Small Business Publicity: Getting Free Publicity for Your Business

The fourth part of our "Small Business Primer" series.

So far, in this series, I’ve gone over defining your business goals, developing a profile of your target market, and coming up with sample marketing literature to send to prospects. In this article, I’ll examine two other marketing techniques.

How can you get free publicity in the media?

That’s really not as hard as you might think. Exposure in newspapers, magazines, and even television can do wonders for others’ perception and awareness of your business. But how do you get that exposure? The answer starts with a little thing called a press release.

Pick up a computer magazine or tabloid. Flip to the “New Products” or related section. See all those announcements? Virtually every one started with a press release sent to the publication to stir up interest in the product.

I know what you’re saying: “I don’t sell a product. I provide computer consulting services.” It doesn’t matter. Look in your local newspaper’s business section under the “Contracts” or related topic. One way publications find out that companies receive contracts is through press releases. Now, you do get contracts, right?

Activity: Write a press release using the following format, substituting your information where appropriate:

Rockville, MD-based KCI was awarded a contract by Expanding Financial Co. to install and support local area networks for its headquarters.
KCI will configure and support nearly 50 personal computers at EFC’s 100-person office in downtown Washington, D.C. The system will include support for Internet and connect the firm’s satellite branches in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago.
KCI provides local area network integration solutions for financial firms. For more information, contact Dr. Vivek Khera at (301) 545-6868.

Place the date, contact names and phone numbers, and the words “For Immediate Release” at the top of the press release. At the bottom, center “- ###-” to let the reader know that there are no more pages. Print the release, double-spaced, on your letterhead.

A few notes: 1) you don’t have to include the date the contract was awarded, 2) if the contract is substantial, you might want to include the amount, and 3) be clear and to the point. Writing concise text isn’t easy, but following a style that journalists use can help. Put the most important information in the first paragraph. Read an article in a newspaper for examples. End with information about your company and a point of contact. Many press releases are used verbatim. The name and phone number you put at the top is used mainly by editors, so you have to restate that information in the body of the release.

Not all of the information in your release will make it into the publication. In fact, most editors toss out the part about your company and the contract’s details. But, if you don’t include it, there is a 0% chance that it will get in.

Now that you’ve written a press release, who do you send it to? Good question. My answer: Who do you want to inform about your new contract? The strategy, here, is to establish and reinforce name recognition. If decision makers (the ones you defined when you sketched a profile of your target market) see your name and a basic description about the contracts you keep winning, they will slowly form an association with your company name and what you do.

Send your release to the editors of your local metropolitan (and community) paper’s business section, computer tabloids, business tabloids, and other local publications that are read by your target market. Sending an announcement about a local contract to a national publication won’t get you very far. You can find the names and addresses of the right people by calling the publication or by looking on it’s masthead.

How can I get even more free publicity?

If you did the activity in my last article, you put together a collection of “Problem/Solution” sheets describing the projects you’ve completed. You can take these sheets and turn them into “How To” articles very easily.

Activity: Rephrase the text so that you are explaining to someone just how to solve a specific computer-related problem. Expand the text so that it is at least one thousand words. Don’t add fluff. Include examples, hardware and software used, etc. Remember: you are not writing a sales piece, you are writing an informative article.

Next, write a one-page letter to the editor of selected publications (from the list you generated for your press releases) to pitch your article. This letter, known as a query, is effectively a proposal to the editor to get him or her to review your article. Check out your local library or bookstore for books on writing queries. CompuServe’s journalism forum also has some good information (type GO JFORUM at the prompt).

You may get interest, you may not. Success in placing articles depends largely on your writing style, credibility, and timing (e.g., if you are a computer virus expert, pitch an article before Michelangelo’s birthday). Don’t be afraid to get help from a good editor. You’ll make up the investment as soon as the publication pays you for your article.

Once your article is published, you can make copies to include with your marketing material. Better yet, mail it to a prospect with a handwritten note saying something like “Joe, ComputerPress just carried an article I wrote on how to protect yourself against data loss. I think you’ll find the information pertinent to what you are doing.” (TIP: Don’t wait to publish your own material to send notes like this one along with relevant articles to your prospects. Locate something you think one of your leads would find interesting and mail it—now!)

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