Running a business can be a 24-hour job. What adds to the strain is the need for SMEs to build a presence throughout on- and offline media; an essential component to stand out in a crowded market.Many business owners incorporate services and opinions that interest and engage the media and potential customers, but for others it is difficult to allocate time to feeding the communications pipeline. What’s more is an apparent lack of cost-effective services on offer by marketing agencies. Consequently, SME owners rule out external support right away. Full-scale retained account work is out of the price bracket of many SMEs, so simply knowing there is a source of immediate advice and direction available would make a huge difference by triggering their focus on developing a reputation through utilising print and online editorial opportunities. Marketing is a core investment for any business but often a serious commitment. Obtaining advice on how best to package and sell key products, expertise and services can help business owners understand that results-driven activity can be achieved within a set budget. Services for SMEs should be fully flexible and the level and nature of consultancy should be individually tailored to each client. However, at its most basic level, these services should cover the development of a specific marketing communications strategy and plan, a bespoke PR toolkit to facilitate the drafting and issuing of press materials, and 24/7 access to a senior marketing communications consultant. However, seeking to grow a reputation within traditional print media is only part of the story. Google estimates that 57 per cent of SMEs are using the internet as a sales channel to grow their business and, according to their research, 81 per cent of SMEs that have used internet marketing have said that it has helped them to increase their customer base. But recent changes to search algorithms by Google have seen many businesses dramatically fall in search engine rankings. Once high profile, easily found sites aren’t appearing until pages three or four of Google, as a result of the search engine giant beginning to penalise guerrilla SEO tactics in favour of those that provide genuine online engagement. This current proviso is one that some business owners are unaware of, so it’s not only important to draw attention to it, but also to outline how it can be realistically addressed. A successful approach involves utilising online editorial platforms to engage directly with current and potential customers. Marketing and PR is therefore entering a new phase of closer alignment, with specialist services, such as SEO PR, proving essential to driving web traffic. But how does this demonstrate successful engagement in order to rise through the search engine ranks? Well, happily, this new era in marketing and PR is measurable – for example, we know that a recent client campaign resulted in a six per cent increase in sales and the generation of 4,000 new sales accounts. Many SME owners are savvy enough to appreciate these dynamics already, but finding time to ensure activity is properly implemented can be more challenging – so shop around for the right tools to help you. Rebecca Scully is managing director at Smarts.
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