Greg Pitkoff (pictured) is the founder and managing director of GRiP Communications in Brooklyn, New York, a public relations agency representing 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and its subsidiary brands, as well as other B2B clients, franchises, and small business chains. He took some time with business writer Sherron Lumley to discuss what every entrepreneur should know about the basics of public relations.
SL: Tell me about GRiP Communications and what you do.
GP: Today, GRiP Communications works with business-to-business and consumer-focused clients, providing public and media relations campaigns, strategic marketing counsel, franchise networking, social media consulting and related services.
SL: How did you get into public relations?
GP: I moved to New York following college to start my career. For the first 10 years, that mainly involved serving as a writer and editor for a variety of trade publications focused on small businesses. I also spent a few years as director of communications for a trade association involved with international trade. After working for other agencies, GRiP Communications was established in March 2007. From the moment I hung up my shingle, I had my first two clients, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and Little Gym, an international franchise of children’s fitness centers. Working with franchise companies became my core business.
SL: When you work with small business owners, what is the first thing you want to know?
GP: As I prepare to develop a strategic PR campaign, I ask them: 1. Do you have a clearly defined objective for what you want to achieve through PR? 2. Have you identified a specific target audience that you want to reach? 3. Are your customers businesses or consumers? 4. Are they primarily local or based nationwide or even worldwide?
GP: For one thing, a lot of small businesses don’t realize they can effect change and produce results through PR. A lot of people don’t understand what PR is. Some think it’s advertising or marketing, but PR represents a larger editorial product. It’s the placement of news and stories and messages with the media that are of use to the readers. Also overlooked is the role that social media can play.
SL: How important is social media in a small business public relations plan?
GP: It’s a critical part of PR today, used proactively to reach your audience. Depending on the nature of the business, whether it is more consumer-facing or more business-facing, different types of social media will be more effective. The nature of Facebook and Pinterest is less formal and therefore a less professional voice is accepted. People don’t necessarily see the benefit of business marketing with social media, but LinkedIn is a good choice for business services to establish a social media voice. There are many divisions to LinkedIn to consider, such as posting status, business pages, having an active and genuine voice in LinkedIn groups, and initiating and participating in conversations.
SL: Small businesses often start with a small budget. What PR could they do on their own?
GP: In addition to having a voice on some of the social media channels, small businesses can also familiarize themselves with the local media. There is growing success with hyper-local media such as Patch.com, for example. There is an opportunity whenever a new form of communication is looking for content. Research the beats of reporters and figure out who covers what. There may be more than one person, depending on what the story is, so don’t limit yourself to only one contact. Start that type of relationship.
SL: What aspects of PR are best handled by a professional agency?
GP: When you want to continue strategic relationships on a consistent basis, a PR firm is a good tool for you. Hiring an agency is a pro-active plan. One of the things my clients appreciate is that I am constantly monitoring the media and looking for an opportunity. An agency has the time—a client is busy doing a million other things to run the business.
SL: Who are the audiences that a small business wants to communicate with through public relations?
GP: PR can help you communicate with all of the audiences—internal, external, investor—but the length of the message, type of message, and voice will vary. With investors, you will have a different voice than with customers, for example. PR can help you reach all the constituents of a business.
SL: Could you speak to the importance of reputation management for small businesses?
GP: Reputation management is very important. For example an unsatisfied customer is not uncommon when you do business and this could lead to disparaging remarks. Once it’s out there—and as good as you are, there’s always a chance—it’s important to respond in a proper way. Proactively try to do as much as you can. Take the proper approach. All businesses should have a crisis communication plan to nip a problem in the bud, or turn a negative into a positive, according to how you handle it.
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