PR Challenges in the Small Business Arena

Public relations in simplest terms thrives in smaller companies when it is organized correctly within the corporate structure; it often fails when it attempts to copy, on a small scale, big company practices” (Otterbourg, 1966, p. 2).

I recently read an article from PRSA’s Public Relations Journal entitled, “Conceptualizing a Theoretical Model for the Practice of Public Relations in the Small Business Environment,” by Dr. Nell C. Huang-Horowitz.

Dr. Huang-Horowitz argues that most of today’s public relations models don’t benefit practitioners who work in the small business arena since they are modeled after strategies that are successful for larger corporations. The article suggests that general models may not be as effective for small scale operations because the two are so disproportional in resources, and operate with different relationship values.

Having worked with a few “intimately-sized” nonprofit organizations, I can definitely agree with some of Huang-Horowitz’s arguments. When working with a limited grant budget (that’s expected to stretch throughout the next fiscal quarter or even year!), asking for a public relations budget may be considered… “brave.”

It’s not entirely your fault. If you think about how public relations strategies are taught on the academic level, you have to consider the fact that most of the resources discussed are readily available to large corporations. The communications department of a large company can afford to have various team members whose responsibilities are creating content for the company blog, scheduling media placements, or interacting with customers on Twitter.

Compare this to a small business that has between one and 20 employees. According to Huang-Horowitz, in these types of organizations, it is rare to find an employee whose position is solely dedicated to public relations. It is more common for the CEO to oversee these efforts or for public relations responsibilities to be dispersed throughout the organization.

In these types of environments, an external influence may not be welcome. People can be set in their ways and although they may understand that you know what their business needs to promote its identity and engage potential clients, they don’t want to hear what they are doing wrong. To be frank, no one ever wants an outsider to tell them how to run their business.

Overcome the Challenges

Lower the tension by offering training sessions so that all employees can have a basic understanding of public relations. Engage employees in informal discussions about how they can improve day-to-day activities or host a presentation with plenty of time for Q&A. Employees will come to value your opinion and will feel less threatened when they have questions.

It is imperative that public relations consultants ease into these sort of relationships and put in the ground work to not only build relationships with the current employees, but help them understand that there are several ways they can help promote the company’s goals.

When working for a small organization, positive promotion can take many forms. It’s simple to start with the little things like sharing the company tweets or Facebook posts with friends, sharing information about upcoming events. It’s when you start making the campaign about their story that you will see what people are truly made of. Employees who love their organization are always willing to share their stories through testimonials or speak up the organization’s success stories—your ability to find the story is what makes you a PR professional.

Suggested Reading

Yasheaka Oakley Owens

Yasheaka Oakley Owens is the owner of YOakleyPR, a woman-owned small business that provides public relations, social media, and online marketing support services to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware.

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