‘Irish SMEs must tell their story’

Seasoned public relations pro Sharon Bannerton has launched a Launchpad PR programme for business owners. She explains why SMEs need to embrace practical PR skills.

Sharon Bannerton, the managing director of her eponymous PR business Bannerton, recently revealed a new Launchpad programme aimed at introducing SMEs and others new to market to the value of professional PR.

Over a 6-week period, firms will be schooled in setting the narrative, growing awareness, and defining their reputations among media and business interests.

“To be honest, PR is not all that complex.  It is about deciding your message, and how best to communicate it, and who you most need to talk to”

The course aims to equip business owners with editorial appeal to reach customers, prospects, investors, associates and current and future employees on the basis that earned media – across news, interviews and podcasts, is an independent endorsement.

This, Bannerton maintains, is critical in an era of fake news and disinformation.

ThinkBusiness caught up with Bannerton about why she is focused on educating SMEs.

Is PR something Irish SMEs could be making more strategic use out of?

Irish SMEs must tell their story, they must be relatable, and they need to convince customers, business associates and employees to work with them, ahead of a competitor.   Enter PR; the means to credibly communicate, to sell your USP and to build reputation. 

It is commercially imperative to use PR and leverage the independent endorsement it gives to your enterprise and people.

“SMEs here neglect their PR potential, and do not reach out to local and national media that can support their business”

And, importantly, Irish media want to know about Irish SMEs; journalists and producers will get behind novel brands and businesses, and they will profile entrepreneurs and seasoned professionals who are making headway, facing down challenge, and building a team and customer base. 

92% of Irish companies are micro-enterprises, employing less than 10 people, so why do multinational corporations (MNCs) take up so much media attention?  Because SMEs here neglect their PR potential, and do not reach out to local and national media that can support their business!

What are the typical misnomers businesses seem to have about PR and what kind of validation does “earned” media coverage get a business?

‘Earned’ media is just editorial, but to be worth news coverage or interview, you earn the attention – your brand or business is doing something good, new or interesting.  (Or bad, on occasion, but that’s crisis management PR, and another day’s worry!)

If media chooses to feature you, the implication is that you have something useful and credible to say; you’re worth it, as our friends in L’Oreal would say!  That type of attention is priceless in terms of the associated authority and commercial opportunity.

Regarding the most common misunderstanding; PR is not advertising or promotion, it is about news and views and information and education.  In a wider context, it takes in all forms of communication, from conferences to podcasts to newsletters or awards events.

Our current Launchpad programme is media focussed.  Whether business news coverage, or an interview or product piece in a consumer magazine, is the client’s aim, Bannerton helps SMEs frame their message and secure appropriate media. 

But, please do not try to PR the fact that there is a tenner off your best-selling SKU for summer, just buy an ad, or post on social media.  The clue is in the NEWS aspect of media.  It has to be NEW, original, interesting or informative, and Bannerton’s expertise is developing the angles or imagery to achieve that requirement.

What are the most important lessons that businesses need to take on board before embarking on a PR strategy?

To be honest, PR is not all that complex.  It is about deciding your message, and how best to communicate it, and who you most need to talk to.   Consistency helps too, in media approaches and in the messaging.

We all consume media, to some degree, so we understand that there are interviews, expert articles, top tips educational copy, Q&As, news content, and more, in our papers, broadcast media or social feeds.   Ask yourself, where could I, and my business or organisation, fit into that media landscape, to support awareness and business development?  Then call Bannerton! 

Tell us about your own foray into the PR world and the lessons you have learned?

I worked in sales and marketing for multinationals, I ran my own tech company, and I worked in large-scale events marketing for a long time too.  PR was part of many of my roles, and I knew it involved creativity, communication, commercial acumen and good connections, all of which I have. 

Bannerton is around for over twelve years now, and we have worked with brand leaders, multi-national and domestic retailers and service providers, not-for-profits, as well as fledgling SMEs and bootstrapped start-ups.  

And, actually, regardless of scale, the PR approach is exactly the same.  Plus, for smaller businesses, the return on a PR campaign adds much more value than a one-dimensional ad, that may or may not be noticed.

Editorial media is noticed, you can share coverage on your website or social media, and generally a news story or feature gives much more scope to explain your business, or your mission.  It is multi-dimensional, and adds the selling points and personality that often cannot be captured in advertising.

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