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The Globe and Mail

Don't just sell your business, sell yourself

Years ago, I met with a software company that wanted to develop a new PR strategy. We booked an hour together so they could explain their software to me, but I found myself deeply distracted by one of the executives who was sporting an unusually large ring.

As the meeting wrapped up, I couldn't help but ask about it. "Oh, this?" he replied casually. "I was on a team that won a Grey Cup."

The vast majority of businesses in Canada are small, and it stands to reason that many of the people behind them have interesting or unusual personal stories. Over the years I've met with entrepreneurs who were former Juno award-winning musicians, survivors of serious illnesses or who came to Canada with literally nothing in their pockets.

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Even people we know well may have untold stories, the kind that cast them in a new light. When I was in high school, an acquaintance of mine had a family who ran a local restaurant. It wasn't until years later that I learned her parents were among the Vietnamese "boat people" who came to Canada in the 1970s, and who had a harrowing tale of escaping with their lives on a dangerous journey.

The old cliché about entrepreneurs who look at their businesses the same way parents view their children has truth to it. For us, there's little separating our business, our personal passion and our lives. That's why when it comes to PR, weaving in the personal story can be quite natural and effective in promoting a business – especially if that story relates to how a business was launched in the first place.

It also makes your business sound that much more interesting. Given the choice between writing a story on a new clothing store and writing a profile on an interesting personality, it's the latter that will usually win out. So the best approach can be to begin thinking of how to tell your business story in a way that's both compelling and personal.

It can be as simple as including a short bio on a press release or on your website, but it could also be details on why you've chosen to align with a particular charity, or perhaps the topic of your recent speaking engagement. It's also effective to have someone pitch on your behalf. It doesn't always have to be a PR professional – look to your local chamber of commerce, a friend, colleague or family member – someone who knows you well and can capture your story.

We're trained from day one to sell our product or service. But sometimes the best PR results come when you forget about what you do – and focus on why you do it.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

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