With the high cost of advertising and small marketing budgets of entrepreneurs and small businesses, using public relations is a smart strategy to gain visibility and build an identity for your business, according to Dianne Fuller Doherty, regional director of the Western Massachusetts Regional Office of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (MSBDC), speaking at the Holyoke Community College Network of Women Entrepreneurs evening meeting on Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013.

Publicity and public relations are tightly integrated with a successful marketing strategy, Doherty said. “Public relations gets customers to understand you using the media,” she said.

But distribution can take effort, so Doherty cautions against trying to contact every media outlet, instead focusing on the ones that your target market reads, listens to or watches. “Do research to find out what is most cost-effective,” she said.

Any press release that’s sent to the media needs to have an angle or “hook,” Doherty said. “The media is not in the business of promoting your business.” Newsworthy items include the opening of a new business, and the release should be accompanied by a photo, she said. “If it’s a well-written, thoughtful, professional piece, you have a pretty good shot of getting it in.”

While media coverage is valuable, word of mouth is the most valuable public relations tool in a small business’s or entrepreneur’s arsenal. Customer service comes into play, making sure the customer is always right, Doherty said.

But there are other key elements to building a corporate identity, Doherty cautioned. Small businesses and entrepreneurs need to decide on a corporate identity that is consistent and continuous, and bring that identity to every touch point, including invoices, signs and packaging, she said.

“Brand identity is more than your logo,” Doherty said. “It’s worth investing in a good graphic designer.” This is because consumers are more aware of good design, and small businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly those in the image-building business, need good design to set the tone of who they are, she added.

Since advertising dollars are precious, advertising should focus on the product or service benefits, instead of the features, Doherty said.

“Marketing is an attitude. It’s how you position yourself and a conscious attempt to identify your image,” Doherty said.