What every small business owner needs to know about PR in 2021

If you’ve ever owned your small business and struggled to “get the word out” about what you’re up to, this post is for you! Co-creators of All You Need Method, Kathryn Humphries and Carla Nikitaidis are sharing some of their industry secrets as well as their simple, affordable approach to PR for small businesses.

Jen: Tell us about yourselves! Where are you from, where do you live now and what’s your career background?

Carla: I’m originally from Connecticut and lived most of my adult life in New York City before making the move to California. After a few years in San Francisco I’m now settled in L.A. My career has always been in PR, but unlike most PR careers where you pick one lane or industry and stick to it, my path has been diverse. My experience spans from beauty & fashion, to home & lifestyle, food & beverage, and consumer tech. I’ve worked with leading consumer brands, global retailers, and scrappy startups – both on the agency side and in-house. I ran my own boutique agency, CMN PR from 2009 – 2013, which is how Kathryn and I originally met. These transitions all happened organically. I’m a lifelong learner and one of my favorite aspects about PR is learning about new industries, innovations, and trends.

Kathryn: Hi! I was born and raised in Houston, which is where I currently live. I graduated with a degree in marketing from UT in Austin, and moved to New York after interning for Ralph Lauren, Teen Vogue, and Lonny. My first job in PR was working with Carla at her boutique agency CMN PR, where we specialized in launching decor and lifestyle startups. We ended up moving in-house with one of our clients, a startup focused on advancing the careers of women, and my role evolved from media relations to content production. I ended up landing an in-house role at Gap on the global social media team before ultimately moving home to Houston and starting my own PR & marketing consulting business. Content strategy and development has continued to be a large part of my client consulting services  – I advise on brand strategy and communicating directly with customers through newsletters, social media, and blog posts in addition to traditional media relations. This “integrated approach” is what All You Need Method is built on. 

Jen: Can you tell us about how the PR landscape has changed in the last decade?

Kathryn & Carla: ​The PR industry has changed significantly over the past 10 years. The biggest influence being technology and social media. Publishing is shrinking. There are fewer magazines, smaller editorial staffs, and the news cycle is immediate. For better or for worse, the changing media landscape, social media, and the rise of influencers have completely changed how we get our news, information, and inspiration. As PR professionals, the core of our work (marketing, communications, brand strategy) is more crucial than ever, but how that shows up in the world has evolved significantly. Editorial coverage and earned media are just one of many ways to generate awareness and reach business goals. Digital media and Instagram have changed the game and created a huge opportunity for brands to have a voice and communicate directly with their audience. You no longer need a third party – such as a magazine – to get the word out about your brand. There are “influencers” who have a bigger audience than traditional news outlets – and we’re not just talking about celebrities or high profile individuals, but also editors and brands who have a following. Social media is a powerful and essential tool that allows brands to build brand awareness, control their messaging, and communicate what they want and when they want to their target customer. ​As a small business owner, it’s essential to tell your own story and communicate directly with your community and customers. ​

Jen: Why did you think it was important to create this course?

Kathryn & Carla: With all the changes in the media landscape and PR industry over the past 10-20 years, we saw a huge opportunity to create a “new way” to approach PR, Marketing, and Social Media for small businesses. From first hand experience, we’ve seen how the “traditional” media relations agency model is antiquated and broken, specifically for smaller brands or creative entrepreneurs who can benefit from PR the most, but are often immediately priced out of working with an agency or consultant.

We had been talking about this concept for a while, and when March 2020 hit, it was clear this “new way to approach PR” was needed more than ever. Within our professional and personal networks, so many small business owners, startups, and brands reached out to us for guidance. What they needed was not a fancy agency, or buzzy campaign, the big gap we saw is that most small businesses owners needed to learn the fundamentals, such as setting up their business with a strong brand foundation and clear message.

So we took our combined 20 + years of experience across PR, Marketing, Social Media, and Brand Strategy and created our first course.

Our goal is to educate, inspire, and empower small business owners and creative entrepreneurs to learn about this side of their business. We’ve created a way that business owners who are strapped for time and budget can set aside a few hours, and for a small investment, work through important reflection questions and exercises in order to put a foundation in place for their brand to grow.

The method that we teach is simple. We focus on a 7-step approach (“All You Need”) to build a PR and social media foundation. We teach our method through our digital course The PR & Social Media Starter Kit. We also offer strategy sessions, which we conduct over Zoom, where we take an hour to answer specific PR & marketing questions – whether that be advice on a launch, creating a PR plan, advising on content strategy, etc. The sessions are beneficial for businesses at any stage.

It has been incredibly rewarding to hear the inspiring success stories so far from business owners who have either taken our course, done a strategy session with us, or both. This month we are releasing our first ever Brand Foundation Bootcamp where we will personally take small business owners through the course for 4 weeks by hosting live workshops and Q&A sessions.

Jen: Who is this course for? Who is it not for?

Kathryn & Carla: Our course is for individuals or small business owners ready to take their idea or business to the next level and reach more customers, but aren’t sure where to start when it comes to PR & Social Media. It’s a helpful tool both for business owners who have been growing organically over the years, as well as for people in the beginning stages of their business who are working hard to turn their side hustle into a full-time job. Our course is an affordable and time-efficient way for solopreneurs and business owners to gather and implement expert advice in a short amount of time without investing thousands of dollars in a consultant or agency.

Whether you are a restaurant owner, startup founder, interior designer, artist, jeweler, retailer, or are creating your own consumer product, the story you are telling has the power to fuel your business growth and success. When you jump into growing your business without taking the time to create a strong messaging foundation, the story you put out there can end up confusing or even driving away potential customers. Our course is an excellent way to revisit your foundation and make sure that your messaging and content are laddering back to your overall business goals and speaking to your ideal customer so that you can successfully grow your business and drive sales.

If your business is releasing new products or services multime times per year, securing ongoing media coverage, growing a strong social media following, and in a financial position to invest in an agency or consultant (which start at $5,000 a month and can go up to $20,000 a month, or more), we advise onboarding a strategic partner to manage strategy development and execution. 

For a preview of what we teach in our course, be sure to sign up for our free workshop on Tuesday, April 20th where we will be covering how to capture the attention of media, influencers and your ideal customers.

Jen: What is the most common mistake you see from new brands in terms of how they present themselves to the public?

Kathryn & Carla: As we mentioned above, small business owners who are strapped for time and budget often jump into launching their business without taking the time to create a strong foundation. This can be apparent from how they present themselves on social media, their website, and in their messaging. To break this down – if a business owner never takes the time to really understand their target audience, differentiate themselves from competitors, and develop messaging and a content strategy, they end up throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks. This is not a strategic approach and can end up confusing or turning away the very people you are trying to sell to.

When you skip essential foundation building, it’s easy to miss the opportunity to put a face and values behind your business. Consumers are gravitating towards brands that have a purpose and that stand for something; they want to support a person or cause behind a brand rather than just buy something. Whether you’re a tableware brand or interior designer, it’s crucial to identify your brand values and figure out what makes you uniquely qualified to service your target audience. There are millions of brands out there, but we encourage all founders to remember that there is only one you. As a small business owner, your founding story, your “why,” and your values are distinctly yours and can be your biggest asset. Without establishing this foundational layer, how you present yourself to the public will fall flat and you risk losing that opportunity to build relationships and grow your business.

Jen: What is the best way to get product actually into the hands of a celebrity or larger influencer and not just to their publicist?

Kathryn & Carla: This is a great question! It really comes down to relationship building – making sure you are following them, engaging with their posts, and offering to gift them your product or service. Don’t be afraid to jump into someone’s dm’s – but make sure your note is personalized and to the point. A simple, customized note can be effective: “Hi NAME, It’s nice to connect with you! We are huge fans of yours and would be thrilled to gift you a piece from our brand, NAME, if of interest. Please let us know the best email address to reach out to with details. Thank you!”

It can also be helpful to partner with like-minded brands to create a nice gift package to offer your dream list of influencers and celebrities. DM can still be a great place to start your outreach, and be sure to check Instagram bios where many influencers list their contact information.

Jen: What would you say to a solopreneur who is running their own business, wearing many hats and feeling overwhelmed? Where should they focus their limited attention for maximum results?

Kathryn & Carla: We know the feeling! We created All You Need Method to help you narrow down exactly all you need to focus on. When it comes to getting the word out about your business, we recommend focusing on the 3 items below:

  1. Build a solid brand foundation: This entails reflecting on your unique story, differentiating your business from competitors, figuring out who your ideal customer is, and creating a social media plan. While this sounds like a lot, it will save you a ton of time and money in the long run if you put in this work on the front end. Our course takes you through these foundational exercises in 6 hours or less.
  2. Stand for something: As the founder/owner of a small business, you have an opportunity to put a face and values behind the brand so that your company is about more than selling something. According to a global study by Zeno Group in July 2020, consumers are 4 to 6 times more likely to purchase and champion purpose-driven companies. Think about what values are authentic to you that you can stand behind in the long-term, and make sure you communicate them through your messaging.
  3. Communicate consistently on your “owned channels”: While securing press and advertising opportunities is valuable, it’s largely outside of your control. Focus your time and financial resources on communicating with your audience by creating content for your owned channels (social media, website, newsletter, blog, etc.) Creating content and posting consistently can seem overwhelming to a solopreneur or small team, but there are ways to make it manageable:
    • Pick only a few channels to focus on, prioritizing platforms you are most familiar with using and where your audience is most active
    • Quality and consistency are more important than quantity. If you’re only posting once a week due to bandwidth, that’s a great place to start!
    • To inspire your content creation, think about how you can serve your customers through your areas of expertise and what is relevant to both your brand and audience (events, holidays, partnerships, new product launches, etc.)
    • Create a content calendar so that you can plan out posts a month in advance to avoid last minute scrambling to decide what to post. We love Canva for graphics and VSCO for editing pictures.

Jen: What are your 3-5 favorite brands right now and what are they doing right in terms of presenting themselves to the public?

Kathryn: The brands that have caught my attention over the past year are experts and personal brands who consistently provide value to their audience. I love following business coach Naomi Powell for helpful tips and motivation, Kelly LeVeque for health and wellness (her podcast is awesome), and Matilda Goad for interior design inspiration (her monthly newsletter is a favorite of mine). Whether you’re a solopreneur building a personal brand or a consumer product, I think these are all great examples of showing up consistently in a way that services your audience.

Carla: Patagonia has always been a brand I’ve admired. They have steadfast core values and unapologetically stand for them. As a consumer you know exactly what to expect – from integrity of business practices, to where they stand on crucial issues like the environment.

Spanx! This is because of Sara Blakely Founder and CEO. She is so real and authentic and lets her personality shine through from her social media channels to media interviews. She leans into her founding story, she embraces her not so perfect journey, and most of all she is relatable to her target customer.

Thank you so much Carla and Kathryn for sharing your insight! I hope that all of you will find it as valuable as I did! For more details, be sure to check out The PR & Social Media Starter Kit.

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