When I started Anges de Sucre from our little kitchen table, literally, 5 years ago, one of the first bits of advice I received was to get the word out about my product, i.e. the macarons. So what was one to do with a tight budget? Court PR heavily - magazine editors, bloggers, print, digital, social influencers. In those early days I actually made some brilliant contacts, and within my first 6 months got full page spreads in widely circulated popular magazines such as Brides, and many big name bloggers' posts. While the results were very positive, it was not without hard work.
I literally said yes to EVERYTHING. Sponsored numerous events, dove into styled shoots, networked networked networked both online and off-line. There were a lot of free samples made, packed, posted and not all were "worth the exposure" but it was definitely a learning curve I would recommend to any creative entrepreneur starting with peanuts.
Those were simpler times, when I had just the one product to focus on, and I actually had some fun doing it too. But as we grew, and opened that shop back then, my responsibilities grew tenfold overnight and courting PR just wasn't happening while fighting fires from all sides (which is what managing a small retail business feels like). It was getting increasingly difficult to get the word out about the new shop and we thought, as any rational business owner would, to make money we should spend money on advertising. So we did flyer drops, took ads out in local magazines and publications, paid for online directory listings and so on, trying our hands at everything. It was consistently, without exception, throwing good money after bad. Why? Because I like to think I am also a rational consumer myself, and I take zero-to-little interest when I see adverts where businesses are shouting about why they are so great and being all like BUY ME BUY ME BUY ME. Rather than having ourselves shout about ourselves, it's much better to get someone else to do it for you, right? And that's what PR essentially is. But with drowning in all the shop and kitchen management I let my PR efforts slack and all the paid-for advertising was a drain both financially as well as time-wise (I still had to get the artwork and copy etc all ready for them) and soon realised I was spending more time in trying to get my business known than actually spending time on moving the business forward itself. So to "fix" the situation, we hired a PR agency to help - and the results were bad. Ultimately, any investment should be measured in terms of ROI and if that ROI is unacceptable, then it's not a good investment.
These days consumers are much more sophisticated and see right through product placements, sponsored posts, and nauseating press releases and sadly we fell into that trap. Thinking about Christmas in May, Valentine's Day in December, Easter in January - these are things big businesses can indulge in, the ones who have dedicated product development teams. For us little guys, it sucks the soul out of what we love doing. It actually kills creativity and I felt like I was churning out one cruddy idea after another just to be "news-worthy" for news-worthy's sake. Sadly, while you may dish out the bucks for a PR agent to represent you, ultimately your best interests lie in you working on your business and not being dictated by "trends" and fighting to be relevant. Invest those funds in your ideas, training and brand development, because here is the best thing you will hear about PR and small businesses:
The BEST PR is FREE
Of course, if you have endless deep pockets by all means splash out on adverts, PR agents etc. You'll still have to work hard on your business as there is no short-cut to remaining relevant. If though, as a small business, your product and your brand are constantly innovating, evolving, and you are increasing your engagement with your consumers and followers directly, PR will find YOU.
Those cool peeps at Delish came to film our Horn of the Unicorn croquembouche and it BROKE THE INTERNET - Kim K Stylee (but in better taste of course...hah gettit?)
So we went back to our grassroots-campaigning-style, but with a more relaxed and enjoyable approach. I now solely focus on the business, bringing my ideas to life and engaging with my customers and followers directly via this blog and Instagram. We could do a lot more by actively pursuing PR again, but it is much easier to be in a position to be ready for when we do get approached organically - samples for magazine features and cover stories, content for viral videos, social media collaborations et all, rather than spamming editors' inboxes with tedious hackneyed flowery press releases.
So how do you get PR going as a small creative business when on a tight budget? Here are my top tips:
1) Photography: Right now, my best camera is the one I have with myself all the time, which is my rubbishy iPhone. All our product pics are done with it and I use apps such as VSCO and SnapSeed to edit. But initially I did hire and collaborate with professional photographers to get good images to send across to editors. If using a professional, you want to make sure you have the rights for web-use and press and be clear on credits (some photographers would like/insist on a credit which is either their name in small print in the gutter of the magazine or by the image, or a weblink from where the image is used online). It is never okay to share their images, i.e: their copyright without being clear on credit and usage rights, so get this covered.
If your budget does not stretch to hiring pros, DIY! Invest in yourself and enrol into one of the countless photography courses either online or in person - some courses also cover styling such as Catherine Frawley's, and then you gotta practice, practice, practice. I've done it all and by no means am I a pro-tog but I am happy with the level I am at as it yields me a great ROI on my own efforts (my iPhone images have landed in press all over - so YES, it CAN BE DONE).
2) Grow a Thick-freakin'-Skin: If you have blanket spammed 20 targeted editors and 2 get back to you, don't get disheartened - instead pat yourself on the back. Firewalls and spam filters are notorious for not letting emails through, so send a follow up email from a gmail/hotmail-type personal account to make sure the target gets the email. Follow up again with a phone-call and offer up any samples if you are able to. And then don't just sit on your hands - be ready and make sure you get those samples across ASAP. Once they have your samples, give them whatever reasonable time one requires to try said samples and follow up AGAIN with those nice images you spent time and effort taking and request feedback. Someone will eventually bite and if not, chalk it up to experience and move on.
3) Don't be Cringe: By all means, shout about yourself. Confidence instils confidence and is a very attractive trait in anyone and businesses. Outlandish silly claims though, eg: I (or even worse, in the third person) am the best modern baker the world has ever seen blah blah, well, if they are embarrassing to say out loud, they are also embarrassing in any other form and sets you up for troll-baiting. Saying things like, "I'm really proud of my Horn of the Unicorn Croquembouche because I've indulged my creative streak and used a wide variety of skills to make something that I think is both a visual and gastronomic feat" is far more effective.
4) Set your Budget: Your PR budget should include any costs associated with samples, delivery of said samples, events, sponsorships, flyers/business cards, photography, staff (including yourself, unless you value yourself at zero...) time to organise/plan/liaise etc. Then add a further 10% to it as a rule-of-thumb and stick within it. It will then be very easy to evaluate every opportunity with this yard stick because sometimes you may end up saying yes to all the rubbish opps and having no means to say yes when that good one comes along.
5) Social Influencers: These are a new digital-age-PR phenomenon that are increasingly important. When you see someone with 50k followers on Instagram, it's impressive but be wary of the type of following and ask yourself these questions - Are they relevant to your target, Is their following genuine and engaged (go through their interactions and their followers to determine if they are), Do you like their content? If approaching them yourself, be prepared to receive a rate card for a post and do not be surprised. Instead ask to see similar posts they may have done previously to see the engagement results and weigh up the cost to what you think would be worth to you (and check back into that Budget!). Don't hesitate to get in touch with the brand that employed them for a reference. And if they approach you, pat yourself on the back - something you are doing is clearly working and PR is coming to YOU! Huzzah!
That's all folks. Nothing much to it when I type it out, but trust, it's incredibly rewarding when you work hard IN your business to attract the type of PR you want.
Lots of love,