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How Smart Companies Use PR to Get the Word Out

What you need to know to market your new business idea, without spending much (or at all).

Even the world's most brilliant idea doesn't mean much if no one knows about it.  It needs marketing, promotion, advertising--a viral wildfire that sweeps across the nation, and even oceans.  

Companies with plenty of cash can launch real marketing campaigns, and hope they go viral.  But what do you do when you don't have that much money?  It's called PR.  Public Relations.  A powerful tool that can make you the talk of the town without spending a lot.  But only if it's done well.

I have used PR as a very effective marketing and advertising tool for many years, for all of my companies.  And in that time I learned some very valuable lessons.

1. No one cares about your story. 

From your perspective, your company is interesting, and your products are the best around.  But every entrepreneur believes the same thing.  And the reporter you are sending your press release or calling to pitch has heard the same spiel from every company that contacted her this week.

No one cares that you launched a new company.  No one cares that another set of products has been unleashed upon the world.   

Media is interested in one thing: the effect of your product.  The lives that have been changed or made better by your company and your product.

2. PR masters don't write stories about themselves. 

They write stories about their customers.  

While the release of your new product is not interesting, the fact that someone achieved something new or notable, that's a story.  And if you and your product just happened to be the tool someone used to get there, you indirectly become part of the story, and you're the hero.

3. Here's a powerful PR example. 

A story about a new website that sells discount airline tickets is not very interesting to many reporters, or their readers.  But a story about two long, lost twins who attended a family reunion and finally met again is good reading.  And the fact that those twins mention that they were only able to get to the reunion because the then-new website Priceline.com (which I co-founded) made the trip affordable to them is a great sidenote.  Suddenly your new business can be in the news, right next to a story that makes everyone feel good.  And your name and your product get mentioned over and over again--at no cost to you.  You can go viral as fast as the story does.

So think about your customers.  Find a true story of how your company's existence made something good happen in the life of one of your customers.  In fact, ask your customers to email you their stories.  Then tell the world your customer's story, not yours.  That makes an interesting new tale--one that just might go viral, and you along with it.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jan 24, 2013

JEFF HOFFMAN | Columnist | Co-founder, ColorJar

Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of ColorJar, is a serial entrepreneur who was on the founding teams of Priceline.com and uBid.com. He is also a frequent public speaker on the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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