Business Growth Series: Promote Your Business (Without Breaking the Bank)

A 782Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Public recognition for you and your business is one of the most important factors in attracting prospective clients. Most often, recognition is bought as paid advertising, a necessary component of any successful business. But you can enhance public awareness of your business in other ways that cost little or nothing and will equal or exceed results obtained through advertising.

In your business, you are who and what people think you are, as an individual and as a business. Whether you recognize it or not, you are engaged full-time in the effort to influence what people think. And what people think about you and your business is the result of your ability to gain and maintain favorable public recognition.

To be successful in that regard, you must first recognize a public when you see one. The "general public" does not exist. There are, instead, many publics with whom you interact, each of which is recognized as a definable group of people that have a specifically identifiable relationship with you and your business.

Your "publics" may consist of your clients, subcontractors, suppliers, employees, and their families, neighbors, community and business leaders, and local government.

Vehicles for reaching this vast and varied audience are many. Whether you hire a consultant or take on the publicity task yourself, there are diverse ways to reach these public groups: participating in special events, contributing time or money to charitable organizations, writing newspaper or magazine articles, or appearing on radio or television.

For the purpose of comparison, advertising has the advantage of allowing the advertiser complete control over when and where the message will appear, and exactly what it will say and look like. You are paying for this control. When executed well and at the right time, advertising dollars are money well spent.

Publicity, on the other hand, is less predictable than advertising. No one can guarantee that news about you or your business will interest a local newspaper or magazine editor, or whether a television station will happen to have a camera crew available at the exact time you are available. Getting publicity can be a time-consuming and frustrating task, but for credibility nothing can beat a story in the newspaper or a TV news appearance. Nothing can equal a reputation as a good neighbor in your community. Compared to–or in addition to– advertising, publicity is a real bargain.

Working With the Media
The media is in the business of providing news, information, and entertainment. You can offer an editor "hard news" for the business or local section, such as information about a new location, an award you have received, or a seminar you are sponsoring. It’s not important to be creative in releasing information of this kind to the media, but you do need to be as timely and accurate as possible.

When there is no hard news, you’ll have to come up with a "hook," an angle that creates interest. A surveyor might receive newspaper and TV coverage by offering to work free with Boy Scouts wanting to earn their surveying merit badge.

Think about what’s going on at your business; what might interest an editor?

• Look for something unusual. If you are working with an unusual client or perhaps offering your expertise to a community project, create a news item about that story. What’s unique a project you have worked on that you could tell the world about? You don’t have to be unusual to be interesting.
• Sponsor a free seminar about something useful to the public.
• Take a human interest approach. Interview an employee who has, for example, adopted foreign children.

Good publicity doesn’t have to be exclusively about your business. Many publications have rigid guidelines for articles about individual businesses, but they’re often open to broader topics.

• Would you or someone on your staff be able to provide information about using your services in new ways? Perhaps you could donate your services to a community project or charity.
• Are you expanding into a new market? A business feature could mention new opportunities for companies or individuals doing business with you.

Determine which media best reaches that audience. A local weekly? A radio show? A trade publication? Then decide the best way to tell the story–words, pictures, or both. Now you can make key contacts in the appropriate media.

A Media Guide
There are many print media options other than the local daily newspaper. "Lifestyle" magazines in many metropolitan areas feature local business news and features. Trade associations often publish newsletters and magazines that feature information for their members. And don’t forget national trade publications (such as this one) that publish interesting articles about projects and interesting news items.

Your story idea must be submitted to the appropriate person. You want to contact an editor; the larger the publication, the more editors it will have on staff.

• Is your story about your work with a special customer, a significant business anniversary, or a new project? If so, talk to the business editor.
• If your story is about a service you are providing to a local group or cause, contact the living section editor.
• Are you sponsoring a program to benefit another person or group? Are you a fourth generation surveyor? The feature editor is your best contact.

How do you get the names of the various editorial departments and their editors? Just ask. Most larger newspapers will send you free literature on how you should submit story ideas. This material will include the names of department editors and their submission requirements. On smaller publications, there may be only one editor. It also helps to have read your targeted publication, noting the bylines of stories treated the way you’d like your articles to appear.

Once you’ve found your contact, make your first approach in writing, unless you have "hot" news. Editors and reporters–especially on daily papers–are often "on deadline" and can’t always be interrupted. Mail your news with their name on it; they’ll have all the facts when you call.

Prepare a press release to provide information to newspapers and magazines. Attach a cover letter to your release, volunteering to provide additional information–state you’ll be calling soon.

Press Release Set-Up
As a general rule, press releases should be typewritten, double-spaced, on one side of standard 8-1/2 " x 11" bond paper. Press releases should never be more than two pages long.

In the top left corner of the first page, put your name, address, and phone number (these items may be singlespaced). Type the date in the upper right corner and For Immediate Release two lines below the date. About onethird of the way down the page, type the title of your release.

Begin the first paragraph four to six lines below the title. Leave a one-inch margin all around the page. If your release has a second page, at the bottom of the first page, centered, type MORE.

If your release has a second page, centered four lines below the final line of your release, type ### or END. In the top left corner of the second sheet, type your last name and your title, or a short form thereof, and "page 2."

If you have a story idea the publication will have to gath
er most of the information for, a short letter may be adequate. Submit a "backgrounder" or fact sheet. Both of these list information in outline form.

If there is a visual element to your story, include a good black and white photo, unless the publication is printed in color. Caption your photo properly.

Occasionally, a picture is the whole story. It’s okay to send just a photograph with a caption and release date.

Many radio stations don’t maintain their own news departments, but rely on newspapers and wire services. Your best opportunity for radio exposure may be the "talk show." Call local stations to see if they have a program that fits your message. If you think you would be an interesting and informative guest, write to the producer of the program (call for the name), describing your idea, expertise, and availability.

Take the same approach with TV talk shows. If you want exposure to TV news, however, remember that television is a visual medium. To make your story interesting there must be something unique or spectacular. The right contact for this kind of coverage is the TV news director or perhaps the feature editor. A brief letter or phone call is a good first contact. Enclose a photograph as an illustration. Ask for the assignment desk to see if you’re scheduled for coverage. A follow-up call is always a good idea.

Publicity is a cooperative venture. You are providing a story free of charge to the editor. He or she is providing time or space for your publicity.

If you are turned down for a story, don’t become argumentative; you need this person on your side for the next time. Call at a good time too. Reporters for morning papers usually work from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., so don’t try to call at 5 p.m.–they’re on deadline. The staff of afternoon papers work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. They’re on deadline at midday.

If you’re looking for a spot on the evening TV news, make sure you’re available close to 10 a.m., giving the reporter time to write the story and edit the videotape.

There are ways to increase your visibility beyond the media.

Community Events
Use your participation in community events for more than marketing. Create a clever event, and pick up press coverage.

• Participate in community events. A surveyor might get coverage by giving educational demonstrations to community groups.
• Community events offer particularly great press opportunities because they are held on weekends, when TV stations often have a shortage of hard news. These shows also generate special newspaper sections.

Even if you choose to advertise in these sections, you could also offer to place a substantial article as a participant.

Speaking Engagements
Program chairpersons of local business, homeowner, or social organizations are always on the lookout for good speakers. If you have an interesting angle on your business or another topic of local interest, volunteer to make presentations.

Charitable Activities
It pays to be a good neighbor in your community. Take space in "ad books," volunteer, and make donations. Participate in civic and other events.

Publicity: The Payoff
Each of the methods described here can pay off in some form of publicity for you and your business. By setting up and maintaining a system of regularly exposing your name to the public, a surveyor can take advantage of favorable stories. As a professional, you are a local business that involves close contact with the community. Good relations are essential to your success. Furthermore, ours is a media society in which it’s true that success in business and life depends largely on an individual’s ability to use, understand, and profit from publicity. All other things being equal, the businesses in town that get favorable publicity will have an edge.

Michael W. Michelsen, Jr., is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology subjects. He lives in Riverside, California with his wife and daughters.

A 782Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE