So you have a great product or service but business is at an all time low despite your expensive advertising efforts. Even though I am an IT professional by trade, I spent four years getting a degree in Public Relations. Before getting into IT, I interned with a Public Relations guru and learned the ins and outs of how to get free and low-cost publicity. The secrets are simple but not very widely publicized. If you have a terrific business but you’re struggling right now, read on. I’ve put together a list of 14 things you can do right now to get people excited about your business again.
Free Publicity with the press. Learn how to write a press release. The 1st World Library defines a press release as a “public relations announcement issues to the news media and other targeted publications for the purpose of letting the public know of company developments. My definition? A press release is nothing more than a written announcement that entices the media to investigate your product or service. Press releases are free and you can write as many as you’d like. Whether you’re launching a new product or service, giving away an award or moving to a new building, a press release is a great way to get free media exposure. If you’ve never been exposed to press releases, I would suggest visiting Bill Stoller’s PublicityInsider. Bill’s site introduces you to the basics including press release uses and formats and even has excellent sample press releases.
When I worked for the City of Des Moines Downtown Partnership, I was responsible for writing press releases for upcoming events. On the average, I would get between 2-8 callbacks on every press release I sent out. Those callbacks turned into free media coverage in the form of interviews and news clips. The result was a 14% increase in membership to the downtown association. Press releases work and they’re free.
Free to Low-Cost Publicity with a giveaway. An easy way to draw people to your business is to give stuff away. If you’re a spa, give away a free massage; if you’re a hardware store, give away a free tool; if you’re a clothing store, give away a free item. If people aren’t beating down your door, though, how do you get the word out that you’re giving away something for free? Consider working with other high traffic businesses. A business-owner friend of mine that owned a tanning salon needed to get people in the door. She started by identifying a target audience – teenagers, people that cared about their looks and people going on vacation. She approached other local merchants that catered to those markets and asked if they wanted to partner up – gyms, hair salons, teenage hangouts, travel agencies. Armed with several small fish bowls (about $3 each), some “entry slips” she made on the computer, and an 8X11 piece of paper with the details of her giveaway, she pitched her idea – you put a fish bowl with my business’ information and giveaway in your store and I’ll do the same for you in my store. To make it as painless as possible for the other business, she offered to bring their drawing slips over to them weekly when she picked up hers. Out of the 8 businesses she visited, 7 of 8 agreed to her idea. She began keeping track of her sales over a 6 week period and found she had attained a whopping 28% increase in sales and a 41% increase in foot traffic. The total cost of her investment was about $70 for the fish bowls, a little bit of her time and six 20 minute tanning sessions (her giveaway).
Free Publicity by acting as a product expert. Perhaps you’re a pharmacist, maybe an auto mechanic or a hairdresser – whatever your profession, chances are, you have expert knowledge you could share with others. Consider approaching your local newspaper, local magazines or websites and offering to write articles about your area of expertise. If you’ve happened to stumble upon this article and are not yet familiar with Associated Content, consider being a content producer and sharing your knowledge that way. I used to work for a hearing aid dealer that agreed to produce a weekly hearing aid Q&A section for the local paper. We laughed because no one ever submitted a question so we’d have to keep making up questions to submit each week. Interestingly, though, we began to get more and more walk-in business and more often than not, the person stopping in had that Q&A newspaper article in their hand.
Free Publicity by speaking at local or national events. Even if you’re in a very specialized field, chances are there are communities of individuals that share your profession or interest. Seek out those communities and offer to share your experience and knowledge at local or national events. Not only will you get free publicity but if you draw attention to your speaking event by issuing a press release, it instantly gives you credibility as an expert in your field.
Free Publicity by providing a service at a high-profile event. Whether it’s a political convention, a country club outing or a charity event, you have an opportunity to get your name out there by providing your services at that event. I had a friend that owned his own photography business. During his start-up phase, he would seek out high profile events and call the event coordinator. He would then arrange to take pictures during the event for free and provide those to the event coordinator to issue to the press or use however they pleased, sort of as a “free trial.” The only thing he asked was that he be given a small corner of the room where he could display his photos and business cards and where he could put a small sign with the name of his business on it. He also requested that any photos that were printed be attributed to him and his business. Soon, he started getting calls from people wanting to pay him to take pictures of their events.
Free Publicity by appearing on Radio shows and TV News. Sometimes press releases will naturally result in you being asked to appear on radio shows or on a noon edition of the TV news. Keep in mind, though, the amount of content radio shows and noon hour TV news segments need is astronomical. They’re always looking for something interesting and exciting to talk about. Consider a unique way to make your business exciting and chances are radio and TV content producers will jump at the chance to have you do a quick 10 minute interview. Consider the gentleman who sold office supplies including paper shredders. Bor-ing. His inventory was getting old, though and he had to find a way to get people interested in it. He came up with an ingenious idea to “Shred it and Forget it” – he called it a community event designed to increase awareness about identity theft and fraud prevention. Working with his local police department, business bureau and bank he chose a day for the event and arranged to have 5 of the largest paper shredders he sold available outside his business so that anyone could bring anything they wanted and shred it for free. That, along with experts on identity theft available to answer questions and give advice about how to minimize the risk of peoples’ identities being stolen made it a community service. He was asked to be interviewed on three radio shows and two TV segments. The results were phenomenal. Not only did he sell his inventory of old shredders, he also increased his foot traffic and sales as a result.
Free Publicity by creating a committee or group that meets once a month. People with common interests enjoy getting together. Capitalize on that. If you serve a niche that could benefit from discussion and collaboration, consider sponsoring a committee or group that meets once a month.
Free Publicity by teaching a class. Approach your local Parks and Recreation or community college and see if they’re interested in utilizing your expertise to teach a class. I had a friend that was a guru at networking. He knew everything about it and people were constantly pinging him for more information. Realizing that his knowledge was a commodity, he approached the local community college and asked if he could teach a class on it. Not only did he get paid, his classes were always full which resulted in him getting enough publicity to start his own business.
Free Publicity by volunteering. There are some really terrific causes out there worth your time investment. Consider volunteering for a hospital, charity event or local group. Not only will you meet people and get the opportunity to talk about your business, showing your concern and investment in the community will result in earned respect.
Free to Low-Cost Publicity by handing out buttons, magnets or stickers. Printing business card magnets, stickers or making low-cost buttons, tee-shirt or trinkets to hand out with your business name and logo are a quick and easy way to get free publicity. Imagine seeing your logo on a kid’s tee-shirt or noticing magnets with your logo on cars as they drive by.
Free to Low-Cost Publicity for Newly Opened Businesses. If you just opened your doors, I would highly recommend becoming a member of the Chamber of Commerce and getting connected with your local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). As a member of the Chamber, you are entitled to have the mayor or mayor pro-tem come out to your place of business to do an official ribbon cutting. This is usually accompanied by free media attention and other members of the chamber usually attend to support their local business partners. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce usually hosts networking functions, lunches and happy hours designed to introduce members of the community to each other. It’s a low-cost investment with enormous dividends. In addition, find out what types of services your local CVB can provide to you. Usually, you can have your business posted on their website or be included in their visitors’ packets.
Free to Low-Cost Publicity with an Open House. Even if you’ve been in business for awhile, an open house is a great way to get traffic in your door. There are so many creative things you can do with an open house! I recently saw a local plastic surgeon host a wine tasting as his open house activity. He combined it with a meet and greet that included tours of the facility and demonstrations of services. I’ve also seen very successful themed open houses. A travel agency once created a wildly successful six-week happy hour “series.” At the first one, they issued everyone a “passport.” At each subsequent happy hour their passport was stamped and they received information about an exotic destination or travel package available. At the end, people put their passports into a drawing to win a dream vacation. The business owner booked dozens of vacations as a result. Even the people that didn’t book right away kept her information handy and referenced the passport series when they called, even a year later.
Low-cost Publicity by teaming up with other advertisers. If you need to advertise but are strapped for cash, consider teaming up with another local business to share the cost. A local jeweler I know of came up with a great idea when considering how to lower his advertising costs. He thought about the most romantic proposal “date” he could think of – dinner and a night at the opera. He approached the local symphony and they created an ad together that referenced his ring collection and the symphony’s upcoming concerts.
Low-cost Publicity by placing classified ads in large newspapers. If display ads are cost-prohibitive, consider placing a classified ad in a large newspaper referencing your service and directing them to a phone number or web address for more information. Not only can you reach audiences outside your zip code, it’s a great way to promote name recognition.
A little creativity can go a long way if you think beyond the traditional display ad. There are so many ways to get people excited about your business that cost nothing but a little bit of time and energy. Use any of the 14 ideas I’ve introduced to you here or mix and match to create a truly unique promotional opportunity. Best of luck as you bring new business to your door!