By Jennie Wong, The Charlotte Observer –
You know that in order for your business to grow, you have to get the word out. You likely have business cards, print materials and a website. You might have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, and depending on your business, you might be active on Pinterest or LinkedIn. Give yourself extra credit if you also have customer loyalty and referral strategies in place.
But have you truly covered all your bases? In addition to word of mouth, traditional advertising and marketing, as well as online strategies like search-engine optimization and social media, don’t overlook the power of public relations.
When you think about PR, if you think about it at all, you might picture the character Samantha Jones from “Sex and the City” stomping through midtown Manhattan in sky-high heels calling someone “darling” on her cell phone. The phrase “public relations” might bring to mind a big agency with celebrity clients and posh offices in Beverly Hills. And while that aspect of PR does exist, there is a whole spectrum of what constitutes public relations, including stuff that is accessible to every business owner — no high heels required.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook describes the aim and duties of PR specialists as creating a favorable public image for their client companies and writing material for media releases.
The good news is you can do some of this work yourself. Taking a DIY approach to public relations will not only save you an agency fee, it will also help conserve your advertising and marketing dollars.
SHIFT TO A “NEWS” PERSPECTIVE: In order to do your own PR, you’ll need to ask yourself, “What’s newsworthy about my business?” If your answer is “Not much,” don’t worry, you can generate an interesting story with some strategic activities, and usually kill two birds with one stone.
Offer a class, organize an event, forge a strategic alliance, get involved with a charity, recruit employees to do some volunteer work, or even consider a publicity stunt, so long as it is consistent with your brand and aligned with your customers.
TARGET THE RIGHT OUTLETS: You’ll also want to create a target list of media outlets and their contributors. Ideally, you would get a feel for what newspapers and magazines your customers and prospects are reading, what local radio they listen to, and what websites and blogs they regularly visit.
The truth is, you may not be able to get into The New York Times, but you’d be surprised just how quickly two degrees of separation can link you to local and community publications. And even without a personal introduction, you can still use email and Twitter to get in touch with journalists and blogger types who have covered similar stories in the past.
PITCH YOUR STORY: So you’ve created a newsworthy event or announcement, and you’ve done your homework to identify a handful of people for whom your story should be a good fit. Now it’s time to pitch.
Your initial pitch might be a cold email to the address in a writer’s byline, or it might be a phone call to a friend-of-a-friend blogger. It might even be a Hail Mary tweet to a high-profile program host. Whatever the scenario, be sure to write a strong headline, subject line or message. The recipient should know within the first two sentences why this story fits with their “beat.”
And remember, many writers are pressed to feed the content beast, week after week, and would be glad to hear from a thoughtful and prepared business owner with an interesting story to tell.