When people think of public relations, they often think of it in terms of reputation and crisis management. Press conferences featuring spokespeople and a slew of reporters aggressively shouting questions are stimulating and leave a strong impression, but, in reality, they’re only one small example of how PR is used. The most effective PR isn’t staged, it’s natural and controls the narrative about your brand and business by providing positive news and messaging continuously and effectively. As a small business, this is especially important because it’s unlikely that you’re going to dominate a news cycle unless something has gone wrong – below are a few ways PR is integral to the success of small businesses:

It’s cheaper than advertising. Purchasing advertising is an eye-opening experience. Namely, because it’s really expensive. For a small business, $5,000 or even $10,000 might feel like a lot of money – but in the advertising world, I’ve had many difficult conversations with business owners telling them that what feels like a fortune won’t go very far in paid media. By contrast, PR is completely free (if you do it yourself). It might take a lot of effort (there’s a reason they call it “earned” media), but with a good PR strategy you can get just as much, if not more exposure than you would for a small advertising budget.

It gets your name and messaging out there. Maybe you’ve got more money to spend on advertising, and you buy a bunch of television and radio ads. Unless you have an enormous production budget, you’re generally going to only have one or two ads running, and you’ll only have between 15 seconds and a minute to get your point across – and that doesn’t even take short attention spans into account. A good public relations strategy lets others tell your story FOR you – whether that’s the media, spokespeople at events or strategic presentations – and creates a lot more room for your story to be told.

Few things are more valuable than good press. Advertising isn’t worthless – there’s a reason billions of dollars are spent each year by companies competing for your attention. But now, more than ever, people are hyper-aware of ads and that they’re being told what to think and feel. In contrast, good PR is all about engaging third parties (like the news media) to tell your story for you. When that story comes from someone your customers trust, it feels more genuine and takes a shorter amount of time to develop a relationship between you and your customers.

It builds long-lasting relationships. At its core, good PR is about using storytelling to build an emotional connection with your brand. Sometimes that’s about your business’s story and sometimes it’s about the actions your business takes, such as donating to a worthy cause. There’s a reason companies don’t run the same ads forever; often times, ads go stale quickly and people lose interest and tune them out. A good PR strategy works long-term to keep people interested and connected to your business, leading to more growth, repeat customers and success in the future.