Do small-business owners
always have to rely on large PR agencies to get attention
from the press? An entrepreneur recently asked me this
question during a networking event for women business
owners. Of course my answer was, "No," but not for the
reasons one might expect.
Ultimately, I do believe the time comes when a company
needs professional guidance from a PR agency -- be it
a large or small one -- to secure media coverage. But
I also believe that a really media savvy small-business
owner, or a two-person marketing team can do a fantastic
job in promoting an organization. Here's how I know it
A few years ago during the dot.com boom, I worked for
a small online publishing company. We had a terrific technical
team and staff, two great products, but no one knew the
company existed. As a start-up, it was crucial for the
company to gain awareness through media exposure because
advertising was too expensive.
Since our marketing department only consisted of two
people -- the marketing director and myself, there was
a bit of concern within the organization as to whether
we had enough in-house resources available to successfully
get the company much-needed ink. So the company's executive
team hatched an interesting plan. They offered our in-house
marketing team the chance to bid on the company's PR project
as if we were an outside agency.
My experience had always been in public relations, rather
than product marketing. My boss' experience had always
been the opposite. We seized the opportunity to combine
our knowledge, skills and research.
Our tiny two-person team matched PR wits squarely against
four established pros - including one former White House
aide. Guess what? Our ideas prevailed, and the company
decided to ditch the notion of hiring a big PR firm in
favor of keeping the in-house team.
Before long we were generating some memorable press for
our company. Over a two-year period we placed stories
on our company in more than 100 media outlets - from MSNBC
and Forbes to the Wall Street Journal and
Wired News online. We did it by studying what the
big PR agencies did well, and also by using our department's
"smallness" to our advantage. Here's how you can do it,
Research your company.
Forget that you own or work within the organization.
Really invest the time in understanding your company's
structure, the executives and their backgrounds, the products
and technology, the industry in which your company belongs,
competitors and experts, and most of all the target audience
-- the people who stand to benefit most from your product
or service. If you know all of this information, then
you'll be in a better position to brainstorm ideas on
how to get the media's attention. Doing this also helps
in flushing out your overall marketing plan -- which PR
is only a part.
Research the reporters who cover your company's industry
and study the types of stories that they like to write.
Learn their deadlines and how they prefer to be contacted.
Introduce yourself by phone and make it a point to speak
with them regularly -- not just to talk about your company,
but also about the industry in general. Use those conversations
to offer up source materials that will help reporters
write terrific stories. If you are able to do this successfully,
you will become a trusted source that reporters return
to repeatedly, and you will significantly increase your
chances of gaining coverage for your company.
Always Return Media Phone Calls Immediately.
Keep yourself and your organization at the ready to receive
phone calls from the press. Make sure that reporters know
how to reach you in a 24-hour cycle. This means they should
have your office, cell, home, and pager numbers, as well
as a contact e-mail address. If you still happen to miss
the call, return it ASAP. Always prepare yourself or members
from your organization to conduct interviews from anywhere,
at any time.
Conduct proper follow up after the interview.
This is not a call to find out when a story will be published,
but rather a call to make sure that the reporters have
everything they need in order to write a favorable story
on your organization.
Whenever our company executives were interviewed by reporters,
one team member would always accompany them to the interview
to take careful notes. Alternately, the other team member
would remain in the office on standby. If, during the
interview, the reporter indicated a need for specific
information, an urgent message would be relayed back to
the office so that the team member had time to gather
the information. Without fail, we always had the requested
information waiting in the reporter's e-mail inbox before
they arrived back to the office. This may seem like a
small task, but getting it right could really decide whether
or not a reporter selects your story, or moves on to a
The important point to remember here is this. Never underestimate
the power and dedication of your in-house staff. Before
you make the investment in retaining a PR agency, look
at your internal talent first. What you find just might
surprise you, and their drive to succeed will become contagious
throughout your entire organization. And when the time
comes to hire a PR firm, you will have a ready-made collaborative
team in place to work with your outside agency. Your in-house
team knows your company better than anyone and that's
where you, as a small-business owner, have an advantage
over the "big boys" at the large PR agencies in getting
the media's attention.
you have a media relations question? Ask
Carolyn! Your questions could be featured in an up-coming
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