and can prove it, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to influence the agenda of the media. Instead, it will be about where you fit into the agenda of the media, rather than how the media can bend to suit your will.

Best practices reign, regardless of your company’s size

No matter whether you’re a party of two or a conglomerate of 2,000, your company needs to provide the media with the tools required to cover your company. Have a well-stocked, easy-to-find online newsroom. Our Leo Valiquette, who spent a decade as a business journalist, wrote a great piece on engaging the media when he was new to our team, most of which still applies in spades.

There may be some differences between media relations for David versus media relations for Goliath, but regardless of the organization’s size, adhering to best practices will position you well with your media marketplace.

Image: Suzie’s Den


  • Sherrilynne

    October 16, 2011 7:45 pm

    I love this picture. Good article too!

  • Linda Forrest

    October 17, 2011 11:00 am

    Thanks for reading. :)

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