Every small business owner knows the importance of having a great PR strategy. However, most don’t know how to go about creating one.
On today’s show, we are joined by Chad Shearer the co-founder and creative director of Caren West, one of Atlanta’s hottest PR agencies. Chad helps us navigate the challenges in developing a winning PR strategy for your business, and teaches us what to look for when hiring a good PR agency.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, so let’s dive right in. Why is it important to define a strategy if you’re a small business owner when it comes to PR?
Chad Shearer: I would say because a lot of people tend to think that any PR is good PR. And that, to an extent, can be true but if it’s not executed in a proper fashion, you could find yourself getting attention when you’re not ready.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Chad Shearer: You haven’t put your business policies and your own business plan in place. You’re also, busy for busy’s sake, you only have one chance to make a first impression, right? And if you don’t have that right PR strategy in place, you could be sending out the wrong message and alienating people after they’ve come out and seen you once.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. I spoke to one highly successful owner of a real estate company here in Atlanta and we talked about advertising and PR. And he said, PR is way more important in his business than advertising. Would you agree with that statement?
Chad Shearer: It’s hard to say on the real estate side. I mean, you see so many of the billboards and people guaranteeing to see your home or what not, or finding the greatest place to start your business. So I would have to say advertising, I would guess, would be very important on that side. For smaller businesses and even for businesses like restaurants and events that move in real time, PR most definitely would outweigh advertising. But I think that there is a place for both of them to work in tandem. A lot of marketing and public relations strategies are interwoven together so that we are working together to create a successful result for the client.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Right, you gotta develop the right brand and then obviously it’s gotta be a cohesive message, what you’re pushing out in advertising as well as what you’re pushing out in the way of content online, right?
Chad Shearer: Absolutely. And public relations is so much more than just making people aware of our situation. We’re also guiding the narrative and how people are talking about your business. We’re taking care of crisis situations that come up. But not everything that is happening … Advertising has a thing where they’re just putting out their positive message that they’ve created for you. We’re also, in addition to putting out that message, making sure that should a crisis arrive, we are there to help guide the messaging for that and make sure that there still is a positive experience from the community to your business.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, sure. Very important, especially if something is gonna negatively effect the business and you wanna be able to have an opportunity to explain that to the market, right?
Chad Shearer: It’s not why you wanna have a PR. You never wanna have to use it. It’s kinda like a rainy day scenario, having that crisis plan. Ideally, you would always like to be talking about the positive that is happening with the business, but the day you don’t have it, it’s almost like health insurance, you’re gonna wish you had it already.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, what are the benefits of having a good PR strategy?
Chad Shearer: The benefits of having a good PR strategy is that you can control how and when people are finding out about information on you. You’re able to, in the case of a restaurant, if they are rolling out a new menu, you get to test that menu, soft-launch those things, and allow us to come in finally and tell the fine points of it. There’s a lot of organic messaging that comes together and it’s not like we are … That’s the other balance with advertising and public relations, it’s not like we are painting the picture for you, we allow it to happen organically.
People read stuff in the newspaper, the magazine, or see it on TV and they put a little bit more belief into it than what you had given them on a really slick looking ad.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.
Chad Shearer: And it allows them to make the decision. It allows them to decide whether they wanna go out and go to the restaurant, they wanna go to an event, they wanna buy a certain product, and from there, that’s kinda up to you to define how that relationship will go.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So for the companies and the businesses that are watching us today, and are thinking about hiring a PR company. They might be right in the process of saying, okay, we finally got to a point that we need to address this. We need to really have control of our message that gets out in our marketplace, to our stakeholders, and to our prospects out there. How does one go about looking for a good PR company? What needs to go into that?
Chad Shearer: I would talk to many of them. A lot of them have their specialties. We might have a specialty in lifestyle and entertainment. There’s somebody that is only working with banking or insurance.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So there’s definitely specialty shops out there?
Chad Shearer: Absolutely.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You gotta make sure that you’re aligning yourself with that right shop?
Chad Shearer: Correct. Correct. And we always tell people, make sure that the company is gonna be passionate about your product. We’ll never know as much about your business as you will, but we’ll be a very close second. And we should be able to have that passion. If we don’t have that passion, we’re trying to sell people and talk to people about something that you are very passionate about and it won’t work.
My particular company, we tend to be a little bit more picky and say no, no matter what the fee might be, no matter what the exposure on the product might be for our company, if we don’t think that we can sell it and embrace it and live the culture that you have built for your company, then we’ll turn it down and recommend one of our peers to come in.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Cause it would just end up being a blemish on your record if in the event you can’t service that particular client in that space the way they need to?
Chad Shearer: Absolutely. Yes.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So you’re in it together?
Chad Shearer: Yes.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.
Chad Shearer: Our success is your success.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. With social media out there, it would seem to me that companies, large and small, need to run as much of an offense as they do a defense when it comes to PR, right? Because the word is getting out there. Every business that we leave now, we pick up our iPhone and make a comment about it.
Chad Shearer: Correct.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Whether it be a restaurant, or a hair stylist, or a law firm, or anything. So it seems as though that if a company doesn’t have a strategy put together, there’s one bead built for them but it’s from the consumer side. Is that a fair statement?
Chad Shearer: Yes. I would never recommend that. It’ll happen in spite of your best efforts, but to not have someone monitoring it in real time, especially if it’s event-based where say there’s gonna be weather coming through and it’s an art festival. If someone’s not monitoring and responding in real time then people are going to pick up with that and they’re going to run with it themselves. They don’t care that it might have been your worst day or … Your dog left you or whatever.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Sometimes answering those can be just as effective, maybe more effective sometimes, than the negative review or the negative response that might be out there, right?
Chad Shearer: Yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So if somebody does write something about you, whether it be a critic or just an ordinary citizen that used your company or your service, then it’s important to get back to that individual, isn’t it, through social media?
Chad Shearer: Absolutely. We will tend to try to take the conversation offline as quickly as possible. If it is something negative, you will see that we have responded but we are asking, let’s just on the phone. Let’s have a conversation. I wanna know exactly what your experience was so that I can put you in front of the right person.
A general consumer doesn’t necessarily wanna talk to a publicist, they’ve seen enough TV shows and movies to know that we can be a little slick at times. We’re always gonna put the best foot forward for our client, but I’m gonna handle this now and then I’m gonna get you in front of the GM. I’m gonna get you in front of the Vice President. I’m gonna get you in front of customer service, so that we can really address this. And we do it in real time and we’re not telling your experience all over Facebook, which in some cases may be something that the consumer doesn’t want out there. They just wanna say, hey, this was not a good experience. I probably won’t be back.
So we try to take it offline and do that. One of the worst things you can do is go in and start deleting those, then it creates a little bit of a snowball effect. People will start commenting that they did have these comments on there, they have been deleted. People screen capture. The internet is forever. It’s not going away.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So for sure, if you’re watching today, and you’re thinking about hiring a PR agency, sit down, give it some thought. Obviously, what Chad just shared with us is shop around. Make sure that that PR agency, cause there are different ones out there, you wanna make sure you’re with the right one. And keep this in mind, and that is that: if you don’t have a PR strategy, one is being created for you right now as we speak by your customers. So, this is an area that’s very, very, important.
Chad, we’d love to have you back on the Atlanta Small Business Show to talk about some other items here that I know our viewers would love to hear more about. So, thanks very much for joining us.
Chad Shearer: Thank you.
Jim Fitzpatrick: And I’d love to see you back on the show.
Chad Shearer: I would welcome that.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Great.