If anyone ever tells you that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, beg to differ. That worn out phrase should have been retired the day it was first uttered. Never has bad press or publicity been as potentially damaging as today (thanks, Internet). There are bad customer reviews that can keep prospects away without you ever having an inkling, as well as negative buzz in forums, groups and through social platforms that point the finger at you, your people, your products and your services. How to handle negative press is worth another Union Savings Bank business blog post, but for today let’s focus on how to promote your business and get all the positive stuff you do noticed by traditional and digital media. Because while no one needs bad publicity, good publicity is worth its weight in gold.
If your marketing budget can accommodate professional publicity support, such as a public relations agency, or you have access to an in-house team of experienced PR folks, you’re ahead of the game. If not, don’t worry – there are numerous free PR tools that can help you get started in getting your business noticed. You’ll need to invest some quality time, but the potential return on investment will make it hours well spent. Here are a few of my favorite freebies:
1. Find Media That’s Interested in You
One platform I love is anewstip. This free tool searches the entire Twitterverse as well as a news database for whatever keyword, such as your company name or brand, you plug in and serves up a list of media that has mentioned the word. Be sure to check out what media has been saying about your competition, too.
Free Google news alerts will also keep you tuned into who is writing and talking about your particular interests. Set up search parameters for your industry and competitive brands to understand current news cycles, along with what types of stories have already been published. Research the reporters whose bylines are attached to the coverage or who tweeted the story link. Finding out who is actively talking about your industry or category is always step 1 in how to promote your business – these are the individuals who will be most interested in your business.
2. Understand What the Media is Looking For
One of my favorite free go-tos is Help a Reporter Out – now owned by Cision (which, by the way, charges professional PR agencies thousands of dollars per year for their suite of media intelligence services). HARO, however, is still a terrific free resource. Sign up to be a source and you’ll get a handy round-up of reporter requests for information and possible story considerations sent to your inbox three times per day. HARO segments these inquiries by category, such as “Business and Finance” and “Lifestyle and Fitness.” You can scan the individual reporter queries and, if you find a story opportunity that matches your area of expertise, you can quickly respond and offer yourself up for the interview. The site has how-to tips for being a good source, too (no long, rambling email responses allowed!)
One of the easiest ways to see where your business acumen might be a great fit is in your own local media. Be sure to follow local reporters on Twitter and, of course, read their coverage in your target media outlets, from daily and weekly news and local network websites to your local edition of The Patch. Pay attention to local advertising as well.
3. Become a Content Provider
Service pieces – content that teaches a reader or viewer how to solve a problem – are always in demand. Are you an expert at automotive repair? Getting stains and spots out of fabric? Pruning a tree? Solving tax-related issues? Whatever service your business provides, one way how to promote your business is to turn that expertise into how-to content.
A great way to pinpoint exactly what prospective customers are looking for is to understand the search terms and phrases they’re using to find your business website. If you don’t regularly review your site’s performance by running Google Analytics reports, learn how. Are customers finding you because they’re searching for “organic food in Danbury?” Make sure you use that search term in any content you develop.
Once you produce informative content, it’s time to get it in front of people. In addition to posting text, photos and video to your own website and on your social media platforms, there are multiple free publishing options: a WordPress blog, article on LinkedIn or compiled in an e-newsletter driving people back to your website or blog.
And yes, you should try to place your content with community news outlets. The digital beast must be fed regularly and while much of the how-to media content you read today falls into the “sponsored” (aka paid) category, you can occasionally strike gold if your news and tips are timely. Look for seasonal opportunities to tell your story, such as the first snowfall (automotive repair shops), back-to-school season (fashion retailers) or holidays – virtually anyone who has a product suitable for the multitude of gift guides publishes pre-Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and during late November/December.
4. But What About Press Releases?
Do reporters still read press releases? It depends. If they recognize your email address, chances are good they’ll have a look. If the subject line is short, timely and compelling – such as related to a current news topic that’s getting a lot of play – you’ll increase your odds a bit. So, go ahead and write one if you have real news, such as a new product, but also think about a press release not just as a news announcement or publicity, but as a great piece of content.
To give your press release a fighting chance, keep it short and concise (if you’re using more than one adjective for a noun, edit!). Make it look professional by including your contact information and a short “boilerplate” that captures the salient points about your business. And, don’t forget to post the release on your website and publish a link to the release via your social media channels.
5. Speak Up
It takes time to establish yourself as a local expert with media and the public. To help you become a known resource, promote yourself as a speaker. From your local Rotary or other service clubs to business associations, there’s always a demand for experts who can share their experiences and successes and inspire, entertain and educate others.
To be considered, develop a mini “speakers kit.” Create a short list of topics that you feel comfortable speaking about and make sure that they express your unique point of view. You can build your presentation around the same search terms that you used to develop digital content. For example, instead of offering to speak about “financial advice,” create a title that captures the questions a target audience might have about the topics, such as “New Investment Strategies for Ensuring Your Children’s Education Future.”
Mail your bio, photo and speaker topics to a target list of organizations that host speakers and offer your assistance. Start small – and have someone record your presentation. Conferences, industry panels and larger venues where speakers are featured will often want to see an example of your speaking skills.
One Final Tip: Research and Practice Really Does Make Perfect
One final tip: learn how to deliver your message before you go on record. The time to prepare for publicity, be it a media pitch, an actual interview or a public speaking opportunity, is well before it happens.
Reporters today are tasked with multiple responsibilities, not the least of which is managing their media outlets’ and their personal social platforms. That means they have little time to read or listen to a rambling communication without a clear call to action – and the data and anecdotes to back it up. There are scores of tips online on prepping for an interview, such as this compilation of tips from the Forbes Magazine Communications Council.
The bottom line: there’s quite a bit you can do to score free publicity if you are wondering how to promote yourself and your business, but you have to start the process and be consistent.
Written by Melissa R. MacCaull
Director of Marketing, Union Savings Bank