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5 Steps to Small Business Public Relations Success

Getting positive mentions of your business, products, people and events in the publications that your ideal clients consume is an essential part of what I call the lead generation trio (advertising and referrals being the other members.)

Public Relations for Small Business

Fora do Eixo via Flickr

The credibility that comes with media coverage is something you simply can’t buy and obtaining this coverage is something that you simply must make a part of your overall marketing system.

While a spot on Good Morning America might not quite be in the cards at the moment, even the tiniest of local businesses can generate some media coverage in this day and age by simply adhering to the plan outlined below.

Create your media target list

Most small businesses, particularly local businesses, can probably dig up the five or six important journalists, producers and editors that they need to focus on with very little effort.

Create this list and then get to work on turning it into a rich dashboard of information by creating Google Alerts for each of the members of your list so you know when they’ve written something. Subscribe to the blog their publication makes them write, find them on every social network they belong to and add them to tools such as Twitter Lists and Google+ Circles so that’s easier to listen to the things they are doing and saying.

It’s not uncommon these days for journalists to talk about stories they are working on in social media outlets. In many cases you put yourself in a story as a source by simply paying attention.

Build relationships

The reason for setting up all of those ways to listen in the first step above is that you want to start the process of building a relationship with these journalists in order to become a trusted source.

You don’t do this by bombarding them with press releases; you do this by proving you are indeed a worthwhile source of information. You do this by making their job easier.

Get in the habit of making thoughtful comments on their blog, sending them deeper industry research that you have access to, and recommending other people they might want to talk to for a story they’ve written or are working on. The key is to prove yourself useful without asking for anything.

Plant seeds

Once you genuinely practice the acts of relationship building outlined above you may earn the right to introduce story ideas that involve your company.

There is a subtle art to this and you may have to change your mindset in order to get it. It’s never about you. Okay, if you have huge news, it could be, but how often does your business really have something blockbuster like.

If you’ve paid attention in the relationship building phase you know what this journalists writes about, the kind of things they cover, the kind of stories they write and how they write them.

Your job is to introduce story ideas that will be of interest to their readers first and involve your organization in some fashion second. Few people, including most PR firms, fully get this, but it’s the key to success.

Announce everything

One component of your system that needs to be worked routinely is the release of news of some sort on a routine basis. This is the announcement kind of stuff, the promotions, the new client, the new product, the new technique, the non-profit partnership kind of things.

These are little news bits that may get a little local coverage, especially if you release them to your Chamber or local trade group, but the real point is to give your firm a steady stream of online press release material.

These biweekly or monthly submissions will create an active stream of links, mentions and even direct to prospect exposure that builds up over time when your still with it.

Use tools like Pitch Engine or PRWeb and get in the habit of putting these out at least once a month. You can also build a little “newsroom” page on your website and archive these releases there for additional SEO and viewing.

Amplify success

The last piece of the system comes into play when you start to receive coverage.

Make sure that you get as much mileage from every mention as you can. Republish, link to and even print news stories that include your firm and include them on your web site, in your marketing materials and in your social media activity.

If you happen to land a story that features your firm you might want to see if you can obtain full reprint rights and turn it into a staple component of your marketing materials.

Get in the habit of communicating press mentions and announcements to your current clients too. While I’ve talked about PR mostly in the context lead generation, it’s also a great vehicle for reselling your current clients and making it easier for them to refer you to their colleagues.

5 Step Small Business PR Plan for Today

Getting a great write up in a publication your prospects and customers read is still one of the most powerful marketing opportunities going. From a trust standpoint few things beat the mention of your firm by what is seen as an unbiased 3rd party. In fact, and I can hear the PR folks cheering now, a well placed article just might be worth 5-10 times more than an ad in the same publication.

Public RelationsBut, and I can hear the PR folks groaning, the game has changed dramatically. Like most forms of communication the Internet has change how we get information, who we have access to, and who controls what’s said. Since anyone and everyone is a potential publisher it’s kind of democratized the process of media relations.

Major media outlets are still important, but their importance has been diluted to some degree by a million bloggers and the flow of information that marches directly to the end user. Both of these trends spell opportunity for small businesses aiming to tap the awesome lead generation and customer loyalty building power of PR.

Below are five steps that any small business can take to create a systematic approach to PR generation.

1) Listen

Journalists and thought leaders are so easy to hear now that it borders on insanity to think you’re going to get their attention without demonstrating you know a lot about what they cover and care about. Make a list of 10 journalists and/or bloggers that cover your industry or town and get their names into Google Alerts and their blogs into Google Reader. Read what they write and get to know what seems to get their attention. This used to be a fair amount of work back in the day, but now it comes to you.

2) Network

Because journalists can’t really do their job these days without Internet use, blogging and social media, you have unprecedented access to them. In the old days they could simply ignore your emails and faxes, but now you make relevant comments on their blog posts, send them links publicly through Twitter (where other journalists are watching), and engage them in online industry chats and forums or on Facebook events. Networking with your list of key journalists, in a way that demonstrates you know what you’re talking about, is how you become a resource for their next story. Don’t sell, build relationships. Hey, that kind of sounds like real networking doesn’t it?

3) Pitch curves

Resist the urge to lob press releases at your A Team list of bloggers and journalists. If you’ve followed through on steps one and two, you’ve probably earned enough trust to have a conversation that starts like this: You know I saw your story on the blah, blah, blah and I think blah, blah, blah would be an interesting piece for your readers and here’s why and here’s an example of how we did it, how a customer of ours did it . . .

Pitch curve ideas, kernels of stories that might have some impact, tie positive angles tangentially to your company, but don’t pitch your new widget unless it cures a rare disease. When you truly build trust with journalists you will come to understand they need your stories, but they get pitched so much crap, you’ve got to stay uncrappy or you won’t get heard.

4) Release

OK, this one might seem to run counter to step three but another layer of your PR plan is the monthly, or more, press release briefly outlining some big gig you landed, a new special recognition, events, special promotions and general news. This isn’t the kind of stuff that makes front page, but it’s the kind of stuff that your prospects and customers might find interesting on their way to getting to know you.

Each month, make it a habit to distribute these one page announcements through online distribution services such as PRWeb or Pitch Engine. In some cases your story will reach thousands of end users at the hands of news and industry sites picking up new releases. You media releases will be picked up by news aggregators and real time search alerts and offer some amount of back link building to your web site.

5) Amplify

Post your press, however small it might seem, to your online profiles. Tweet your press releases (OK, do more than that on Twitter, but this should be one thing.) Create an “In the news” section on our site and keep it updated with mentions and press releases. If you use Google Alerts you can grab the RSS for your company name or set up delicious RSS feeds that automatically post. Print your one page release in press release format and send it to your clients and network. You’ll be surprised at the accumulated impact this little action has.

Image credit: marjoleincc

Right and Wrong of PR Pitches

For years I was on the pitching end of PR and, while I still do some for my own promotion, I am more often on the receiving end of pitches these days.

pr pitchesIt’s probably foolish to suggest there is one right way and one wrong way for a PR person, marketer or business owner to do anything, but I know there are solid ways to get my attention and equally solid ways to convince me you are not really that into me covering your story.

I’ll relate a recent engagement with an internal PR professional as an illustration of what I think is a very good way for businesses to approach the practice media relations. Warning: This is the long-term, thoughtful approach and takes some work.

Before I continue I will admit that the lessons in what follows are PR101 obvious for many, but I’m just here to tell you that experience demonstrates I need to share this.

I wrote a blog post recently on the subject of local search directories. In that post I mentioned about six of these directories by name. The post was pretty generic and all positive. Within a few hours I received an email from Chantelle Karl the Public Relations Manager for Yelp, one of the organizations I mentioned. First PR lesson – track, filter, and engage brand mentions.

Her email simply provided deeper and additional information related to the subject I had covered and showed me where I could find more if I desired. There was no pitch or press release involved. PR Lesson – show that you can be a resource of relevant information.

Yelp is a major player in this growing industry and the information she sent revealed some interesting stuff that I did not know, so I reached out and asked for an interview. Karl wrote back with a contact that was appropriate and we scheduled the interview for the Duct Tape podcast. PR (life) Lesson – be responsive and build relationships

On the day of the interview she confirmed that I had everything I needed and she got out of the way. I can’t tell you how many PR firms still think it’s their job to manage the conversation. Minutes after the interview I received an email with a list of fast facts about Yelp. As a writer, this is exactly the kind of information that I can use to quickly add flavor to the article I was working on. If I want the entire company history I probably know where to find to it, but boiling it down for me into snack sized snippets is a great way to be useful to the journalist. PR Lesson – understand what a journalist really needs and how you can make their life easier.

Today’s post is not an attempt to bash the PR industry, far from it. Thankfully I can recount many stories like the one above, but I could also cite the opposite. Today’s business owner and marketer must employ PR as a major leg of lead generation and these lessons apply no matter what your job title.

Image credit: Waldo Jaquith

The Well Lit Path

lit pathThe other day I was conducting an educational workshop for folks interested in becoming Duct Tape Marketing Coaches. At one point I talked about presenting workshops as the primary way that coaches acquired customers and that it was an essential success factor for prospective coaches to consider.

One of the attendees then asked that, “if speaking for leads was the tactic that worked, why bother doing anything else?” And this, I fear, is at the heart of what trips some small business marketers up.

Lead generation, nurturing and conversion is a game of trust and momentum building and no matter the actual environment in which a customer is acquired, the path taken to getting them is usually lit with many other marketing related lights. In my example above, while it’s true customers often make the decision to hire a Duct Tape coach when they attend a marketing workshop, the decision process started perhaps, because the prospect had heard of Duct Tape Marketing, read about the workshop in the local paper, had a friend invite them to the workshop, and read testimonials and success stories on the coach’s web site. So, in effect, the workshop was merely confirmation that this individual might be someone that could help.

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Are You Too Online?

Even a casual reader to this blog will know that I am a huge fan of the growing set of low-cost online tools available to the small business owner and marketer.

Blogging, RSS, podcasting, social and local SEO, online PR, social networks, video services, and other online branding tools have leveled the playing field for the entrepreneur wise enough to tap this awesome toy store.

But, the ease at which these tools can be accessed can lead some businesses away from proven offline marketing strategies and tactics at the expense of true marketing momentum.

The beauty of a solid Internet presence is what it can do to enhance your overall marketing footprint. Your overall marketing momentum and growth can lean heavily on new media, but should not do so at the expense of a fully rounded effort.

  • Direct mail can be enhanced with online offer fulfillment
  • Magazine ads can be enhanced with webinars
  • Blogs can help you build a local community of partners
  • Networking offline can help you move people to network online
  • Pay-per-click advertising can help refine offline headlines
  • Social networks are a great place to locate offline strategic partners

The trick is to leverage all the tools available to you (on and off) to meet the overall objectives of marketing – building know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer.

To neglect the awesome power, reach and control still available through many offline vehicles is a little like mimicking the dog with a bone who sees its shadow in a reflection of water and drops the bone it has to grab the bone it sees as somehow bigger and better.

Use online and offline tactics to support each other and watch your marketing results grow exponentially.

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