Now that you’ve made the bold move of opening up your own business, you’re likely faced with the challenge of spreading the word about your goods or services to potential customers. One of the most cost-effective ways to build buzz around your start-up is to get it covered by the media, either local or national. But how does one go about doing that, especially if you don’t have the budget to hire a PR firm?
While getting actively involved in your company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed is essential these days, and using those same tools to follow the media outlets that cover your industry, it might be enough to attract the attention you want. What follows, then, are additional tips from fellow business owners about how to get press for your new business using both tried-and-true methods as well as the benefits you can reap from tapping the latest in social media technology to get your business some media attention.
While you might equate social media with Facebook and Twitter, there are plenty of other options to attract the attention of the media, says Mike Samson, co-founder of crowdSPRING, the online marketplace for logo and web design, who suggests posting press releases on sites like: PRWeb.com, Free Press Release, and PRLog.com.
Samson also suggests answering media inquiries from reporters on sites like HARO, Reporters Connection, Pitch Rate, and NewsBasis. “When a writer needs sources for an upcoming story, they post on these sites seeking people who can help,” says Samson.
Another option is to check sites like MediaBistro.com, since many publications post their editorial calendars—which preview the kinds of stories they will be running—on the site. “The fee for joining is very minimal and you can learn a lot about how to pitch certain media publications,” says Phyllis Cheung of LuxeFinds.com, a luxury lifestyle search engine for women.
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While every business should be doing whatever it can to take advantage of online tools to promote itself, that doesn’t mean you should neglect tried-and-true methods of interpersonal interactions, as well. “Pick up the phone,” says Ryan Carlin, a PR expert who works with start-up sites like Roaming Hunger, a site that tracks, profiles, and provides menus for food trucks around the country. “In an age where 'silent' business like e-mail is possible and often preferred, it undoubtedly makes an impact by picking up the phone. Not only does it establish trust, but it also creates a more solid relationship for future media outreach.”
Along those same lines, Cheung of Luxefinds.com says that she attends networking events in her local area if she knows that journalists and editors will be in attendance. “I introduce myself and we chat about anything from current news in my industry to what I’m doing that is relevant to potential stories they have in the pipeline,” she says, noting that she landed a story with Entrepreneur after meeting the editor-in-chief of the magazine at such an event. “Most of these events are two hours long and can be either free or low cost.”
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For start-ups, there are many advantages to partnering with more established companies—especially if you can reap some press opportunities out of them, says Tamara Clarke, who owns Eco-Exquisite, which makes and sells a line of hair accessories. “By leveraging the media relationships of seasoned companies, start-ups can also spare themselves some time on the bench while trying to get in the game,” says Clarke, who teamed up with one of her clients, Glambar Salon in Atlanta, in publicizing their Second Anniversary Girl’s Club event. The result was that Clarke’s product, the EcoSOQ Natural Sleep Cap, was featured in several blogs and publications, like Essence and Rolling Out magazines.
One surefire way to attract the attention of journalists is to promote yourself as an expert in your field, says Samson of crowdSPRING. “Create content designed to position yourself as an indispensable authority on your industry, your city, your profession, or any appropriate topic,” he says. Ways you can accomplish this include writing case studies and white papers that you then distribute to the media, your customers, and other professionals in your industry.
You can also set up an online press center on your company or personal website where you compile all of the stories, mentions, and press releases you have generated, and make them easily accessible, says Samson. “Also include a downloadable press kit with information on your company, your team, and your service or product, as well as photos, bios, and any other material that will be helpful for those who want to write about you,” he says.
Most products are built for a specific population of users or specific use cases, and whatever your product or service, there are bloggers who write about it and are influencers, says Jeff Kear, co-founder of MyWeddingWorkbook.com, which provides online wedding planning software for couples and event planners. “These people are almost always interested in new products and services, so prior to launching your product or service, develop a list of these people with their e-mail and contact info and reach out to them to try out your product or service before it is released to the public. We did this when we launched a free version of our product and we went from 20 registrations a day for our web-based wedding planning software to more than 100 registrations a day for a five-day period soon after our launch.”
Bloggers and journalists are also interested in new trends and data—something that you can provide for them, says Kear. “One of our products is online software for wedding consultants, and these people are very interested in what brides are thinking,” he says. “So we reached out to brides with a survey that asked questions that wedding consultants would be interested in. This provided us with info for 10-15 very focused articles that had proprietary industry data, which we then published on our blog and promoted to bloggers and writers who cover our industry. This kind of activity generated dozens of links to our site from influential industry sites like Wedlock.com, which has played a large role in increasing our site traffic by 168 percent this year.”
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Jasbina Ahluwalia, an attorney turned entrepreneur who founded Intersections Match, a personalized matchmaking service for South Asian singles, says that speaking at events like conferences often leads to interesting PR opportunities. For example: “I recently spoke at a national conference for South Asian physicians and was approached by a person who was filmng a documentary,” says Ahluwalia, whose company has also been profiled in other outlets like Entrepreneur and the Chicago Tribune.
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While applying to annual industry awards or even more broad-based ones like the Inc. 5000 can be time consuming, they can also attract the attention of the media and new customers, says Judy Sultan, who is the PR manager for Xtreme Lashes, a company specializing in semi-permanent eyelash extensions “Recognition for your innovative idea or good business practices will give you an easy way to publicize your company,” she says. “And winning one award gives you leverage to win another.”
Ryan Carlin of Roaming Hunger says that good press also results from good deeds. “Attaching yourself to a benefit or charity is one of the easiest and most beneficial practices in PR,” he says. “Consumers love hearing about charitable organizations and their events, and journalists know this.”
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DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.