Public Relations Isn’t Just for Big Companies

Having a solid public relations plan and navigating local and social media can set your shop apart.

Public Relations Isn’t Just for Big Companies

Media coverage brings customers into the store. How do you get that coverage? Just ask for it and provide content the media outlets can use.

When most people think about public relations (PR), they envision board rooms with executives and high-paid consultants huddled around focus group notes and pie charts. Endless hours of grueling parsing of every syllable being transcribed. Agonizing over every possible perception of the words being hashed out, and a legal team that would outnumber your child’s little league squad, lawyering it all again until the perfect, antiseptic drivel we’ve all heard before is churned out and delivered to pundits and spokespeople.

Frankly, it’s a process of which we’ve become weary.

The reality is this is a very small portion of what PR looks like, but that doesn’t stop a lot of shops, and even smaller companies, from thinking PR isn’t something they can handle.

I’ve been in and around this industry for about a decade now. I’ve worked with and for global brands and local ones in and out of this industry, and the only thing stopping most companies from being awesome at PR is their own fear of tackling it.

The plain truth is nothing can have a more immediate, visible impact on your brand awareness with potential customers than a cohesive plan and strategy for navigating public and press relations. Right now, you probably already have the building blocks in place to outmaneuver your competition — you just aren’t deploying them properly. Let’s we dig into how to make a PR plan that works for any size of business.


Dovetail Your Public Relations and Advertising Partners

Finding a balance between putting all your eggs in one basket and being spread too thin can be difficult, but the best business relationships usually work because they work on multiple levels. Your PR and advertising relationships should be this way, too. The most valuable advertising partners you can have can also offer you editorial coverage.

Before you think you don’t have anything worthy of editorial coverage, let me tell you, you’re wrong. Are you planning any sales this year? Do you work with any charities? Ever host a kid’s day? Have a range where you host shoots? Planning to add on? Teach hunter’s safety or concealed carry classes?

Every single one of these things is worthy of some form of press release, distribution and coverage.

A significant portion of your annual advertising spend needs to be with partners who are willing and able to get you coverage on those things, without nickel and diming you to death in the process. Make that coverage part of your negotiation. Work it into the contract. The biggest thing is holding them to their end of the bargain — you’ve wasted your time if you negotiate it and then don’t follow through providing the content or the information.

That’s where this becomes a two-way street. In 2020, media never stops. They constantly have to fill the hoppers with content to fill pages, websites or airtime. Anything you can do to generate content saves them time, energy and money. The more turn-key your information is, the more valuable it is to them and the more likely it is to see the light of day. It takes work — that’s why it’s called “earned media.”

You end up adding a multiplier effect to your advertising dollars when you strategize it properly. Buying brand visibility is relatively easy — commercial space is sold on everything from radio waves to tv screens, newspapers, billboards and paper diner placemats. But all of those things are interruptions. They work. They get your brand visibility, and visibility is important — but it’s only one piece of the pie.

Where you really start to reap the rewards of those media placements is when your brand breaks through the regularly scheduled interruptions and makes it into the broadcasts, articles or interviews. Find those media partners who can deliver that, and you are well over halfway to doing it better than everyone else.

Get on the phone to your local media advertising partners and let them know about upcoming events or changes to the store.
Get on the phone to your local media advertising partners and let them know about upcoming events or changes to the store.

Develop a Public Relations Mindset

At some point, all the right planning will still fail if you aren’t in the right mindset to generate information to fill the PR stream. The list of newsworthy things listed previously was just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, you are the expert. You have product and industry knowledge to share. You have events and sales and assets that you can talk about. All of these things are worthy of distribution to local press and media, including social.

Someone in the business needs to be responsible for generating and distributing news. Does your shop hold monthly meetings for the employees where you talk about what’s coming up in the next 30 days? A lot of that information may well be info that the general public and media would find interesting. Share it. Sales, classes, events, shoots, all of it. Get the news out there.

The best thing you can do to help facilitate this is sketch out a promotional and activity calendar for the year and use that as your map for generating PR. Seeing the whole year laid out on one big calendar can help identify weak points in the year and areas where maybe you are too stacked up. You don’t want a busy season and a slow season. You want to use PR and events to bolster those slow times and flatten your business curve.

Every shop around is going to run a sale right before hunting season. Have you ever tried an event around Father’s Day? Look at your calendar. Find those areas where you can build an event and PR the daylights out of it. You might be surprised just how much interest you can garner and how much your media partners may be willing to get on board for a well-timed, well-planned, well-executed event.

Even if going out and doing a big event isn’t something you want to undertake, having that calendar of your normal activities can help guide those discussions with your media and advertising partners to show them where you need that editorial support and coverage. The last thing you want to try to do is get last-minute coverage for a weekend event on a Thursday afternoon. Plan ahead, think ahead, and make their life easier.


Use Social Media

I hope you are already using social media to interact with your customers, but social is important when it comes to public relations because you can control the reach. Even if you get editorial support from local news sources or industry platforms, you can’t control that footprint.

Maybe you’re hosting a shoot with a big prize package that could draw shooters from further away. Maybe you’re looking to expand the number of people you have in your concealed carry classes. Whatever the goal, social media lets you be the one who determines either by budget or area who and where your message is seen.

On its face, you should see the value in that. Every platform is a little different, but all are easy enough to work that you shouldn’t have a problem. At the end of the day, they don’t want the process of taking money from you to be difficult. Just dive in and take a look. The internet is full of how-to videos that can show you exactly what you need to do.

If you’ve gotten frustrated by your social media in general, see if putting a little money behind your page’s posts livens things up a little bit. Like it or not, social media is becoming a pay-to-play landscape. Sure, you can get some visibility doing things for free, but those pages that are spending money are going to get the balance tipped in their favor. Put social on your side by following all the best practices and by incorporating some spending into the platforms as well to help you reach new audiences and stand out from the crowd.


Consider Influencer Marketing

We aren’t going to spend a lot of time on this, as it could be its own article, and there is no shortage of those articles available, but influencer marketing can be part of a PR strategy as well. Aligning yourself with influencers, even on the local level, can help drive awareness and help shape the public’s view of your shop or brand.

Like it or not, influencer marketing is a force to be reckoned with these days — provided it's done right. Who are the local and regional influencers you can partner with for some publicity?
Like it or not, influencer marketing is a force to be reckoned with these days — provided it's done right. Who are the local and regional influencers you can partner with for some publicity?

In a lot of ways, the outdoor and shooting sports industry is actually ahead of the curve on this one, which can’t often be said. Pro staffs have been a staple in the industry for decades, and that’s all a pro staff is — influencer marketing. You may already have a band of influencers you just aren’t using their full capacity or talking about in the right way.

Make sure that if you have pro staff members already, you’re tracking when and how they share your information. Are they active on social media? Are they frequent speakers at hunt clubs or with sporting groups? Do they have a following of their own in the industry that is valuable? Make sure these folks are sharing your message and getting it out there.

The caveat is that influencers can work against you as well, so don’t choose them lightly. The last thing you want is scandal because someone affiliated with your shop is charged with a game or firearms violation because they were playing fast and loose with the laws.


Be Deliberate

Public relations isn’t hard — it just isn’t something you can do effectively off the cuff. It takes planning and the dedication to stick to and follow through with that plan. The real investment is time. Developing the plan may actually help you save money by isolating parts of your advertising plan that don’t align with your overall PR plan. If you can identify your strategy and deliver the assets, then a solid PR plan puts your shop on the path to higher brand recognition than you ever thought you could achieve.


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