Low-Cost PR For Small Business

You can bet we were stoked the moment our two-person business was featured in The New York Times!
Like most small and micro-sized businesses we have a very small publicity budget -- and very big publicity needs. Gaining publicity in the well-known, trusted media isn't just about advertising. It automatically gives your business additional credibility and competitive social proof, too.

Here are the tips we use on a regular basis to garner as many press and publicity opportunities as possible. (Important note: Although all of these strategies are "free," they do cost time.)
As a result, we've also created an internal "low-cost PR system." It starts by building a press kit. This way you can quickly copy and paste as soon as the opportunity arises. (Start by creating several short descriptions of your business, your bio, and by collecting photos and other basic information.)

Next, our system combines looking for the best potential opportunities. We look for the opportunities where we feel our story is compelling and we have a good chance of beating out competing submissions. This means studying your media outlets for the right "fit." You can't win 'em all, so we've built a regular submission schedule into our process, too.
I recommend you consider the tactics below and devise a press "toolbox" and regular schedule to do the same.

Maintain a Blog

Our business website is a blog. We update the site once a week. While we talk about our business a lot we also emphasize community news. By keeping our readers informed we are seen as a valuable resource. People naturally want to share good news.

HARO (Help a Reporter Out)

HARO is a free service that journalists use to find people and businesses to quote in stories. The media outlets range from gigantic global brands to specialized blogs. HARO sends out multiple emails a day -- a lot to sort through, but if you have your materials ready you can quickly send in a relevant quote.

Content Requests (Photos, Essays, etc.)

Every media outlet needs a constant churn of content. Often they reach out to their audience directly. If your story is a match for the media outlet you've got a great chance of capturing their attention.

The key is telling a good story that fits into the context of the media outlet's story. This is how we got into The New York Times. The request was for small business owners to share a photo that represented their business and a few sentences about the photo.

As another example, I wrote a personal essay about business' difficult first year. That's how we were featured in Salon.com. In the end, the site even paid me for the article!


Similarly, many websites have their own marketing efforts. If it's appropriate (meaning that your business doesn't directly compete), you can get some exposure this way. The trick is realizing if you've got a good shot of being a finalist compared to the time you spend entering the contest.
For example, the site Walkscore.com hosted a contest to win $500 to "shop local" and was soliciting listings from local businesses. We already had a profile so that didn't take long to tag it #walkshop (per the contest rules). This was a very small time investment.

We didn't win the prize but we did "win" a mention on the Walkscoreblog! We got bragging rights, sure, but we also got something else very important, too. That's because a link from a well-known site like Walkscore strengthens our website's "domain authority" -- a boon to our business being visible in Web search. As it grows increasingly important for all businesses to be found online, a mention on a big site is a PR win, too!

Offline Opportunities

Don't overlook some more traditional opportunities to build business buzz, either. Speaking engagements and community involvement are golden for your local market. Writing a book is also great for a business, and now there are numerous ways to self-publish.

Finally, don't overlook what's under your nose. Even giving out specialty coupons or offering a discount on a certain day of the week helps create buzz. We also offer tickets to a "behind-the-scenes" tour of our business, for example. This offline PR opportunity is promoted online via the site Vayable.

Building Momentum

Remember, media exposure can start a momentum of its own. If your story is compelling it is easy for other outlets to pick it up. Our exposure in Salon, for example, lead directly to a national radio interview on a show called "The Story." So, for the hours invested writing the original article we were rewarded with two major opportunities in return.
To summarize: First, write and collect materials for a digital press kit. Use this press kit to quickly submit quotes and supplementary materials to reporters, bloggers, and other media people.

Next, do your homework. Only invest time creating content if your story can stand out. Then, be ready to invest the time. If your content is not used, don't despair. You can always "strip it for parts" and retain photos, paragraphs, and other prepared material for your press kit.
You'll have plenty of opportunities to submit it again. Enjoy your media coverage. Then, rinse and repeat!

Author Bio:
Katie McCaskey is a small business owner in Staunton, Virginia, and freelance journalist writing for Vistaprint, the leading provider of marketing materials to small businesses worldwide. Katie has covered social trends and marketing topics for over 10 years.

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