I often work with small businesses and their public relations efforts. Often people think of PR as only "media relations," but there are in fact lots of audiences that fall into the category of "public," including influencers who aren't reporters. This may be experts with large social media followings or perhaps industry analysts or consultants. All of these people influence buying decisions, and it's worth the time to work to be in front of these influencers as well as the media.
Here are two key elements that journalists want when writing about a company, and in particular a smaller company in order to lend credibility.
1) Customer stories - when the press ask about a particular topic and there's a company that serves that need, the best proof point is a customer to tell that story.
2) Stats, Data, Numbers - the press is based in facts. Cold hard numbers show the facts of the matter. When a small company can show that customers increased or decreased X by $Y or Z% it's meaningful. When a company can share numbers across their business - "90% of our customers have done ___," this information is of interest to a journalist, as it demonstrates a pattern.
These top two items should not cost a company anything except internal time - time to talk to customers and time to parse through data to find trends.
A third thing for a small company to understand is how press releases fit into a marketing strategy. Not all press releases are in fact worthy of the press' time and attention, but there are other valuable reasons for a press release.
Sometimes, customers and other stakeholders go to your website and look back at press releases. So there is value in writing a press release on a new customer win, a new product release, a new partnership or a new round of funding, even if the press release doesn't have all the meat that a journalist needs to cover it. Spend money wisely and know when to:
Write a press release and simply put it on your website
Pay to put it over a press release distribution service
Go the extra mile and reach out to journalists to cover the news in the press release