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You can spend your marketing budget buying advertising. Or, you can use publicity to promote your small business in the media for free! All it takes, is some time and effort.
Publicity consists of news stories about you and your business in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. It differs from advertising in two positive respects: it is credible, and placement is free. It differs from advertising in two negative respects: materials you submit may be edited, and placement is unpredictable.
More than half the news stories in the media are the direct result of somebodys marketing efforts. One of them can be yours, if you just follow some simple guidelines for your press releases.
The goal is to get your business into the media with a positive news story. In most cases, your press release will be heavily edited, perhaps even down to a line or two. In rare cases, your press release may run as-submitted or with minimal editing - thats a big success. But, the jackpot is when an editor or producer assigns a reporter to cover your business for their own feature story. Wow! You just cant buy advertising as big or believable as that.
The primary factor in getting publicity is newsworthiness. That doesnt necessarily mean that its news to you, but, rather, that your story is of interest and value to the readers, viewers, or listeners of the media. Your press release cannot be blatantly marketing-oriented or biased. It is easier to get your press release into community-specific or industry-specific media with niche audiences than major media with mass audiences. Thats because people in the smaller audience are more interested in whats happening in their neighborhood or industry. For example, your grand opening may be newsworthy to the community newspaper, but not to the big city newspaper. Always feel free, though, to send your press release to the larger media outlets where appropriate. The cost is minimal, and the potential reward is just too great to pass up. Here are some news hooks you may be able to use to get publicity for your business.
Community-specific or industry-specific media:
Another key factor is the press release itself. Press releases follow a rigid format. Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, I recommend using high-quality plain paper instead of letterhead, because it conveys a more impartial, editorial feel. (Save your letterhead for your cover letter.) The first page of your press release should have the word NEWS prominent at the top of the page. Near the top of the page, have a release date and a contact name and phone number. Eight lines below this is your headline in capital letters. Start the story four lines below the headline. The story must be double-spaced. Use 10- to 12-point type in an easy-to-read font. If your story has more than one page, place the word more at the bottom center of each page except the last one, and staple the pages together. Centered at the storys end is ###.
Your press release must be interesting. Write a compelling headline - one that grabs the readers attention. Your headline should be four to eight words long. The first paragraph should communicate most of the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Your story should focus on the benefits to the audience, rather than your business. Make sure all the information is correct and provable. Finally, keep it short - one or two pages is ideal.
Photographs are a big advantage, if they are interesting. Try for action pictures rather than posed shots. Photos should be black-and-white or color prints with a glossy finish, either 5x7 or 8x10. A 4x6 is, of course, perfectly adequate from a mechanical standpoint, but a larger photo sells itself - and your story - more-effectively. You should include a caption that explains the action, identifies the people, and gives credit to the photographer. Print the caption on one half of a folded piece of paper. Attach the folded paper to the photograph so its taped to the back of the photo, but the caption text is readable while looking at the photo itself. You will not get your photos returned, so send out only duplicates. If you are sending your press release electronically, make sure your photo attachment is not too big. For most situations, a 600x400 pixel image at 75 dpi is more than enough for reproduction.
Include a backgrounder. This is the step most small businesses - and even some public relations professionals - overlook, and its a key factor in hitting the jackpot. The backgrounder is just a single sheet of paper that contains essential, factual background information about your small business. It should accompany all press releases. Your backgrounder should include the full legal name of your business, what it does, where its located, what areas or industries it serves, when it started, how many employees it has, and whom to contact for more information.
Organize the information in your backgrounder in one of three formats: résumé, executive summary, or blended. The résumé format has the most impartial appearance. While it does use up a lot of white space, it also lets you condense information into bulleted lists, including corporate divisions, company milestones, and major accomplishments. The résumé format might be a good choice if you have either a little or a lot to tell. The executive summary format, if well-written, lets you position your company and explain your business. It might be a good choice if you have a complicated or esoteric product or service. The blended format starts like a résumé, with factual information about your company, then switches to a paragraph form to elaborate on what your company does. Its generally the format I recommend. Regardless of format, your backgrounder should not exceed one page.
If your backgrounder is not printed on letterhead, then it should also include your business address, phone number, and website address. An important detail is to note that youre willing to be interviewed on topics related to your business or industry, and include both your business and home phone number for that purpose.
Your press release should look clean, crisp, and professional. Have someone else proofread it, to make sure that youve communicated what you want to communicate. Also, this step helps catch typographical or factual errors that hurt your credibility. Print your press release and backgrounder using high-quality photocopying, instant printing, or laser printing.
Write a short cover letter on letterhead to accompany the press release. This step is often neglected, yet its important since you wont be able to pitch your story in-person. Your cover letter is your pitch - it should explain why you believe the news story contained in your press release is of interest to the audience. It could also mention your willingness to be interviewed. Personalize each cover letter with the name of the editor, producer, or writer - and double-check spelling! Remember to sign each letter.
Make sure your press release gets to the right person. Newspapers and magazines often have section editors and writers. Likewise, radio and television programs each have their own producers. Make sure you send your press release to the correct editor, writer, or producer. Your press packet should include a cover letter, press release, backgrounder, and business card. One tip: hand-address your envelopes - it looks more personal.
Follow up! A week after you send your press release, call the editor or producer to ask if he or she has suggestions that could help you get your story published or broadcast. Never, ever try to pressure anyone into running your story, or use the fact that you are an advertiser to bargain for editorial coverage. Instead, work with that person to re-write your story so he or she will run it. Follow up phone calls with thank-you notes.
When you get publicity, maximize it. Ask for reprints of articles to frame and display in your place of business. If you cant get reprints, buy an extra copy and neatly cut the article out, along with the part of the page showing the publication name, date, and page number. Then, get high-quality copies made to display or include in your mailings. If you get a story on the radio, obtain a tape of the broadcast and play it instead of music when you put callers on hold. Play videotapes of television news stories as part of a display in your place of business. All news stories are copyrighted, so be sure to get permission from the media before using them in your other marketing efforts.
Then, repeat! Dont think of publicity as a one-off event. Think of it as an ongoing campaign, like advertising and other marketing communication. When you get a press release in one media outlet, look for similar media outlets or corporate partners of the media outlet for further distribution. Once you start building a relationship with an editor, you can start tailoring your press releases to his or her needs and wants, increasing your success ratio. Be sure to propose an ongoing column, if appropriate; this can be a powerful, and regular, credibility enhancer for your business.
Running an ad costs money. With a well-written press release, you could occupy the same amount of space or more … for free! And, youll be leveraging the credibility of the media itself. Thats not just smart marketing; thats Tightwad Marketing!
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