Abbi Hoxleigh is a PR & Communications Strategist of Little PR Rock Marketing and took some time out to talk with The Industry Leaders about free marketing tactics that any entrepreneur can use to grow their business this year.
What's your industry?
Public Relations (PR)
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
In high school, we received a project to write a story in three different newspaper styles: local press, tabloid and broadsheet. That day I was hooked on communication. I enjoy writing and have been featured in print and online and co-authored several books. I had spent many years in the arts studying how we see and understand the world around us. That experience translated into becoming a qualified graphic designer with those transferable skills I now use as a PR professional. Years at university allowed me to work at art galleries and non-profits in graphics and marketing roles. However, pushing the boundaries of a 10-year role as a Media Officer at an established charity gave me the confidence to start my own business. I started Little PR Rock Marketing in 2020, providing clients with PR that boosts their confidence as subject matter experts and potential thought leaders. I was always a natural communicator, so building authentic relationships with clients and the media is essential. I left the "comfort zone" of employment in 2021 to dive head first into my business.
My philosophy is one whereby Environmental factors are drivers of my business success. This means that we always go the extra mile to understand the business objectives and operating environments of our clients.
What kind of work does your daily role involve?
For me, PR starts with inner confidence and the ability to communicate. Therefore, my day predominantly consists of helping clients to find their voice and establish viable PR opportunities. I mediate between clients who want to market their products or services and journalists who need news stories for radio, television, print or online publications. I convert marketing messages into newsworthy content. I spend most of my time copywriting pitches (emails to journalists), writing press releases and ghostwriting. Sometimes I create graphic design work such as logos and edit photographs. However, I have a fantastic freelance team of designers who have that covered. Most recently, I have started training clients to master their PR. I deliver a day experience with a photographer where attendees get PR know-how and the necessary photographs for their media kits.
My daily ritual involves much communication, such as emails, phone calls and messaging. Some days, keeping up with all the replies and pitches needed is challenging. I have spent several months writing my book Credibility Confidence: How to Leverage PR as a Start-up. That meant taking time out from daily tasks. It took some effort to get to the publication stage between my studies for my CIPR Professional PR Diploma and my attendance at the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator. I love learning and researching and working on personal and professional development. I enjoy networking with other business professionals, which means a lot of coffee.
What gets you excited about your industry?
Good PR is about credibility, reputation and trust. The PR industry is as exciting as it is exhausting at times. It is an emotional process filled with the highs of success and the lows of disappointment. You learn from every stage of the process. People don't realise you must behave like Teflon in PR and be impervious to rejection. Some days you are celebrating, and the next, it is 'Crickets' as I call it, i.e. no response from the media. PR is about having my clients' interests at heart and caring about how they appear in the media and the ramifications of that media exposure. I am very protective, and as a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, I have a code of conduct. It is not about spinning a story or manipulating facts; PR is an ethical process for me.
Getting featured in the media adds gravitas to marketing because it is an indirect and independent third-party endorsement. However, PR is not a source of paid advertising or a sales-generating machine. I focus on "earned media, " which is free; you work for it by adding value to the story. When working with journalists, many also want to tell stories in good faith. To keep standards high in the UK, we have Ofcom monitoring communication industries and the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA Media Access) regulating copyright infringement. The reality of a story going viral overnight is intense, and you only have to mentally dip into a press room during a phone call to see the journalists' stress. Understanding their role and building relationships will be the most important thing you can do in PR. The most exciting thing about PR is how creatively you adapt to changes and spark new strategies.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
To learn public speaking is the best advice I have had. Regular speaking engagements have enabled me to become a better storyteller and vice versa. I've now appeared on stage to over 250 people, been interviewed on local and national radio and live streamed television online. Equally, it helps me to engage online with a stronger voice. When business owners start, they have skills and passion as a commodity. Therefore, reciprocity is something I learned quickly. It is essential to give back without expecting to receive. Knowing that just one person may need to hear what I say is the driving force that enables me to speak when I lack confidence. That costs nothing. Speaking about PR has opened my eyes to the media's power to influence public opinion; however, it has also made me want to take part with a seat at the table. For that, I need a confident voice. Our online voice is displayed in our digital footprint. This impact is crucial to our reputation and can be ethically curated with facts and opinions. That is why I help clients to be the best version of themselves and deliver that impact online and with a legacy of media coverage. We all want to make an income but need to make an impact. Surprisingly, you can go from "zero to hero" quickly if you master your PR. Public speaking jettisoned me into becoming a local go-to PR expert.
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
It took me a long time to face my fears of success rather than failure. I still have bad days when I feel floored; however, it takes me less time to bounce back. My emotions were affected by what I thought was letting clients down. Telling them that a journalist had been keen on a story the editor eventually rejected was heartbreaking. That was when I stopped telling them until I was sure. I had to become a buffer from the disappointment. It took a while to gain traction and find my role as a mentor and consultant. I found my true direction with NatWest and now focus on experts with a social purpose. My most complex challenge was raising my prices and finding a way to guarantee client return on investment. I felt more comfortable when I discovered a metrics system that showed this. I had to create my method to repurpose PR effectively to prolong its effectiveness. I am an eternal optimist, so sometimes, people wonder if my expectations are realistic. That can be challenging, but you will stay on course with your goal in sight.
In the current climate especially, many CEOs are looking for ways to cut costs, with marketing budgets usually one of the budgets to be cut. Is that wise?
I don't think so because marketing is the springboard to sales. When you cut your marketing budget, you have a limited capacity, negatively affecting your visibility. PR is something to rely on for distinction and in a crisis; however, sales keep your business financially viable. When you generate an income, you can develop, diversify and delegate to free yourself up for the following income generator. When you need sales, it helps if you are seen as a go-to expert or the most desirable service or product to make sales. If money isn't forthcoming, that is when your business needs to be in people's minds. In financial difficulties, it is a time to assess what is working and what isn't. You can reduce costs for your marketing efforts that are not beneficial. Managing budgets is about marketing with skill and spending wisely, not cutting back to the bare bones. One slight shift in how you do your marketing, e.g. changing or adding to a customer profile, can turn the needle and shift your success proportionally without extra cost.
For people thinking of starting businesses in 2023, would you say it's still possible to build a big business with little or no marketing budget?
I have a list of every free resource and constantly update this. It costs time, not money, to sit down and create a marketing strategy for at least 90 days ahead. If you know what's coming up, you can think about where you can share your message with your customers. People buy stories, so this is important to your marketing. Being relatable and authentic is free. Then you need to add visibility and a reputation that becomes the foundation of a more significant business. Not having a marketing budget when you start means getting creative with your resources. As you grow your business, you will rely on these tools and the paid ones that complement your communication style. Kickstarting your business can be achieved with little or no budget. However, I believe you will need to source out gradually at each point that you or your team get overwhelmed. That enables you to dedicate time to what you do best as the CEO of your business.
Can you share one or two of your favorite free marketing strategies that a business owner in your industry can use.
My favourite strategy is to gain free media coverage and repurpose every aspect in every format I can. That could be anything from an As Seen Graphic in my email footer to including it in my business plan. The fun part is constantly thinking of new ways to share your credibility-content. Think of every format of text, image, sound and video you can create and where it is best placed over 90 days or longer as a reminder to your stakeholders.
If you have products, I suggest collaborations with influencers willing to support you for free. I also have a jewellery business, and we asked a cast member of a rock musical, a local drummer in a band and a gymnasium to help us with photoshoots. That included collaborating with two photographers with whom I still work. I can't stress enough how strong your network needs to be, which costs nothing. They will also be your free marketing referrals.