All Articles Marketing Public Relations Think of your business online as a “general store”

Think of your business online as a “general store”

Marshall Communications’ Nancy Marshall offers advice on how to keep our digital presence from becoming impersonal, along with four ways for PR practitioners to grow their love of their profession.

6 min read

MarketingPublic Relations

Think of your business online as a “general store”

Paul Brennan / Pixabay

When I was 17 years old, my dad helped me get my start in the world of public relations.

Although he was an electrical engineer himself, dad had a feeling I would excel in PR, and he used his professional contacts with his company, Westinghouse Electric Corp., and a local paper mill to get me a job writing an article about the launch of a new piece of manufacturing equipment. The article appeared in his company’s national in-house magazine.

I loved the feeling of having my work published, and I was excited to leverage that experience into a stint shadowing the PR team at his company.

In a recent conversation with Lynne Golodner, we talked about why I fell in love with — and continue to love — PR, the keys to effectively building a brand and my secrets to success in public relations.

Whether you’re a PR professional or simply looking to better serve clients in some other business, I hope you’ll find a few helpful nuggets below, especially as we all work to navigate an online space that can often feel impersonal.

Picture a general store to make any online presence a little friendlier

Regardless of your specific industry, building and working in a business in 2021 requires a substantial measure of online interaction. There are plenty of benefits to the online world, of course, but it can also hold us back.

Having come up in the PR industry before it was so heavily digitized, I’m a big believer in the power of personal connection — and if we’re not careful, that personal connection can suffer when we’re doing business primarily through screens.

To help combat this, I suggest thinking of your brand or business (or the brands and businesses you’re working to promote) as a kind of general store.

In this metaphor, the raving fans of the brand or business you’re serving are the customers of that general store, and it’s up to you to greet them by name as they enter your “storefront.” You’ll need to understand what offerings will be of greatest interest to them as they make their way through your shop.

Framing the business this way might be just what you need to feel a little less overwhelmed by the scale and functionality of social media and the online world.

Next time you’re struggling to connect with customers digitally and to give the brand that personal touch, tap into that general store vibe!

Here are a few more specific tips to help you love PR as much as I do.

1. Actually do the thing your clients do

When it comes to working with PR clients, I like to take an all-in approach. I’ve learned that I can represent my clients much more authentically if I really delve into their business. This involves lots of research … but I’m also not afraid to get my hands dirty!

Over the years, I’ve been certified as a ski instructor while representing a ski resort, become a rafting guide while representing a rafting company and so much more.

Doing the thing that the company or brand I’m working for actually does has made me a stronger voice for them.

I don’t want to simply be a mouthpiece to the media on behalf of my clients. I want to be able to speak authentically about the experiences I’ve had with my clients. It makes for a better story — and is a lot more fun too.

2. Actively listen to your clients

It’s no secret that I love to talk. My ability to effectively and enthusiastically communicate was one of the things that inspired my dad to suggest PR as a career path for me — and I firmly believe it’s also one of the things that has propelled me on that path ever since.

But as much as I love to talk, I also try to listen actively to my clients, the media and other stakeholders.

I make it a priority to remember things about the people I speak to so I can reconnect with them when I inevitably find myself in contact with them again. This habit has been extremely helpful as I’ve built a network over the years.

People appreciate knowing you’ve made it a priority to learn and care about them.

3. Create brand ambassadors through your PR efforts

The goal of any brand should be to have ambassadors making the brand part of their persona.

As PR reps, it’s our jobs to figure out how to make that happen. Staying keyed in to who those ambassadors are and how you can serve them on an ongoing basis will ensure continued growth for the brand or business.

I like to say that a brand resides in the hearts and minds of a company’s target audience, so spending a little extra time thinking about the best ways to connect with that target audience — whether on social media, through a podcast or even snail mail — will certainly pay off in the long run.

Remember: The brand should be represented online in an authentic way, just as it shows up in the real world. This will help fuel a consistent connection with brand ambassadors.

4. Don’t try to fool your customers

Customers are a lot smarter than some businesses tend to give them credit for. And they can tell when the connection you’re trying to make with them — digitally or using more traditional methods — is totally transactional.

If customers sense you’re just using them, they’re not going to stick around!

One of my biggest pieces of advice for PR professionals and brands is to show up authentically as themselves. This will allow the brand’s voice to shine through in a more genuine way. The people who are part of your target audience will be attracted to it — and the people who aren’t into it can go find a better fit elsewhere.



Nancy Marshall started her PR agency, Marshall Communications more than 30 years ago. For more on Nancy’s conversation with Lynne Golodner, check out episode 106 of Lynne Golodner’s Make Meaning Podcast. For more thoughts on how to love PR, listen to The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall that also features weekly interviews with industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding.