We all know how important word of mouth is for the success of a small business, but how do you get the word out without costing you a ton of advertising dollars? Public relations is the answer. On today’s show, we talk to Mitch Leff of Leff & Associates about PR and what that term means. Mitch has been a fixture in the Atlanta media scene for over 30 years. In 2003, he founded his own firm, Leff & Associates, which not only focuses on publicity and public affairs but also strategic counsel to businesses large and small.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, so let’s dive right in. Explain to us and to our audience, for those that may not understand completely, what public relations is. Talk to us about that.
Mitch Leff: Absolutely, and I’m hopeful my mother will be watching this, and she’ll finally understand it too. Public relations, we always say, is about influencing people, trying to get people to do something they might not necessarily have done. That can be anything from buying something, going somewhere, voting a certain way, or having a certain opinion. It’s about getting them to change their behavior in a certain way. That’s public relations in a nutshell.
Jim Fitzpatrick: In a nutshell.
Mitch Leff: Yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We hear so much about influencing nowadays and influencers that are out there. That’s a form of public relations then, right?
Mitch Leff: Yeah. There’s a whole area of marketing called influencer marketing. There’s some great companies here in Atlanta like the Everywhere Agency that do that kind of thing. It’s a little bit different from what I do, but it’s a very specific skillset.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, sure, for sure. The entire public relations practice encompasses a lot of different things, but you use the acronym PESO to explain this. How do you define PESO? What does that mean?
Mitch Leff: Sure, sure. PESO is a kind of a term that we’ve started using the last few years as the more electronic and digital forms of communication have become stronger. P is for paid. That’s like you could be paying for sponsored tweets, boosted Facebook, that kind of thing. E is for earned, which is kind of what people think of as traditional public relations, so that’s getting a story in the newspaper, on television, or on the radio.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Would that be considered paid-for or not paid-for?
Mitch Leff: It’s not paid for directly. Usually, you would pay an agency to do that for you, but you wouldn’t pay the newspaper to do it. The difference, I would say, between advertising and PR is, with an ad, you’re paying the newspaper, and you know exactly where it’s going to show up, exactly what’s going to say, when it’s going to show up. Public relations tends to have a little less control over that, so that’s what we call the earned part of it. There’s a certain kind of third-party credibility with the earned part in that the newspaper, or the magazine, or the television station is talking about your product, or your service, or your company, so there’s a little bit of that, hopefully, implied credibility that you get with what we call the earned media.
Then the S, of course, is for shared. That’s the social media part: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. We always look at each client and decide what makes sense. Not every social media channel works for every client. If you’re more of a business-to-business client, we often push more of a LinkedIn strategy. If you’re a restaurant, you might look towards Facebook a little bit more. If you’ve got something very visual, then you go to Pinterest or YouTube. They’re very good for that.
The O is for owned, so that’s your own website, your own channel that you own and control. You can post your own content on your website, videos, case studies, your own blog. Blogs are great to get information out.
Jim Fitzpatrick: From your perspective, and obviously you’ve been around the scene and you know public relations pretty well, should all businesses in your … From your perspective, should all businesses have all of the social outlets that are available today such as LinkedIn, and YouTube, and Facebook, and Twitter, and such?
Mitch Leff: They all should use some form of social media. I wouldn’t necessarily say that every company should use all of them. We look at every company, and we say, “What’s your business? Who are your audiences? What do you want to accomplish?” Then we decide and make recommendations in terms of which social channels they use, but they should use some of it. The beauty of social media is the cost to get into it is very low, mostly free to post. Then if you want to boost things or add, produce more sophisticated video, you might. You could pay a little or you could pay a lot for those components to it, but everyone should have some combination of that.
You hear in marketing people say you want to touch people multiple times, so someone is not necessarily going to make that purchase just because they hear something once. You could be talking to someone for six months or a year, and then they get to that point when they say, “Okay, I need to buy that $50,000 piece of equipment. Hey, I’ve heard about this company on the radio. I saw them on Facebook. I remember seeing something on their website about it. I saw them at a conference. I read an article they wrote for a magazine.” All of a sudden, you’ve got that foundation. They say, “Okay, now I want to talk to them.”
Jim Fitzpatrick: So often, small business feel like they can’t afford good public relations. Does PR have to be expensive? Is it a luxury item for businesses to say, “We’re going to have a PR agency, and they’re going to take us to the next level here?”
Mitch Leff: I would say public relations is not … it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity at whatever level you do it. The same way when you craft your business plan you say, “Hey, I need furniture. I need electricity. I need a HR person,” you should budget in marketing. It could be a full-time person. It could be a consultant. It could be a small one-person agency. It could be a big agency. You can grow it. You can start with a person on staff who just does your marketing in addition to special events, and development, and graphics and then, as your company grows, you add to that area. You may get to a point where you say, “You know, I have a lot going on. I need more arms and legs. I need more expertise. I’m expanding to other cities. I’m going international. I need a bigger agency who can handle that.”
There’s agencies of all different sizes, and you could start from a couple hundred dollars a month, or you could spend tens of thousands of month. It depends on the size of your company, but no, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be very cost-effective.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Definitely makes sense. Well, Mitch Leff of Leff & Associates right here in Atlanta, thank you so much for joining us on The Atlanta Small Business Show. We appreciate it. Hopefully, we can have you back and talk about this issue again because this is something that’s just ongoing, and I know our viewers can’t get enough out of it, so I appreciate you coming in today.
Mitch Leff: Thanks for having me.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Great.