Public Relations for Small Businesses — Does That Exist?
There’s an overabundance of public relations agencies and despite their high costs — or maybe because of them — they’re not trusted. If you do hire one, you’ll get no guarantees.
There are 29 million businesses in the U.S., but fewer than one percent are represented by PR agencies.
“When you come from the agency world, you know where inefficiencies, mistrust, and disconnects with the non-PR world come from,” said Matthew Bird in an interview with Small Business Trends. Bird is a digital media industry veteran who intends to shake up the industry he worked most of his life in.
In contrast to PR, large retailers are an example of a trusted sector. People gravitate to stores with buyer-friendly return policies and prices, such as 1-800-FLOWERS.
Consumers have certain expectations when they buy from chains and franchises, thanks to standardization in quality control and sourced products, among other things.
With this in mind, Bird wants America to get familiar with a concept he calls “fractional PR” and a new franchise model. His new company 1-800-PublicRelations Inc. allows small and medium sized businesses to get the highest level of PR service (“Tier 1”, in industry parlance), but on an a la carte basis. Businesses getting a la carte services from the franchise would get “what they request, nothing more, nothing less, and everybody’s happy,” he added.
What’s Different Compared to PR Agencies?
In old PR models, clients could burn through retainers quickly and without much to show for it. In the franchise model, if services aren’t needed, loss of investment is a non-issue. Clients only pay for the services they use.
“The majority of businesses want this type of transaction-based, low-risk model,” Bird added. In 2014, their first year of business, more than 290 companies used 1-800-PublicRelations, Inc.
The company is using cloud-based tech to parse and sort PR teams and coordinate efficiency and revenue sharing. One benefit of the franchise is that if a franchisee feels under-equipped to execute on a specific deliverable, he or she can reach out and revenue share with other franchisees, working together as one company to honor a client request which might have been beyond the scope of just one.
“When you see an industry about to change, it’s because a precipice has been reached,” Bird said “A lot of companies are frustrated with PR and IR agencies because they’re not getting the value they were expecting.”
What’s PR Good For, Anyway?
PR agencies operate on a few basic foundations. On one side, there’s research, consulting, strategic messaging and branding. Many agencies are strong on these, but then there’s an execution side, which many agencies aren’t great at.
Smaller agencies, often called “PR boutiques”, are typically started by ex-employees of larger firms striking out on their own, but with the support systems, infrastructure and other aspects common in a large agency go away, making boutique or solo PR execution a nightmare in many cases.
Buying new technologies and learning special cloud functions are examples of challenges Bird’s franchisees (regardless of tier) won’t need to spend time or energy on, because the corporate side would provide continuity and stability on the backend. This allows the franchisees to focus on account management and fulfilling customer requests, such as media bookings and content development.
Is This the Future of Small Business Public Relations?
There are big players in the PR world today, but lately, even they’ve been questioning what their future is going to look like. Trends are changing and there’s a growing need to serve small businesses, and to gain their trust for the long haul.
Boutique PR companies by themselves haven’t been the solution. Many boutiques and big agency initiatives offer isolated strengths and tout them as unique selling propositions. But isolated strengths are not cohesive solutions, even if tech-based. One ironic pain point is that there’s a wealth of technology to execute social media and content marketing plans, yet for PR’s workflow, there’s no cohesive glue or protocol to leverage it all.
“When you have a lot of technology, you need a fleet of people to manage it too,” Bird said. “Our idea is to streamline what’s important and what’s not important, and to consolidate traditional and digital pieces of PR in one turnkey solution. Everyone wins.”