Who's Running the Show?

by David D. Menzies 
When your car breaks down, are you good enough with automotive repairs to fix it yourself, or do you take it to a garage? It's a simple question of whether or not you value hiring a qualified individual to do a job that you are not prepared to handle yourself. A couple of recent events got me thinking about a similar error many small business owners make: putting the future of their businesses in the hands of individuals unqualified to manage their growth. On the surface, you might think this would be a no-brainer; I mean, how could a smart business owner, who put inordinate amounts of blood, sweat, and tears into starting their business, possibly get into the position where money is pouring out the door into poorly planned business development efforts, run by individuals with little or no experience in such area?

During a recent presentation, I was telling audience members that one of the first things they needed to do in putting together any type of marketing, public relations, or advertising effort is to establish a budget.  One of the key elements of such a budget is human resources. If a small business owner believes he or she can handle the marketing, PR, and advertising for their business, they need to plan-out how many hours they are planning on putting into such efforts on a weekly basis. During my presentation I gave an example of a product designer who charges $100 an hour for their design skills; taking that into consideration, if they would commit to a bare-bones effort of just one hour a day for marketing, PR, and advertising, you're looking at 5 hours a week or $500 investment. Over a standard month that's about $2,000, which amounts to $24,000/year.

I asked the audience to think about whether or not a business owner with little or no experience or skills in marketing, PR, or advertising would be able to produce a good enough return on investment for such a commitment. Most chuckled and some shook their heads. I then asked how much greater the return on investment would be if the business owner was to hire an in-house staffer or outsourced vendor with education, experience, and skills in marketing, PR, and advertising to successfully grow the business brand and attract customers. Again, it's an investment that needs to be weighed in the initial budget conversation.

Budget concern -- or more specifically, an aversion to spending money -- is the main reason I have seen small business owners fail in their business development efforts. Most of these individuals make the mistake of falling head over heels in love with their product or service, thinking it will sell itself. They then resist investing in professionals with proven expertise in getting such products and services in front of target prospects and convincing them to buy, instead wasting time trying to learn marketing, PR, and advertising on their own at a very rudimentary level, taking time away from other important aspects of running their business.

Another recent experience of mine was encountering a person in an administrative role within an organization who was in charge of business development efforts. This individual was somewhere between a secretary and office manager in terms of job title, but one of their roles was managing the organization's marketing, public relations and advertising efforts. It became clear right away that this individual had no understanding of any of the three areas, and in fact considered all three "marketing" by definition.

To say that marketing is different from public relations which is different from advertising is to state the simple truth, yet there are a great number of business professionals who lack this basic understanding. This is a multi-faceted situation that begs more detailed examination in a future article.

Back to the admin/marketing/PR/advertising "pro"... The organization in question operates in a very competitive marketplace, and in fact is way behind peers in outbound marketing, website design/strategy, brand visibility and media relations (i.e. I keep reading about their peers in business and industry news outlets). It's quite clear that their efforts are not working, yet the organization is hesitant to make changes. Why? From what I've seen, the corporate structure is thus that the C-level executives are active practitioners in their field, with no mid-level management or dedicated business development staff, relying to a large degree on referrals for business growth.

Somewhere along the line the marketing, PR, and advertising was dumped in the lap of this admin person, who for whatever reason has chugged along with it on their plate, never making an effort to maximize the R.O.I. through continuing education or ask for help via new staff or vendors. Maybe it's the admin person, maybe it's their boss; in either case, this organization has left its failing business development efforts in the hands of an individual ill-equipped to handle existing, let alone future challenges.

My overarching advice to business owners is this: if you have a background in marketing, public relations, or advertising and have the drive and commitment to implement and manage an effective business development plan yourself, go for it. If not, then hire someone with the right level of experience to achieve your goals. If you're not sure how much to invest, get some price quotes. There are many marketing, PR, and advertising agencies and consultants out there who do not charge for initial consultations/communication audits, which can be used to form your own in-house business development plan should you decide to take the do-it-yourself route.

Whether you tap yourself to effectively manage your marketing, public relations, or advertising in support of business development efforts, or you hire someone to do it for you, make sure the individual handling things is someone you have complete confidence in with experience and knowledge to get the job done right.

David D. Menzies is president of Innovative Public Relations, a PR and media relations consultancy. He is a 22+ year public relations professional with expertise in strategic messaging, publicity and branding. For more information visit www.innovativepublicrelations.com. Copyright © 2014 Innovative Public Relations, Inc. Publicity and branding solutions from Innovative Public Relations help U.S. and international life sciences and technology companies get in front of prospective customers and cement their brands in the marketplace.