As seen on  [EXTERNAL](November 4, 2002)

Smart PR Strategies for Small Business Owners
If you want champagne results but only have a beer budget, these tips from a PR pro will help you generate media attention.

By Bruce Freeman
Most entrepreneurs know that good public relations are needed to sell products or services. Public relations, and the narrower focus of media relations, contribute to the environment of your overall marketplace. By that, I mean the specific reputation of your products, customer service, personnel and competition. Why does anyone do business with one company or another? There are many reasons and factors, but part of it depends upon your company’s name recognition and reputation.

There is no substitute for the most powerful marketing tool known to man: word of mouth. However, if you rely exclusively on it to make your business a success, you are taking a big risk. The reason it is so risky is that word of mouth is effective, but inefficient. You need to spend your valuable time running your business, selling your products and services, not talking to the world one-on-one to build name recognition and trust. This is where the media comes in. The media has the power to get the attention, information and reputation of a company across to many potential customers at one time, but the question is: How are you going to get the media's attention? The answer lies in public relations.

Advertising is a necessary marketing expense, but it can be very expensive for entrepreneurs. Public relations are efficient and cost effective ways to speak to your market. Because public relations information comes through the media, an “objective” source, for your potential customers, it often carries more weight than the advertising. Here are some tips to help you get some “free” advertising:

Local town newspapers cover local town material. When you have something to say, send a short (2 or 3 paragraph) press release - no fancy form is necessary. For example, your local paper will usually print a release about a business expansion or the addition of new personnel. If you can take a reasonable picture, send it with the release.

Get the names and contact information of the business editors of the regional and major publications. Call the editors to introduce yourself and your business and offer your expertise to them if they are ever doing a story which relates to your particular area. Editors always need sources especially when a big story is going down. Even if you own the local plumbing franchise, you may be called by an editor to comment when the county sewage system backs up.

Get to know the editors in your field. If you have a small Widget store, get to know the editors of Widget World, Widget Today or whatever the publication that speaks to your particular market.

If possible, get a website or get it in order by linking to other sites. Websites are a wonderful public relations tool. They don’t cost much to keep running (as little as $30 per month) and they make your business look modern and savvy.

When you go to industry events, stop by the press room. If you can’t get in without valid credentials, leave a stack of invitations to your trade show booth, party, etc. on the registration table, near the door.

Throw parties. It doesn’t have to be expensive; cheese and crackers and soft drinks are enough. Celebrate your business anniversaries (one year, five years, etc.). Celebrate new management, redecorate and have a grand opening, whatever you can think of to get your name in the paper. Invite local dignitaries like the mayor or town council members; it’s their job to attend these functions and you can usually get someone to agree to attend. Then, call the local journalists to tell them who will be attending. Invite the journalists, too. They probably won’t come, but they’ll remember your celebration and how well you are doing.

When your business gets to a certain size, you’ll need to hire a professional firm because you will want exposure in larger markets. You also won’t have time to use these strategies; you’ll need someone who has specific expertise and relationships with the media that you don’t have time to form. You’ll know you need a professional firm when the time comes, because it will be worth more to you to pay someone else to do it than to do it yourself.