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Free Publicity: Worth Its Weight in Gold
Just starting out on a shoestring? Try these PR tips.
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 by Geoff Simon
SSPR Public Relations

Geoff SimonBusinesses of all sizes spend a significant chunk of change attracting attention to their services or products. 

Large companies are able to spend huge amounts on advertising and PR campaigns, though they love free publicity as much as anyone. But small and mid-sized businesses need to target their marketing dollars wisely to get as much bang as possible for every buck.

For smaller businesses, free publicity may well be the difference between failing, merely surviving, or shooting for the moon. Even for larger companies, obtaining free positive publicity can mean success in a fiercely competitive market.
The public is overwhelmed by thousands of advertising messages. Free publicity in the form of print or broadcast articles about your company, its executives or staff members, or its products and services can attract the attention of potential customers in a way that one more ad just can't.

PR professionals are always coming up with clever ideas for getting their clients noticed, especially in the form of free and powerful publicity. Keep in mind that your goal is to attract the public's attention in a way that will draw them to your door and keep them coming back. The public is your current and potential customer base, and public relations is all about reaching them in a way that will encourage both sales and customer loyalty.

A major purpose of PR is to place media articles about you and your business in local, national, and trade publications. Such articles lend your business credibility in the eyes of the public and position you as experts in the field. People often think about using a product or service for the first time after reading an article about it in a newspaper or a magazine. Another function of such publicity is to create an appealing image for your company, to encourage customer identification and loyalty.

Local Media Exposure

Marketing experts now advise that the trading area for most businesses consists of consumers within a 10-minute drive of their store. Even most national companies, especially franchises, exist for consumers primarily as local businesses. In other words, local media exposure is one of the most valuable forms of advertising available.
Instead of spending all of your marketing budget on expensive advertising programs, look for ways to win free publicity from local media exposure. Because your business is local, it is not at all difficult to make it newsworthy at the local level.

The most obvious way to do that is to take advantage of the fact that most local newspapers have a business section that routinely reports on events and activities that you will be engaging in just in the normal course of doing business:

    * Grand Openings
    * Expansions New hires
    * Special Events
    * Promotions
    * Community service involvement

Any of these can be translated into a news story that frames your business in an appealing light and attracts customers to your door.
But let's face it, to reach most potential customers you need to get off the business page. Here are a few tips for creating a local buzz for your business by helping local newspapers and TV and radio shows see your company as a story.

Don't Underestimate the Power of the Press Release

The press release is the PR workhorse. Carefully targeted, well-written press releases save reporters time and trouble by creating newsworthy angles about a business that media can use to fill column inches or airtime. There are many opportunities for sending out press releases, and new opportunities can always be created:

    * New products and services
    * Contests and promotions
    * Awards or industry recognition
    * New hires and promotions
    * Grand openings and open houses
    * Speaking engagements
    * Involvement with local charity events, fund-raisers, or local community 
       service events
    * Results of interesting or controversial customer surveys

If you or your PR/marketing specialist has developed a relationship with reporters, then it becomes even easier to get your press releases the attention you want. One way to establish such a relationship is to consistently provide them with stories they can use. In other words, don't just send out press releases-create stories. Once you've got that relationship with a reporter, editor, newscaster, or talk show host, he or she will be especially receptive to your press releases.

So how do you create the stories that will build such relationships? Let me count the ways! Actually, let me count just a few ways for now, with a promise of many more in the future.

Think Feature Article

Feature stories are particularly useful in bringing your business to the attention of potential customers, especially since many feature stories are accompanied by full-color photographs! All you have to do is identify a human-interest angle that will attract the attention of the average newspaper reader. Especially for small and mid-sized local businesses, company owners and executives are real people and members of the community. A human angle featuring an executive or even a regular staff member is easy to come up with.

For example, most local papers have a "Home & Garden" section. If someone in the company has a house with unusual architectural features, or a particularly serene or spectacular garden, then a full-color feature on that person can be pitched to the lifestyle editor of the paper. If the business provides a service, a feature on a customer (or even an owner) who has achieved remarkable results using that service can attract customers who also need or want such a service.

Let's say you are the owner of one of those new specialty franchise gyms that cater to older, heavier women. Most owners of these gyms purchased their franchise after having been paying members themselves. Besides seeing great potential for growth in that market, a lot of the women who own such franchises are also excited about the results they achieved as members.

Imagine a feature article, complete with before and after pictures, of the owner or one or more of her most successful clients. There would be a stampede to her door!
This is what inevitably happens when a local newspaper runs an article on the opening of a local franchise for new fads, like, for example, the one for "hot yoga" that has swept the country over the last couple of years. The topic itself is newsworthy because it is unusual, and there are so many potential human-interest angles to it. Here are some businesses that provide ready-made human-interest angles. This list should get you thinking about how your business can be similarly positioned:

    * "Hot yoga"
    * A new kind of gym for older, heavier women who don't want to share space 
      with gorgeous young hard body
    * A dog daycare that offers "enrichment" programs rather than just kenneling
    * A restaurant or store featuring a type of cuisine or product new to the local 
      area (especially if the food or product has an exotic or ethnic angle)
    * A seamstress that offers only one type of service, with a promise of 
      super-fast results ("Just Hems")

During the 1970s, a woman in a college town in the Midwest put herself through college and graduate school by typing papers and manuscripts for other people. (This was in the days before word processors made everyone an expert typist.) She placed one brief, inexpensive ad in the university newspaper: Damned good typing. A friend of hers contacted the newspaper to call their attention to that ad, and the paper did a feature story on her. After the story broke, people lined up around the block for her typing services!
Find the angle-then pitch it.

Call the Radio Station and the Local TV Station

Again, the point is that your business, your executives, your staff, and your customers are members of the community. Sometimes they are very prominent members of the community, whose actions are newsworthy for that reason. But even if the individual is not prominent, that does not mean he or she is not newsworthy. Local broadcast media need to fill airtime just as print media need to fill column inches.

When pitching a story to broadcast media, you have to consider their particular needs. An executive or staff member who does not speak well in public might still serve nicely as the subject of a newspaper feature article with photographs. But for a radio interview or a spot on the local newscast, you want to put your best speakers forward. If you are going for television coverage, you also have to think about how to "give good video."

One way to make a speaker appealing to the broadcast media is to position him or her as an expert, whether on a topic directly related to your business or on a topic of general interest to the media. Of course, you still need to find the angle that makes the "story" newsworthy or appealing from a human interest angle.

For the human interest angle, think kids, pets, old people, charity, community service, hobbies-the list is endless.

Here's just one example. There has been a recent movement to offer classes in sign language to normal-hearing infants and toddlers and their parents. Imagine a story on your local newscast--with charming video of babies signing for milk or a kiss from Mommy--that features a staff member taking the class with her own baby.

If she reads up enough on the subject, she can speak on TV and radio programs (and, of course, to provide quotes for feature articles with cute photos), she can also offer to speak to parent groups in the area, as well as groups that are concerned with issues of child development and early childhood education, not to mention groups that deal with the deaf or with training sign language interpreters. 

Once she is in the public eye, she can make sure the name and product or service of the business she works for is also mentioned in every talk or interview she gives. Even better, the business itself could sponsor baby sign language classes for its staff and the community. Imagine the flurry of publicity that could produce with just a few phone calls to local print and broadcast media outlets.

These are just a few examples of ways to drum up positive free publicity for your business.

Geoff Simon is part of SSPR Public Relations Online Marketing Team. 
Geoff is skilled in online PR, social media marketing and Internet advertising.

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