Journalists love real businesspeople who will act as case studies or give an outspoken view from the shop floor, but they find it hard to track down such people.
This means that start-ups and small businesses can use their nimbleness to their advantage by quickly developing ideas and getting to the journalist first.
My advice for small businesses doing PR on a shoestring is:
1. Subscribe to (and read) the publications you want to be in. Understand the stories they want: a techy IT magazine want lots of detail; your local paper wants a good-news story (and preferably a happy picture too).
2. Look out for ideas and stunts that other firms have done that worked well, and copy them! Whilst there is little point copying a close competitor, ideas that firms in other sectors have used will spark off ideas and models that you can apply to your own business.
3. Be persistent, and look on your dealings with journalists in the same way you would seek to win a new client. You need to build up a relationship with certain key journalists, and the more you can help them to do their job the more you will become a valuable contact.
4. Do think innovatively. A small corner chip shop in my area gets coverage by holding an open day, whilst a florist made the front page of my local paper by offering to deliver stinging nettle bouquets to the customer's ex on Valentine's Day. Particularly think how to use surveys and research to get figures to illustrate your story, as journalists love quoting numbers.
5. Papers need good quality pictures as well as stories, so think of powerful images (but don't think of a line of blokes in suits looking awkward).
6. Don't expect an article every time you speak to a journalist.
7. There are plenty of books on writing good press releases. Buy one. However, the best coverage comes from calling a journalist, when you have something that is relevant to them. Don't be scared to pick up a phone, but do be prepared for the abruptness many journalists think is acceptable phone practice.
8. Do not go to great lengths to do something simply to get press coverage, as you may get none and then all the time and money is wasted. Instead think of how you can get a range of benefits from an activity, of which press coverage is one element.
9. Do involve your clients (with their permission). The coverage will earn gratitude from your clients and secure great coverage for your firm into the bargain.
10. Having gone to all the effort of getting lots of press coverage, don't rely on people reading the magazine! Use cuttings as powerful marketing collateral. Perhaps have copies in your reception, links on your website, get prints of the article and mail them to contacts or use them as leave behinds after meeting with prospects.
Tim Prizeman is a director at PR consultants Kelso Consulting.
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