Little Business, Big PR

Tara Figg
 Posted on 20, Jul 2023

Why small businesses have different public relations, advertising, and marketing needs than huge corporations

Small businesses form the backbone of the U.S. economy, driving innovation and providing essential goods and services to communities across the country. Based on the Small Business Administration's (SBA) definition, there are an estimated 31.7 million small businesses in the United States, accounting for 99.9% of all U.S. firms. These businesses span all sectors, from retail and hospitality to manufacturing and technology, and they are located in both urban and rural areas. They are incredibly diverse, owned and operated by a variety of individuals including minorities, women, veterans, and immigrants.

These small businesses play a crucial role in creating jobs and fostering economic growth. As per SBA's statistics, small businesses are responsible for generating 65.1% of net new jobs from 2000 to 2019. They not only create employment opportunities but also contribute to local economies by keeping profits within the community, promoting innovation, and fostering local identity and culture. They offer unique products and services that differentiate them from larger corporations, thereby contributing to the richness and diversity of choices available to consumers.

However, small businesses also face unique challenges. They often operate with limited resources and are more vulnerable to changes in the economy. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has particularly highlighted these vulnerabilities. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that more than 70% of small businesses are concerned about financial hardship due to prolonged closures, and more than half worry about having to permanently close. The pandemic has underscored the importance of supporting these vital components of the U.S. economy and the communities they serve.

The unique needs of small business PR

Small businesses have unique Public Relations (PR) needs that differentiate them from larger corporations. The first key difference lies in the scope and scale of their PR efforts. Small businesses often have to operate within a tighter budget and may not have a dedicated PR team. This means they have to be more strategic and efficient in their PR efforts. They might not be able to afford high-profile PR campaigns, but they can focus on building solid relationships with local media, bloggers, and influencers in their niche, whose audience aligns with their customer base. Leveraging cost-effective digital and social media platforms for PR is also a common strategy among small businesses.

Secondly, small businesses often have a closer relationship with their customers and their local communities. This allows them to engage in more personal and authentic communication. Their PR strategies often revolve around building and maintaining trust with their customers. They can effectively leverage this relationship by focusing their PR efforts on storytelling and sharing the personal journey behind their brand. This helps them build a loyal customer base that can be more valuable than any large-scale advertising campaign.

Lastly, small businesses have to be more reactive and adaptable in their PR strategies. Unlike large corporations, they don't have the luxury of long-term PR planning. They need to respond quickly to changes in their business environment and be ready to pivot their PR strategies at a moment's notice. This includes handling negative PR swiftly and transparently, turning potential crises into opportunities for demonstrating their commitment to their customers. Despite these challenges, the inherent flexibility of small businesses can often make their PR efforts more genuine, compelling, and effective than those of larger companies.

Is less really more?

At first glance, it may seem that larger corporations, with their extensive reach and higher stakes, would require more extensive PR efforts than small businesses. However, there are several reasons why small businesses might sometimes need more PR than their larger counterparts.

  1. Small businesses often operate in highly competitive local markets where distinguishing oneself from the competition is crucial for survival. PR can help these businesses stand out by building brand awareness and establishing an appealing brand identity. For example, a small business might use PR to emphasize its commitment to the local community or its use of locally-sourced ingredients, strategies that can help it compete with larger, more impersonal competitors.

  2. Small businesses frequently face the challenge of building credibility in their early stages. Unlike established corporations, which have a track record that speaks to their reliability, small businesses must work to earn the trust of consumers, investors, and business partners. PR can be instrumental in this process, helping small businesses demonstrate their expertise, integrity, and value proposition. This could involve getting the business featured in local news stories, securing speaking engagements for the business owner, or developing case studies showcasing the positive experiences of customers.

  3. Small businesses often have to deal with resource constraints that larger corporations do not. PR can play a crucial role in overcoming these constraints by helping small businesses make the most of their limited marketing budgets. A well-executed PR campaign can generate word-of-mouth, free media coverage, and organic social media engagement, providing a high return on investment. In times of crisis or negative publicity, robust PR efforts are also critical for small businesses, as they often lack the resources to weather prolonged damage to their reputation. In such scenarios, more intensive PR may be required to manage the situation and restore public trust.

Less time spent on reputation management

A big part of PR is reputation management - that is, the process of monitoring, influencing, and improving how an individual or a business is perceived by others. It involves shaping public perception by controlling and managing the information that is circulating about the subject.

While the goal of reputation management is not only to mitigate damage from any negative perceptions or misinformation - but also to highlight and amplify positive achievements, values, or offerings of the business - the term itself is often utilized in the context of recovering from negative press or to combat unattractive and untrue rumors about a company.

Small businesses often spend less time having to deal with this particular type of reputation management, for several reasons:

  • Small businesses typically operate on a more local or regional level, with a narrower customer base. This localized scale often means there's less public scrutiny on their operations compared to multinational corporations. Large corporations, with their widespread operations, can often be under the magnifying glass of the public eye, making any misstep a potential blow to their reputation. On the contrary, small businesses have fewer stakeholders to answer to, reducing the frequency and intensity of reputation management issues.

  • The close-knit relationship small businesses often have with their communities can serve as a buffer against reputation damage. Customers often feel a personal connection to local businesses and may be more forgiving of mistakes or more willing to give the business a chance to rectify the situation. This contrasts with large corporations, where customers might feel like faceless consumers and may be quicker to express their dissatisfaction or switch their loyalties after a negative incident.

  • Small businesses often have a simpler organizational structure and fewer employees compared to large corporations. This simplicity can help prevent reputational crises that stem from internal miscommunication or misconduct. For instance, ethical or operational issues that could lead to significant reputation damage can be identified and rectified more swiftly in smaller teams. However, it's important to note that while small businesses may deal less with reputation management, maintaining a positive reputation is still crucial for their survival and growth.

More specialized marketing

In an increasingly competitive business landscape, small businesses can derive great value from implementing specialized marketing strategies. Such a tailored approach offers several advantages, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that operate within specific niches or local markets.

Small businesses typically have a deeper understanding of their customer base. They often operate within a well-defined demographic or geographic market, which allows them to tailor their marketing to the specific needs, preferences, and behaviors of their customers. By contrast, large corporations, serving a vast and diverse customer base, might employ broader marketing strategies that aim for widespread appeal but could lack the personal touch. A bakery shop in a small town, for example, can devise special promotions for local events or holidays, something a national chain might overlook.

Also, the flexible nature of small businesses allows for more agile and adaptive marketing. They can experiment with innovative ideas and quickly implement changes, making them well-positioned to exploit new marketing opportunities or trends. Their marketing strategies can also be more responsive to customer feedback, leading to improved customer satisfaction. A larger corporation, with its complex decision-making processes, may struggle to match this level of agility and responsiveness.

Specialized marketing can help small businesses compete effectively against larger competitors. By focusing on a specific niche, small businesses can differentiate their offerings and establish a unique brand identity. This differentiation strategy can help attract and retain customers who value the unique products, services, or experiences that the small business provides. Specialized marketing, in this sense, is an effective tool that small businesses can leverage to carve out their own space in the market, regardless of the presence of larger corporations.

Small size, big impact

The unique characteristics of small businesses, such as their localized operations, close-knit community relationships, and flexibility, give rise to distinct PR and marketing needs that significantly differ from those of larger corporations. These differences manifest in many ways, from the scale of reputation management efforts to the specificity of marketing strategies.

Small businesses, with their lean structures and intimate understanding of their customer base, are well-positioned to implement personalized marketing strategies that resonate deeply with their audience. Their ability to quickly adapt and respond to market changes also grants them the agility to exploit emerging opportunities that might be challenging for large corporations to capitalize on due to their size and complexity.

The field of reputation management may not be as daunting for small businesses due to the fewer stakeholders involved and the generally favorable attitude of customers towards local businesses. However, this does not diminish its importance. Small businesses must still be attentive to their reputation, leveraging their close community ties and simplicity to their advantage.

Ultimately, while the resources available to small businesses may not match those of larger corporations, their size can also be their strength. By focusing on their unique capabilities and understanding their distinct PR and marketing needs, small businesses can not only survive but thrive amidst the competition. They can carve out their own niches, build loyal customer bases, and create impactful brands that resonate within their communities and beyond. In the world of business, size does not always dictate success, and for small businesses, their difference is their advantage.

Imperium Group is an American public relations and marketing consultancy firm. Founded in 2016, it specializes in guaranteed placements, creating utmost transparency for its clients. Imperium Group generates over 15M impressions a month for its clients. Its team is based out of New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

For more information about Imperium Group, please see


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