Cheap Publicity

Here's how to make headlines without the help and expense of a public relations firm

Hiring a media or public relations firm for your business is a luxury for many fledgling businesses. But there are several things you can do to promote your business through the media, says Alexandria Johnson Boone, president and CEO of GAP Communications Group, a public relations and advertising firm in Cleveland. Boone recommends the following:

  • Build a good media contact list. Take a look at Bacon’s Publicity Checker (Bacon’s Information Inc.), a comprehensive publicity finder available in libraries. Jot down the names of business editors and writers at local newspapers and magazines; radio and television talk show hosts and producers and other media professionals who cover topics pertaining to your company, industry, product or service. Usually that means the business editor, but don’t rule out these areas: travel, leisure, entertainment or technology.
  • Put together a press release or media kit. In your press release, include the most important points about your company and keep the writing clear and concise and error free. Include in your press kit relevant clippings about you or your company, background information, copies of business-related awards, product photos (no snapshots, please) and other interesting information. Make sure everything has a professional appearance.
  • Establish a good list and work it. Send a press kit to everyone, then follow up with telephone calls. The objective is to build a first-name relationship with as many producers and editors as you can.
  • Save money via e-mail. Some editors and producers prefer hard copy mailings; others want to receive information electronically. Find out their preferences.
  • Let the media house decide what’s news. Send any recent news about your company: a notice about the opening of a new office, new client, a recent award or speech you gave. You never know what will interest an editor or producer.
  • Try the editorial route. Write a letter to the editor about a particular issue or respond to a story the media outlet covered. Your letter may be published or read over the air.
  • Provide a sample of your product. By doing this, editors and producers will know you have a real business. If the product is impressive or unique enough, it’s virtually guaranteed someone will want to run a story.
  • Concentrate on print and radio if your “product” is expertise. Whether it’s how to pick stocks or build wine cellar, you can interest an editor or producer in your service. You might be invited to participate on a panel or for a solo interview.
  • Hire a consultant. In lieu of a public relations firm, many freelance consultants will work with small business owners at modest rates. Ask other business owners for referrals, call the national headquarters of the Public Relations Society of America (212-995-2230) or look in the Yellow Pages. Be sure to ask for references.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of promoting yourself through the media, your company will undoubtedly grow large enough for you to hire a public relations firm.

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