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“There is a reason that there are PR professionals, advertising professionals, marketing professionals.”

Interview by Mike Sullivan

Sarah Evans (@prsarahevans) is the owner of Sevans Strategy, a public relations and new media consultancy. It’s her personal mission to engage and employ the use of emerging technologies in all communication that connects her with a rapidly growing base of more than 60,000 people.

MO: How did you get involved in public relations? Sarah: So, my background in PR found me out of a love of health care. My youngest sister was born with a birth defect which left her, for the early part of her life, spending a lot of time in hospitals, which meant my family and I were there as well. So I wanted a way that I could contribute to that area. I knew that I wasn’t going to do well in an actual practicing position, in a medical practice position. I don’t do as well around blood, guts, and gore, which I know not all of it is. But I found that my talents lie in the communications field and discovered public relations, specifically, and how to connect a public with an institution. I found myself in health care PR and that’s where I got started. MO: You own Sevans Strategy. At what point did you realize you wanted to own your own business? Sarah: Really, when my freelance business started outpacing my full-time career. I’ve always had . . . well, not now, but before that, always had two full-time jobs. I had my full-time day job and then I was always taking on freelancing positions for people. As I started to get larger clients contacting me, I knew that it was going to take more than the time I could allot for it in evenings and weekends. It was, I guess, the need.

How much effort should small business owners and entrepreneurs put into social marketing?

It’s going to depend on the business. If you’re a one-man shop, which I am a one-woman shop, it’s going to depend on how much you can dedicate, what you think it can accomplish for you, and then what tools and where you’re going to dedicate your time. Any small business owner knows, if they’re responsible for their own PR or marketing, that it can take up a significant amount of time and, oftentimes, gets left to the wayside.

It’s because that that’s not necessarily their area of expertise. There is a reason that there are PR professionals, advertising professionals, marketing professionals. Those are people who specialize in a certain area. I, by no means, consider myself a business expert. That’s where I spend a lot of time educating myself and learning because that wasn’t my primary focus.

So where do they spend time on social media or do they spend time on social media? They first have to, as cliche as it sounds, listen to see if their audience or their community or their customers are there. If they are, where are they at? What are they talking about? What does it look like they need? Where can you make some type of impact? Is it through customer service? Is it through business development? Or is it through the PR and marketing channels?

Is there a wrong way to execute social media?

Off the top of my head, I’d say that the wrong way is to treat it like another push marketing tool. So you say we’re going to sign up for popular social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, and push our press releases through, push our coupons through, push our deals through, push our eblast through. The same messaging. Once you’re using the same thing that you’re sharing in every channel and not trying to engage or get feedback or answer what’s in it for me for the consumer or the customer, I think those are ways that you’re doing it wrong.

Now, if your clients or customers have told you, “We would only like coupons, discounts, and deals for social media,” and you’re giving them what they need, then, in fact, you wouldn’t be doing it wrong if people are using it and they say that’s what they’d like.

Is it better to use social media to promote a brand or a personality?

My friend, Jeremiah Owyang, has some great, great feedback on this. It’s not necessarily that one is better than the other, but you run different risks with each. For example, if you allow a person to brand themselves as themselves on behalf of the company, you run the risk that they can build up their own network. What’s to stop them, then, from taking that network and doing what they do for you, only for themselves?

You also can run the risk, if you hire someone who would be considered an influencer or someone who’s large in a social space, that many times it’s hard to then think about themselves as lesser than the bigger brand. Who does a great job of this is Scott Monty for Ford. He knows he’s not bigger than the brand. He’s executing in a real way. He’s authentic. He’s sharing. He’s finding people who talk about the auto industry. But, behind the scenes, he’s executing great social media campaigns. It’s not just that he’s the front person and connecting with people. He’s got a much larger role than that.

Then you run the risk, if you’re only branded as your company without a front person, that it can appear not personal. Many times, people connect with people rather than brand images or brand logos. So you run risks either way, but you have to find what works best for you. You can always build plans in place, if that matters in your company. If you’re the CEO and you know that you’re not going anywhere, it may be a right fit for you.

Sarah Evans

Should every business have a blog?

I think what you’re asking is does everyone need content marketing? It can’t hurt. Well, it can help you. It can also hurt you. If, again, you’re just pushing messaging through for the sake of search engine optimization or for content marketing, it doesn’t necessarily provide anything or any value. So you have to think about why you want to blog, what you want to blog about, how you’re going to blog. It gets into a whole workflow and process issue.

If you’re going to add on blogging responsibilities to a PR marketing team, or on behalf of yourself as the business owner, that’s actually a time commitment. There’s a whole world of nuance and things to learn about if you going to blog, such as, I mentioned, search engine optimization, time in creating your own editorial calendar. It’s not to deter anyone from doing it. I’m a blog advocate. I do recommend it, but taking a step back to know what you’re getting into. One of the things I learned as a blogger early on, and found that almost all bloggers experience it, is the six-month depression, where you’re producing content for about six months and you think it’s really great. It takes a while to build that community or build that audience around a blog. You can get put off when you find that you maybe got one or two comments and they’re from your mom and your dad.

So it’s something that you have to stick with, keep working at. There are great resources out there, like HubSpot, that can help you. Dan Zarrella, who works for them, who’s a social scientist, can tell you all about the science of social sharing. There are lots of components to it. I’m an advocate for it, but I always like to present both sides of the issue.

What are three tips for small business owners to get their brand out there?

The first is identifying tactics that can establish you as an industry expert, whether that’s through content marketing, guest posting on a larger blog or outlet. That’s one. The other is building a really great media list. I know this is stepping around the social media sphere, but it’s a fundamental of media relations that I strongly believe in.

Now that we seen social media integrate itself into the communications world, it might look something like you have one list for traditional media. You might have another list for bloggers, and then a third list for people who are identified as influencers, we’ve heard that buzzword, or enthusiasts or people who are brand advocates, people that you can reach out to who would be interested in your information. So that’s two.

Third, just start connecting. I just advised a girlfriend of mine from college who’s starting her own business. We talked about the importance of social networks. But also, I guess this would be a fourth tip, building a centralized hub where people can go to if social networks went away. Whether that’s doing e-mail distribution list, a blog where people can subscribe, a website where people can sign up, capture that information from your customers or your community, whatever you’re trying to build, and make sure that you have that information available.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

I think the highlight of my career, honestly, is being able to work from wherever I want. There have been a lot of great accomplishments. I think we have a much farther way to go. There’s more I want to do with this company and see it grow. But I love this no strings attached. I have a mobile office. I can work from wherever I want. If that means I can cook dinner for my husband and I can have my dogs in the office, that’s what I always wanted. So, in whatever capacity I can do that, that’s fulfillment for me.

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