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PR for Small Business with Lucy Werner – Part 1

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this what pr is

Today’s guest is a PR expert, founder, author and teacher.

She started her business in 2015 because she was completely disillusioned by how traditional agencies weren’t servicing the independents and small businesses of the UK in the way that was really needed to. 

The “WERN” is a PR and Design shop for startups, entrepreneurs and independent brands like you. The business is split across products, events, courses, coaching and an affordable agency. In the last six years she’s worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs including Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, the Marshmallow West and Vinyl Me, Please.

She uses her own profile to demonstrate how you can do your own publicity without spending a fortune on a big London agency or people who have dabbled in PR.

She loves helping businesses like yours learn the DIY steps of PR, regularly hosting her own workshops, and for other platforms such as UAL Creative, Accelerator Cass Business School, UCL and Courier Magazine, as well as co-working spaces. A guest lecturer for modern business school Jolt, General Assembly and a regular on the speaking circuit across the capital.

She is also a busy mother and lives with a French creative director, Hadrian, who also happens to be the father of her children from her garden office in East London. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s guests, talking about all things PR and her book, “Hype Yourself – a no-nonsense PR toolkit for small businesses”, is Lucy ‘“the Wern” Werner…

MF: So let’s go back to the beginning.What made you start out on your own? You’re working with top PR firms, top brands, top businesses and yet you almost turned your back on them to come and work with us… the small independent businesses…almost the grafters by comparison. So what made you do it? 

LW: It’s a few different reasons, I think..why not? I definitely was watching my boss get rich. Getting bigger and he was kind of like a mini ‘Devil Wears Prada’ sort of Tazmanian Devil, whirling through the office and he’s like Nessa Porter Bagby come in and I just thought I kind of work my ass off just to make you…you richer.

So definitely a bit of that…but it was definitely I was getting to that point where a lot of my friends were suddenly running businesses, or had a pop-up, or opening a restaurant. And there was a point where there’s a road in East London in Hackney where I had different friends doing different things on that one street and they’d all come and talk to me about what they needed for PR and what they were being charged for PR agencies.

We’re basically saying you need to pay us two to three grand a month minimum and they’re budget is about a hundred and fifty quid and when you’re starting out you don’t have a lot and a lot of people don’t even know what PR is let alone be spanked for three grand a month on it. And I just think that old PR agency model doesn’t (work for small business)… there are definitely perks to it and it definitely works for a big corporate brand, or your big global brand with a big budget and you need creative brain juice and you need men on the ground, women on the ground…but for the small business owners, I think there’s so much you can do yourself and it’s actually just demystifying that process.

It’s not all about the contacts you have it’s not all about wanging out a press release, but it is really so simple and it’s actually… there’s a few kind of rules that I think you use and PR that are just good to use in business generally and if you master them then you can do your own publicity.

MF : Okay, so let’s break it down because some people get really confused with this, so we’ll get, we’ll do what it is and what It isn’t. So, what is PR essentially? 

LW: For me? It’s anywhere, you are promoting yourself in a public space, but that could be the way you and I have just spoken before we’ve done the recording today. Like I’ve now got an impression of who you are. and who you are as a person and I will go off and word  of mouth, like this spreading how lovely you are to speak to obviously but it could be when you go to an event and you see a speaker on stage and you go up to speak them afterwards and how they behave towards you and how that can can crush your or not. Traditionally PR people would see it as getting into print media, getting into the newspaper and this is where there’s the confusion because someone will be like, “Oh, so you pay to get it in the paper..?” and I’m like, “No that is an advert..”, that’s not what I do…as I help businesses tell their stories and pitch that to the editorial side of the team there… essentially they are written about for free. And that free bit I think, that it’s important… like the journalist is sort of doing you the favour to write about you

and your business. So you’ve got to be serving them not thinking, “Oh they actually owe me to write like a great big profile why my business is so great…actually thinking a bit deeper than that. There’s a link. I’ll give you like a famous example that Haidrian talks about quite a lot because he’s French he could sort of talk about like the “Luvers..” and it’s done something more like French and romantic, but there’s basically a thing like in PR people got a man and a woman. And a man is trying to pitch he’s a great lover. In PR it’s a woman telling another woman, that he’s a good lover. In advertising it’s him literally taking out an advert to say “I am a good lover” and marketing is a woman telling her audience… “I’ve heard he’s a good lover.” 

The PR is really the word of mouth…a way that people are talking about you when you’re not in the room.

Picture Link

MF : Okay. So what is it not then? Because again there’s a place where it gets that little bit murky and I’ve I see an awful lot of PR experts portray that they’re PR experts when in fact actually they’re people who do a bit of Social Media and stuff like that. So what isn’t PR? 

LW : You know, it’s a grey area. PR for me is a bit of social media as well. Like you found me on my LinkedIn profile, so there is an element that having your personal brand and a social media presence is PR but there is a grey area in marketing and digital marketing in general.

But for me, I guess if somebody is asking me to pay to speak to be on a podcast, to be in a magazine that is that is not PR; that is (advertising) spend. And it isn’t when you’re thinking about marketing, it isn’t necessarily your email marketing or your newsletter. But for me, I arguably use those tools to amplify my PR profile.

So it’s hard to sort of distinguish really, but I basically just say it’s how you promote yourself without putting any Ad spend behind it.

MF : This is quite interesting because it’s almost like an entire industry that’s been born out of people paying for stuff and then they class it is PR.

So a really good example is that there’s an awful lot of networking events …and when when life was normal…there are an awful lot of networking events that if you wanted to go and speak they would say, “Oh you have a thousand people at this event…” or something like that, and then say, “Yes, you can come and speak at this event, but it’s going to cost you 700 quid to come and speak at this event, or there are like magazines that have said “Yes…we’d like to do an editorial but it’s going to cost you 2 grand…”

LW :  Yeah, that’s not real PR. And for me I am quite strict on if anybody asked my advice on that sort of thing. I say, “No don’t spend your money on that stuff..” and for me as welI, I think a lot of industries don’t really have any awards that are set up to support them properly. There are a few smaller Business Awards,

I encourage people to enter but if it starts being like more than a few hundred quid you’re also not helping the rest of the industry?!

Because if you’re thinking about like the wider or quality and brilliance as small business owners, they don’t all have the budget to do that. So effectively all that’s happening is the people who’ve got money are winning an award, which I don’t think cool. 

MF : Right, so I’m not going to go through all the book, so we just want to like to talk through some of the bits that are in the book.

I’m just going to touch on some of the bits in the first two chapters because I think it sets it up really…give some people some real good ideas.

So when it comes to PR talk us through the idea of having some actual business objectives to PR, because when I talk to people it’s very evident that people just say, “I need PR”… Yeah what for? And then they look blankly at me. So what do you think businesses should be looking at when it comes to their business objectives?

LW : My background is big agency. So in big agencies you start with strategy and it seemed really bizarre to me that freelancers and small businesses weren’t taking the same approach.

For example, if you’re a fashion brand and I want to be in Vogue, it’s like “why?”

Because you want to have kudos; because you want to say been seen in Vogue, to look better; because you want to drive sales. Because you can probably get into Vogue. Is it going to be a silver bullet for your sales? Maybe not… and that’s the problem.

I think a lot of people think that PR is a free way it’s going to save their business, and they’re going to get press coverage and they’re going to sell out overnight and then they don’t have to worry about spending or Facebook ads or an advertising campaign and it just doesn’t really work like that.

It can happen and I have seen it with my own clients where we have maybe got them into something in the Daily Mail that led to them being picked up on This Morning or something like that and it can do that, but it’s not a guarantee. So really it’s taken us aback and in some cases somebody will say to me like “Do you know what? I’ve got hardly any budget…hardly any time…the pressure for me right now is I’m launching my on online e-commerce platform and I need to get sales..” and I’ll say, “OK don’t spend money having PR coaching with me go and spend it on digital marketing, or Ad spend because right now you just need to get numbers through the door.”

Later on you can worry about raising your profile. So I’m not saying don’t invest in PR…I obviously have built my business on it and I love people doing it, but it’s not always necessary. If your cash poor, time poor and you need a quick sales hit, PR is a non-game to a brand building piece.

It’s like the billboard the people become aware of. You need become a trusted person. I also encourage that all small business owners put themselves forward and think about what their personal objectives are. So for me it was I didn’t want to work Monday to Friday…I didn’t want to do agency work anymore. I wanted to be able to finish speaking, put the phone down and walk away to be with my children and not to be worried that a journalist was suddenly going to call and say, “I need this…”, but it was four o’clock on a Friday.

So it’s thinking about how you want your business to look like and getting your publicity to support that accordingly.

MF : Okay. So talk us through communication objectives. Because there are so many different channels for us to communicate on but it’s not necessarily the case when it comes to the words ‘communication objectives’. So just explain a little bit about what you mean… about communication objectives when it comes to PR.

LW : I guess it’s like how how you want people to be thinking about you what you want to be known as. So when it’s your business objectives it’s normally something that’s quite measured that could be sales, it could be turnover, it could be trying to attract me stuff.

Your Communications objective is, how do you want people to be talking about you? How do you want to be remembered? 

So it’s kind of the next step but one. I think people get really worried about the word ‘niche’ as well. They think that if they niche they come to objectives that they’re going to rule out other people, but I don’t think that is the case and actually I’ve been doing a business accelerator at the moment with Daniel Priestly.

He talked a lot about replacing the word ‘niche’ with ‘campaign’. Then it feels quite safer. Like right now, “I’m just doing a campaign for small businesses…” and that doesn’t stop corporates or big agencies coming to try and work with me. But those core people know that’s what I’m doing for them, right? Are you a fan of ‘Friends’?

MF : Pardon?

LW : Are you a friend fan? 

MF : Yes. I’m a friend’s fan.

LW : Think about like Ross in the hallway with the sofa…be like “Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!” That’s it…you just go in to where you need to go and you’re tweaking your sofa slightly as just as you’re moving around the bends of your world.

MF : You talk about something in the first part of the book that I’m very, very Pro on and I’m a massive fan of Simon Sinek, and I’ve probably made half a career out of what he’s been talking about if I’m totally honest, but talk us through why you think the words…“the reason why” is so important when it comes to your PR?

LW : You know, I’ve been really delving into this a lot at the moment of course of multiple different ways. I think there’s actually a lot of stuff that companies that have ‘a bigger purpose’, do well. I also think it’s really getting down to the truth of why you’re doing what it is that you’re doing in the first place and you care about. And I think especially in the pandemic it’s really important to dig out and literally pull out that old box of your mission statements or what your reason was to be doing a business in the first place…to seeing where you are in life because ultimately as small business owners, we are doing what we do day in, day out and it needs to be for servicing are souls for the greater good so when it comes down to your why I guess there’s so much I could say about it. So it’s hard for me to kind of like wrap it up to succinctly, but I guess ultimately it so that the way your promoting yourself authentically, so people can see through…the shit out there and people eventually will see it…they might not always see it immediately sadly, but they will see it. So when I’m saying I genuinely care about supporting small business people that’s not a marketing line, that is because I didn’t care about promoting wine that was 5.5% with an ex-member of Eternal as the face of it, or promoting e-cigarettes like that did not make my soul sing but when I worked with general small business owners, and they suddenly called me up, or where they send me a DM and say “I read your book and I got in Wired Magazine.

I read in your book and I got on BBC..”, like that is like for me,is the best feeling in the world. I’ve managed to impart some of my knowledge and help people.

So with all small business owners most the reason we’re doing what we’re doing is because we found a gap in the market or that was something not being served. Or that there was a true calling that made us set up a small businesses in the first place. When you’re always underpinning that with your ‘Why’, communicating that your audience is going to connect with you and they’re going to want to work with you.

I think the events of the of the pandemic have certainly made an awful lot of business owners look at why they are doing what they’re doing because…it’s not planetary number as well. I think this thing of “Become a six-figure business or become a seven-figure business..” and it really doesn’t mean anything because you know what? That is just turnover and if you’ve got a bunch of staff, and all the other resources, that’s not touching what the profit really is in it. For me and I talked about this a lot to my scene as well now, but for me, my wealth is having time to spend with my kids because I didn’t have that when my parents were working their nuts off. So for me, it was really important that I could have that balance with my partner at home and that we didn’t just sort of fulfil these gender roles and that we could have the balance in the home for the children and I’m very privileged to be in that position.

But for me the pandemic didn’t really change people needing publicity. If anything it kind of meant that people don’t want to spank loads on massive PR agencies anymore. And we were suddenly in a bit more of a unique position to be in, because what we’re doing is something quite affordable.

MF : So why should a small business have a Communications calendar? 

LW : I think and I always encourage people to share a bit of their personality and I think people hear the words, ‘personal brand’ and they think it means a personal, ‘I’ve got share pictures of my partner and my kids and my private life..’, and it’s like this, it’s like showing a bit of your ankles who you are…

And so national calendars dates are a really good opportunity for you to be able to piggyback off of that and use it as content for your social media or even as a broader thing it could be something that you then hijacked talked about in the news. I had someone who wanted talk about National Mentoring Day yesterday and she wanted to to put a piece out about how she believed that mentoring was going to save the creative gig economy because all of a sudden these creatives are suddenly out of work and actually rather than them paying to do degrees or retraining or re-skilling with a bit of mentorship in the right skill set they be able to kind of launch themselves a small business owners…But she’s told me this on Saturday and the National Mentoring goes on Tuesday. So that it’s a little bit fine now to start pitching that out for the media to pick it up. That’s why I like having an idea of what’s coming up in advance.

You can pitch out accordingly. So quite famously if you don’t own a product, it’s Christmas in July for the long need magazines because they’re working three to six months out. You’re talking a Weekly Magazine, they’re still probably working about six to eight weeks out. Even if it’s a Christmas gift guide could be a few months before and I’ve actually known this historically, I remember once there was a…so they had me do some media training when I was quite young in the PR industry, I was really cutting my teeth on it…and they would literally have supplements written ready for when celebrities were going to die. They had one for ages on the Queen Mum and the PR guy would say, “I don’t think she’s going to die…we’ve written it all and not going to die..”, and sadly she did but he was ready the next day to go, to go out with it, but I think it’s also there are things like anticipating. Not be anticipating Royal death.

That’s not cool. But anticipating what could be happening culturally and I think you know, I’m going to keep…I know that we want the content on a podcast be evergreen… but we’re in the midst, for context, if you’re reading this far ahead in the future, we’re sort of in between first and second wave of pandemic and for me, I’m encouraging people right now to start thinking about like we’re going  to be so even more into winter…probably likely to go into a more deeper lockdown.

What can you be doing as a business to hijack that and maintain some sort of positivity and happy days and calendar dates where you can be flipping that to talk about your business and maybe what you’re doing in the community?

It’s really welcome right now. Because we don’t want to be reading about doom and gloom or time. We want to be hearing light-hearted story. So it’s actually sort of sharing…sharing as much as you can about what your business is doing and finding those calendar hooks.

MF : Okay, and it leaves me really nice nicely into like this last question for part one of this interview…how important is it to have crisis Q&A’s in the current climate?

When I saw that chapter title, I said…”But I’m a small business…

What kind of crisis could I be in to?” and then I sat there reading it saying…“Oh, yeah that one.” (The pandemic) So how important has it been for businesses to have a crisis Q&A? 

LW : I was asked the question the other day. Somebody asked me if I could rewrite the book now because obviously wrote it a year and a half ago, what would I change? I said there was two things. 

One…I would have talked about diversity and inclusion more in your PR because I kind of neglected it and actually I feel it’s something that we should understand in all businesses.

And the second thing was ‘Crisis PR’ because I just sort of put it in as an afterthought and obviously now everybody globally, just like the UK, everybody globally who’s a small business owner is in crisis. Whether your business is doing phenomenally well or it’s really struggling and you had to make furlough or redundancies or bankrupt yourself. We’re all facing some kind of crisis communication.

So yes in answer to your question is really important to have a crisis Q&A and think about what the eventualities could be and it’s not just  that nobody could necessarily predict the pandemic, but what happens if your website goes down tomorrow, have you got something pre-scripted to go out to your members? You know what happens if there’s a data breach of your customers on your newsletter template…newsletter database? 

You think about the things that we could probably anticipate that are probably never gonna happen, but in the eye of the storm the last thing you want to be doing is fire fighting with some words of what you want to say and the other reason is when we are in crisis, this typically we are emotional and we are not writing our best copy when we’re emotional, especially if we’re under attack from our customers or consumers or you know, we’re having Tech issues or something…writing a calm and considered approach is not is not going to be up there.

And actually part of the reason that small business owners are great because they’re so agile… with corporates when they make a mistake they can’t typically turn it around. So there’s an example.

I do sight…that’s actually Marks & Spencer where they put out an ad campaign about bra sizes, but they were charging more for women who were larger which obviously caused outrage.

So the next day they took out full-page advert with the set of boobs saying “We Boobed”…and they basically put their hands up and were like, “Yeah, we fucked this up…”. I think sometimes when somebody immediately goes “Yeah, I’ve got it wrong. I got it wrong. I got it wrong. I got it. I’m going to change it.This is what I’m going to do to change. It might take me a bit of time, but I’m going to be on it…” 

Being able to have that humility and say put your hands up immediately when you’re wrong and you don’t always have to have the answer but just say how you’re going to fix it. People are very forgiving and actually sometimes a crisis can really be a benefit for businesses if they spin it in the right way.

MF : Well if we go back a couple of years ago Kentucky Fried Chicken when they had massive chicken delivery issues. They changed KFC into FCK. Which was just genius. It was absolutely genius and everybody said, “Oh, it’s all right. It doesn’t matter.” You know?

LW : They said “You’re funny. It’s funny…”

Part 2 of the interview is available November 8th 2020