How PR can end your anonymity

Jim James' new book reveals how public relations can put your company in the spotlight
Jim James
Morgan car in Beijing

I was in Beijing, and I was frustrated. China, the largest car market in the world, didn't allow the import of vintage cars. However, I had the right to import Morgan Motor company cars, the British hand-built sports car still in the style of 1920s roadsters. I could solve the problem of Anglophiles looking to drive a classic car on the roads of the middle kingdom.

But this put me at a crossroads. How could one man in Beijing reach a country the size of America, with 1.4bn people who spoke a different language?

My solution was to drive into the Forbidden City in my racing green Morgan Roadster, accompanied by a slightly anxious Chinese media crew. The classic convertible car drew crowds, created social media content, secured the front cover of a leading car magazine, and the orders started flowing. I launched the Morgan import business in China with PR. The breathtaking sight of a 1920s-style car photographed against a backdrop of the Chinese palace built in the 1400s is just my example of how an entrepreneur can get noticed. Still, infinitely more successful entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk have demonstrated the power of public relations.

But to get noticed, it doesn't take stunts that put the business owner at risk of being taken away by the police or lugging sinks into buildings, but it does bear thinking about it. Entrepreneurs have the edge in public relations because creativity and speed drive successful media relations and digital marketing campaigns, unlike advertising or events. Large companies may have big budgets but are conservative thinkers, sluggish, and late adopters of new technologies. Digital technology levels the playing field for entrepreneurs to compete and win. In Beijing, I could drive my car into the Forbidden City (and yes, that was forbidden) and leverage my stunt into massive media coverage, social media reach, and eventually a highly profitable national business.

Media will always be central

In August 2013, the British Ambassador to China opened our showroom in Beijing, and we hosted a media conference to make our presence official. I was in the useful position of owning my own public relations agency and was able to host the conference playing two roles. Inviting the media to interview the Ambassador created a sense of occasion and credibility. The photographs provided content for social media, and the journalists acted as a lens for others to view our story. Most importantly, their publications extend the reach of our story to new communities of readers, listeners and viewers.

Most companies overlook just how many opportunities there are to get exposure to their news. The media news cycle has become so dynamic that newsrooms have an insatiable appetite for interesting stories. The key is to understand that the story has to be relevant to the audience of the media and must help the audience to be entertained or informed, or both. An expatriate and his Shanghai wife importing British sports cars made a keen story.

Tech to the rescue

It's so easy now to find media opportunities because technology has helped to search, sift and sort information and send it directly point to point or too many. In China, I dealt with a completely different universe of social and news media, but the concepts were the same.

It is possible to create content now using AI tools like ChatGPT and application-specific tools like Lately for social channels or AI-writer, which offers citations, and for those who have no trouble writing but want assistance, tools like Quilbot and Grammarly help to finesse grammar. But it is not just text format any more, as tools like Lumen5 auto-create videos from a blog post, Viddyoze animates images, and even Canva has a text-to-video generator.

Tools like Talkia enable text-to-speech for sites for the hearing impaired, and Otter converts speech to text. The second golden age of marketing technology, as it is being termed, has over 2,000 apps which are easy to use and almost all available as SaaS on freemium models.

PR favours the entrepreneur

In the 28 years that I ran my PR agency with offices in Singapore and China, it was the nimble scaling-up companies which generated the most interest and loyalty from staff, customers and the media. Although big companies that I worked with, including Philips, Nortel, Inmarsat and RIM, had vast budgets and teams, the stories they put out were so corporate and bland that they were almost impossible to pitch. The media cover these big companies because they represent a large part of a market and often have the advertising budgets which sustain the publications and events. Journalists take down the facts out of duty, not imbued with passion.

However, the exciting news came from the entrepreneur-led companies because they retained a human dimension. These have stories of eureka moments, of taking risks, building something from nothing and along with what is being built is what is being dreamt. A better way, a new solution, and ways to make lives better.

These entrepreneurs often struggle with having a full press kit and don't have professional photographs, but these building blocks are essential. Journalists increasingly deploy "drag and drop" practices, and it increases the chance of success in providing materials which will make their media look good. None of these is expensive or difficult; they just take some time and maintenance.

Authenticity is the currency of publicity

I was an unnoticed entrepreneur, first in Singapore and then in China, but I managed to build multiple businesses by creating stories which other people engage with. As trust in corporations, media outlets, and government levels hit all-time lows, customers are looking for people more than brands; they want authenticity, not promotion.

Entrepreneurs have a human story, and this is just what audiences are looking for. Technology has come of age to overcome skills and time constraints. Really there is no better time to be an entrepreneur, and with all these opportunities, it has never been easier to get noticed.

The UnNoticed Entrepreneur by Jim James is available from Amazon and all good bookstores

Written by
Jim James
Written by
February 28, 2023