Perhaps the biggest challenge of public relations for small businesses is convincing journalists and publications that you are worth their time. Of course, everyone wants to talk to the leaders of international corporations, but to make a small business leader desirable for coverage opportunities, it takes a bit more convincing. The best way to prove to publications that you are worthy of consideration is by proving yourself as an expert in your given field or niche.
Many small business leaders have succeeded with a specific type of public relations known as thought leadership. This form of PR is less focused on promoting the business itself, and more on establishing the spokesperson — generally the owner or executive — as a leader and expert. Although this type of strategy may not convert to direct sales, it can help boost a brand’s reputation and credibility in the eyes of potential customers and clients, meaning they could be more easily convinced to make a purchase.
How to become a thought leader
The best way for an individual to become a thought leader is to comment on topics and issues relevant to their business and industry. The tricky part is finding opportunities to showcase their expertise on these topics.
Even if the coverage placement is not overtly promotional — focusing on the topic or issue rather than the brand and its spokesperson — these types of opportunities still have tremendous value in boosting a business’s reputation. The two main forms of thought leadership opportunities include:
- Guest posts: Many publications are looking for experts in various fields to write articles relevant to their audience. If you are an expert in an in-demand niche — such as technology, blockchain, law, or medicine — there are likely to be plenty of opportunities for guest posts. Find these guest posting opportunities and pitch the outlet on yourself (as well as your expertise and what you can speak on). Once you have secured the placement, you will either write the article yourself, or have it ghostwritten on your behalf, and it will appear on the outlet under your byline.
- Providing comments for journalists’ articles: These are opportunities for experts to comment on a particular topic for a larger article that a journalist is working on. To find these opportunities, you can look on platforms expressly designed for this purpose, such as HARO, or go the “old-fashioned” route by looking at journalists’ social media accounts or reaching out to your network of contacts. After a journalist has expressed interest, your job is to either organize and coordinate an interview with the journalist, or collect your comments and send them to the journalist — whichever method the journalist has specified.
When pursuing thought leadership opportunities, it is important to take advantage of trending and breaking news events. Remember: the first concern of journalists and publications is to get eyes on their writing. If a topic or issue is “hot” in the media, and you can bring a unique expert perspective to the table, chances are you will be in demand.
That being said, it is important to remember that the turnaround is extremely quick when working with breaking news. Don’t pitch yourself for opportunities if you know you won’t be able to respond in a timely manner, as this could be detrimental to their reputation and network.
However, sometimes it is important to recognize that the owner of the small business may not be the most beneficial voice for their business. What makes a great leader is the ability to delegate responsibility. Sharing spokesperson duties with another individual, such as other high-ranking leaders in the organization, could help lend the business and its leader even more credibility, working in conjunction with what they were building themselves.
Using thought leadership to your advantage
Securing placements for thought leadership is only the first half of the battle. Once you have had a guest piece published or been featured as an expert opinion in a journalist’s article, it’s essential to know what to do with this fantastic coverage.
First and foremost, you should post the article on social media. Post it on LinkedIn, Twitter, and any other social media platforms you use so the world can see you are an expert in that field.
You can also use this success to gain further opportunities by creating what is known as a “media résumé” and include this in your future pitches. The more times you are mentioned or published in the media, the better; if journalists see that you have been featured in numerous publications, they are more likely to trust your expertise and opinion. This is especially true when you have been featured in a top-tier publication, such as a revered trade publication or a widely-known outlet, such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, or the New York Times.
Thought leadership can be an excellent opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your industry, as long as you know how to use it to your advantage. By cementing yourself as an expert, you are building a reputation that can allow consumers to better trust you and your business, opening the door to further opportunities.
Mark Kaley is the PR Manager at Otter PR. With over 15 years of experience consulting with large and small businesses, providing them with management, marketing, and business consulting services, Mark is an entrepreneur at heart, an advocate for small businesses, a passionate storyteller, and author of “From Pennies to Millions.” Since joining Otter PR, Mark has had massive success with his clients, landing them placements in CNBC, Yahoo! News, CBS News, Time, Wall Street Journal, Marketwatch, US News & World Report, Investor’s Business Daily, Tech Crunch, Tech Target, Bloomberg, Insider, Spectrum News, Miami Herald, The Street, Charlotte Observer, Forbes, and Fortune. Mark has been featured in Fox Business, PR Pioneer, O’Dwyer PR, and Consumer Affairs.