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Get the Media Buzzing on a Small Business Budget
Top strategies for getting big press for your small business
While the benefits of good publicity are obvious, for many busy small business owners, generating press coverage can be a challenge. What many entrepreneurs do not realize is that there are valuable news stories hidden in a company's day-to-day operations, and that packaging and distributing these to the media can be achieved using simple tips and tools.
- Leverage your news. Think about the things that have happened recently in your company. If your business has hired new staff, taken on a new contract, conducted research or surveys, manufactured a new product or is offering a new service, you have the basis for news. Think about 'stories' in terms of what is of value or interest to your customers, business partners or investors. The likelihood is that these stories will be of interest to the publications that cater to these audiences.
Try to identify these stories well in advance, as the 'business of doing business' can take precedence over generating publicity. When you're putting together a project plan or even an annual plan, factor in the anticipated happenings and projects that may be of interest to a wider audience. Prepare in advance so that you are able to send out the news when it is of interest to the media - that is, as it happens or at a trade show when the media is anticipating news from exhibitors.
- Identify your targets. In order to ensure you 'hit' the right media outlet(s), think about your target audience. For instance, if you provide IT services and have just hired a new senior executive, customers, partners and even competitors will be interested in the appointment. The key to reaching these individuals is reaching the publications that they read on a regular basis. For instance, your IT customers may regularly read the top industry trade publications and Web sites, while members of the local business community rely upon the business section of their daily newspaper. Potential business partners, on the other hand, may get their information from business journals and magazines.
In each case, a small business can improve its chances of generating meaningful press if it is familiar with the outlets that are important to its target markets. Most businesses will likely have an understanding of some of their top media targets. However, to get the most impact from your media outreach, consider an online media database that allows you to access information on publications and reporter contacts. These services will allow you to build your own media lists, which can be customized for specific events or PR campaigns.
- The news release. The news release should contextualize your news, story or event in a manner that gives reporters an appreciation for the significance of the news without being overly promotional. A good rule of thumb for writing a release is to structure it like an article. Start with a strong headline that clearly and crisply communicates the event. Follow that with a lead paragraph that explains, in simple terms, what is happening, who is involved, where, why and how. Then, include a few paragraphs that offer details about what is being announced and quotes from your company's top executives. If your announcement is visually appealing, it is also advisable to include digital photographs or multimedia videos within the release.
Above all, the intent of a news release is to be a resource for reporters. If you structure your release with this in mind, it will increase the likelihood that your company's news will be reported.
- Experts. News isn't the only resource a small business has for securing coverage. There are other techniques that can generate similarly significant publicity for your company.
Within any given company there are individuals, often the company executives, who are ideal for promoting as experts in their field. Reporters crave access to these sources. And even if your spokesperson does not mention your company in the interview, by being associated with a topic related to your industry or market, you will generate positive 'thought leadership' - their expertise reflects on your company's brand.
For a small business, the biggest hurdle in positioning industry experts is getting the initial interview with the reporter. A good way to get that foot in the door is to keep abreast of trends in the media that relate to your experts' area of knowledge, and then pounce on any opportunities. Once a rapport is established between the reporter and your company's spokesperson, the reporter may seek his or her input directly. This is the ideal scenario.
Direct reporter contact is the most common path for offering expert spokespeople. However, there are also Web-based systems that enable you to list your experts and make them available to reporters who may be working on a story. ProfNet, a service of PR Newswire, for example, allows companies to upload expert bios to a database that is used daily by thousands of journalists.
- Anticipate Trends & Create Story Opportunities. Keeping abreast of news on your company, competitors and the industry as a whole not only allows you to be aware of what's being reported, but it can also allow you to anticipate trends and suggest angles for future stories. The ability to be proactive, instead of reactive, is extremely beneficial when trying to secure coverage.
The conventional method for staying on top of the news is to read the papers, trade journals and business press. However, most people do not have the time to sift through the dozens of publications that are important to their business, not to mention the hundreds of outlets that could serve as potential media resources.
There are services available that can make the process significantly more efficient. Search engines, including Google, Yahoo! and MSN have functions that allow you to track news related to specific keywords or company names. These systems offer a good first line of defense. However, to gain greater intelligence about what's being reported and by whom, it's advisable to use an online news monitoring service. These services enable you to monitor thousands of print and Web-based publications, and create coverage and trend reports on articles about your company, competing businesses and topics of importance to your industry.
- Leverage Web 2.0. In the past, social media sites - especially social networking sites such as MySpace - have been seen as a vehicle mainly for young people. Nowadays however, people of all ages and professions read blogs, tag articles, join online discussion groups, have profiles on professional social networking sites, and post video files. In terms of PR, social media is a maturing business tool, offering new and innovative ways to drive business and communicate to customers - often using less expensive techniques than traditional advertising or marketing campaigns.
For small business owners, blogs offer a wealth of opportunity. Providing commentary in response to a blog post, for instance, can provide an indirect mechanism through which to position yourself (and company) as a thought leader and subtly market your products and services. Small business owners can also create their own blogs as a means to showcase themselves and their business philosophy.
Online video sharing sites represent one of the fastest growing media sectors, with sites such as YouTube attracting thousands of viewers every day. For small business marketers, Web video can be an especially enticing proposition because producing and distributing such content is far less expensive than creating traditional broadcast materials.
Traditionally, news releases take a text-only form, emulating the style and format of a news article. The social media news release, on the other hand, is a news release that combines text with a host of social and multimedia elements, including photos and video, hyperlinks to blogs, digital tags, RSS feeds and search engine optimization. The social media news release is intended to help companies reach their markets directly using new social media tools.
Another way to elevate the readership of your news releases online is to include buttons for tagging the release on sites such as Digg and del.icio.us. For entrepreneurs, Digg can be used to track the popularity of news about their business, and to see the reaction to specific news releases. Del.icio.us links can be incorporated into news releases in much the same way as Digg tags, making it easy for readers to save the announcement as a favorite.
While all of these tips may not be applicable to every business, each has the ability to increase your company's media coverage. What's more, the services mentioned above can actually improve the efficiency of your marketing efforts, and potentially lead to greater sales and overall growth. However, for a small business, the introduction of new procedures will always lead to the question of expense and whether budgets can support the initiative. The good news is that the cost to implement many of these techniques is minimal, and for some, the pricing can be altered depending on the extent to which the service is used.
The bottom line is that if exposure in the media is important to your company, there are simple, cost-effective solutions that can be employed today that have been proven to yield immediate results.