Paul Lima - Toronto Freelance Writer, Copywriter, Media Interview Trainer, Writing Coach

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PR Primer for Small Businesses
 
Word Count: 760  Ref #: BZ-02  Published: BellzInc   (Aug. 2003)

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By Paul Lima

You own a hair salon and see an article about back to school hairstyles in your community newspaper. A local competitor is quoted extensively. You wonder why you were not interviewed.

You run a microbrewery and read an article in the business section of a major newspaper about strategies microbreweries use to compete against multinational beer companies, but your company is not mentioned.

You develop a new data-mining application and are looking for resellers to kick-start sales. You read an article in a computer trade magazine about a new data-mining application company looking for resellers...

Why was your company left out?

Ask yourself: What have I done to attract media attention? What public relations candles have I lit to attract media moths to my business?

WHY BOTHER WITH PR?
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often neglect public relations, and then wonder why the media never calls. Many SMEs believe public relations (PR) is for companies like IBM, Microsoft, big banks, automotive and beer companies, or the government.  

Poppycock! PR is a cost-effective marketing tool. Positive media exposure can provide an SME with a much-needed boost.

Public relations efforts spawn 28% of sales inquiries, second to advertising's 39%, according to a study by Inquiry Handling Services Inc. of San Fernando, California.

Consumers regard advertising with a degree of skepticism. Yet if they read the same message in a newspaper or magazine article, they are more inclined to seek further information.

TARGET YOUR MEDIA RELEASE
The best way to reach the media is to write and send media releases to appropriate editors, journalist and freelance writers working for publications and broadcast outlets that reach your target market.  

Rather than describing the history or your company, the media release should tell a specific story in one or two pages, including context for the story.

Are you an IT firm with dramatically growing sales in the midst of an IT slowdown? Do you produce an energy-saving product that will become must-have as energy prices rise?

Can you see the headlines?
  • Database Sales Double in Midst of IT Slump.
  • Combatting Rising Energy Prices Good for Business.
However, the story won't be told unless a reporter stumbles across it, or you issue a media release.

Is your hair salon donating the revenue generated one Saturday to a local food bank or Christmas charity? That's a story worth telling. If you have a celebrity coming in to receive a style, you might even make the TV news. However, if you hide your light under the bushel the media will not know you are doing something newsworthy.  

Has your manufacturing plant been ISO9000 certified? Maybe the Globe and Mail won't cover that story, but it might make headlines in a trade magazine geared towards your target market.  

It's up to you to recognize potential news stories when they arise, and then issue media releases by email. Media releases are not spam -- as long as you target the right reporters and send your release one at a time to each reporter or blind copy to a group of reporters.

If you write the release in-house you can use a company like Canada Newswire to distribute it, or you can build and maintain a media contact database and issue your own releases. Alternatively, you can contract out the writing and distribution to a freelance writer or public relations firm.

PR IS NOT PAID ADVERTISING
PR is not paid advertising. You do not control the final message. You send out your media release and hope the media will use it in whole or in part, or call you for more information. This often happens when a reporter is working on a larger story about the impact of legal, political, environmental or social/cultural changes on your industry.

If the media comes calling, you have to be prepared to answer questions about your business and it's place in your industry.

If the media does not bite, do not despair. It can take several releases before the media notices you. Timing is important too. If you have a seasonal message and you are targeting a monthly magazine, you have to get your message out three or four months in advance.

While there are no guarantees in the world of PR, if you tell a compelling story and send it to the right editors and journalist at the right publications, you increase your chances of a PR hit. In addition, if you get a hit in the right publication, you can create awareness of your products and services and drive customers to your door or Web site.

Then your competitors will wonder why your name is always in the news!


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