Media coverage is a blessing for small businesses - as your profile goes up, so will your sales. However, marketing campaigns can be costly. Free publicity is a great way to increase the profile of your small business. While traditional print media still has clout, in a world of "viral" marketing and social media, what other options are out there? Clare Bullock investigates
- Focus your coverage. Choose carefully exactly what you want to cover and your target media. Whether it's the launch of a new product, a significant anniversary or a competition win, make sure it is relevant to the readership of your targeted media - be it traditional or online.
- Use social media for free PR. You can set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account at no cost. Social media is an excellent way to build relationships with your customers and encourage word-of-mouth publicity.
- Viral marketing. Whether it's a YouTube video with thousands of views, or a photo that is tweeted and retweeted, if your promotional material goes 'viral' it can give your public profile a huge boost. There is no magic formula to viral marketing - but something quirky, interesting and funny is more likely to capture people's imaginations.
- Write a great press release. Press releases serve two purposes - you can add them to the news section of your site, link to them from your social media accounts, and send them to journalists. Ensure you have an eye-catching headline and a strong, summarising opening paragraph before getting into the details.
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- Get back to basics. Traditionally small firms aimed to get editorial coverage by sending press releases to newspapers or magazines in the hope that journalists would write about their new product or service. Journalists want to write about something that is newsworthy, particularly if it will appeal to their readership. If it's linked with famous people or places, controversial or amusing, you are more likely to get the coverage you want.
- Advertising promotions. These can be a double-edged sword - although you are guaranteed editorial coverage, paid promotions can be expensive and potential customers may skip the feature. Weigh up whether the potential results are worth the cost.
- Go for gold. Winning an award is a fantastic way to get publicity - not only does it recognise your talent and increase your prestige; award ceremonies are a good place to network and are usually covered by trade or local press. Many awards are free to enter. Look for one that is well respected in your industry and is likely to generate press coverage.
- Get philanthropic. You could get involved with a local charity to increase your standing in the community. Offer to speak at industry events or to write a column for a trade magazine or website.
- Dealing with bad publicity. Not all free publicity is beneficial. One negative comment can undo months of hard work. If a customer complains, contact them directly with a full apology and suggested solution. If you see negative and anonymous comments online, respond honestly in the same forum, explaining the situation from your perspective. Do not ignore negative feedback or bad publicity - it may be the first thing a prospective customer sees if they decide to search for you online.
- Keep it in perspective. Publicity is a great way to increase footfall but don't neglect other aspects of your business in a bid to boost your profile. If you are spending a lot of time and energy on PR without much success, sit back and work out another strategy.