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Planning for 2016? 10 Ideas for PR and Marketing

new year 2016

The end of the year is almost upon us and yes, the holiday rush has set in. These next weeks will fly by even faster than the ones before them. Then, before we know it, 2016 will be here. A fresh, new year to do all the things we didn’t have a chance to do in 2015.

As we prepare for the holidays both professionally and personally, planning for the new year may be the last thing on the minds of some small business owners. If you’ve been caught up in the holiday hubbub, don’t wait to plan — start now to come up with ideas for 2016.

As you plan, when it comes to marketing and PR, don’t forget to factor these ideas into your efforts:

1) Try a press release: If you’ve never issued a press release or if it’s been a while, find a reason to issue one in the new year. Press releases help search engine optimization (SEO) and can be used in a number of ways to help market your product, service or company. Read more on five ways to use a press release here.

2) Speak to increase credibility and visibility: Speaking engagements are a great way to attract the attention of potential clients and position you as the expert. It’s important to select the appropriate venues, so do your research on local, regional and national groups, trade shows and other industry events that accept speaker proposals.

3) And the award goes to: Awards programs are fairly easy to implement and can help attract attention to your product, service or company. If you win an award, it makes great marketing material. You can tout it on your site or issue a press release and forever after be known as the “award-winning” company.

4) Reach out to local publications in your area: If you haven’t reached out to your local media, be sure to consider that in 2016. Most cities have a major daily paper, as well as smaller community newspapers and magazines that are specific to certain suburbs. You can also try local TV and radio, if your story lends itself to broadcast media.

5) Try — or amp up — your use of social media: Let’s face it. Although many small business owners and startups intend to do more when it comes to social media, it’s easy to neglect it. Here’s the thing: It’s a free way to market your business! If you’re not doing any social media, start by choosing one or two platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook. If social media is already in your marketing mix, plan to beef up your efforts in the new year.

6) Sponsor an event: Have you tried sponsoring any charitable events, perhaps in conjunction with the types of businesses you’re trying to attract as clients? Attaching your company to a benefit or charity could help attract potential clients’ interest. And, maybe more importantly, you’ll be doing something to help others, too.

7) Create an online news area: Add an online news area to your site, if you haven’t done so. This can be an area where you post press releases and news stories about your company. You can also add a downloadable “press kit” with more information on the company, such as team bios, photos, logos, product shots and other material. This makes it easy for reporters who may want to cover you to grab what they need. Read more on what to include here.

8) Create case studies: Position your company as an expert by creating case studies on your customers, including details about how they’re using your product or service, how much time or money it’s saved them, and what their future plans might be to increase usage. You can use these to pitch as stories to the media, and can also leverage them as sales materials for potential customers. Content marketing continues to be all the rage, and case studies are a perfect example of that.

9) Reach out to vertical media: Don’t overlook reaching out to industry publications and/or bloggers, selecting those publications and blogs that your potential customers are reading. They’re looking for great content in the form of contributed articles and new product announcements. Why not fill the gaps for them with your expertise?

10) Network like you mean it: While networking doesn’t necessarily fall into this category, it’s critical for all small businesses and startups. Be sure to dedicate the time to do it and select the events your potential clients attend. Get involved in an organization or two at a deeper level to really get to know people. This can truly pay off over time to keep business coming your way.

These are just a few ideas to get you started…what are your PR and marketing plans for 2016?



The small business owner’s answer to, “What should I post on social media?”

Ever wondered what you as a business owner should post on social media? If you want some great examples, look no further than this article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, What Celebrities Can Teach Companies About Social Media.

It draws comparisons between how celebrities and businesses can use social media and gives real-world advice and examples as to what to post. And if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a small business owner said, “But what should I post?!”–well, you know the rest!

A couple of tips that resonated:

  • Don’t post the same thing across all social media platforms: The article talks about how the NBA posts game updates on Twitter, while on Pinterest, it’s more about their merchandise.
  • Don’t post at the same frequency on all platforms: Twitter requires more frequent posting, while the article recommends posting five times per day on Pinterest and twice on Instagram. From the article: “Social-media experts acknowledge that compared with celebrities, it’s harder for companies to conjure up interesting posts and tweets. ‘When was the last time you saw someone showing off a home-insurance policy on Instagram?’ Forrester Research quipped in a June report on social-media use.”
  • Do be sure to show up–meaning post on a consistent basis: There’s nothing worse than visiting a company on Twitter or Facebook only to see that they haven’t posted anything for months…. According to the piece, “A lot of times we see brands disappear for weeks or months at a time,” Hasti Kashfia, president of Kashfia Media and stylist to Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It’s just like a normal relationship. You can’t disappear and expect that same warm fuzzy feeling within those relationships.”
  • Interact with your followers: For example, if someone tweets about your business, you should retweet, favorite and reply to say thank you.
  • Don’t be overly promotional: I’ve seen it before–because they don’t know what to post, companies will promote specials or deals on social media. This can be a turnoff to your followers. If you need inspiration, the piece suggests commenting on current events when it makes sense, or even taking advantage of “throwback Thursday” by posting old photos. “A company like Ford Motor Co., for instance, could use the occasion to post ads from the 1940s.”

Follow these tips to boost your social media efforts. You may find it’s easier than you think to find great content to post and grow your following.

guy typing at laptop

 

Pitching Your Startup to Reporters? Here’s What to Avoid

Today, I wanted to share media pitching tips for startups and small businesses. Not from me but directly from a journalist.

This piece from PRNewser covers a TechCrunch editor’s suggestions for pitching. While some of this should be common sense to anyone who reaches out to reporters—c’mon, no email attachments is something that should be drilled into our heads by now–and, just forget the email inviting a journalist out for coffee–some of his other suggestions may not be so obvious. For example, he talks about startup founders trying to do their own PR:

“He is concerned, first and foremost, with startup founders and app-makers who try and fail to handle their own self-promotional duties; you may be shocked to learn that many do NOT double as well-trained PR professionals.”

Yes, while they may be strong in many areas, startup founders may not be the best at media relations. In fact, there are several reasons why entrepreneurs and small business owners may not want to do their own PR (see my piece, “6 Reasons Not to Do Your Own PR”).

Another point he makes is that it’s a mistake to assume that simply because a company or product exists, that warrants media coverage. Yes, gone are the days of simply saying, “We have a startup—therefore, cover us.” And, to echo his sentiment, I recently attended a panel on pitching your startup to the media, during which reporters explained you must go deeper if you expect them to be interested in your news.

I even agree to a point with his take on press releases—which he says are “dead.” While I wouldn’t go that far (see my piece on that, “Enough with the death of the press release already”), it’s true that you need to bring something more to the table, something beyond the press release. Simply sending a press release saying, “Please cover this,” doesn’t really cut it. We need to tell a story. Yes, press releases can play a role in this, but you need to actually explain WHY this should matter to reporters and their readers. Of course, YOU think your product or service is great—you created it! But why would a reporter and his or her readers care? For example, here’s some of the advice he gave when pitching a product. Think about:

“Was it created to solve a specific problem? What is that problem and how is it solved? Does the product fit with a separate trend piece? How so, and why should this particular outlet’s readers care?”

And, tell your story succinctly. Offer data and resources, while you’re at it, to make the reporter’s job even easier. After all, isn’t our job as PR pros making it easier for reporters to cover our clients? That means providing the information they have to pay attention to, the information that will make your pitch stand out in a sea of pitches.

 

5 ways PR can help startups toot their own horns

Are we afraid to toot our own horns?

Recently, I read this piece by Carrie Ghose of Columbus Business First, Here’s why one entrepreneur ‘would absolutely locate’ his startup in Columbus.

For the story, Ghose interviewed the program manager for Startup Week, which was held here in Columbus earlier this month. He flew into town from Omaha and said, after his visit here, that he would ”absolutely locate my startup in Columbus.” He talked about the pros–such as its central location, talent, etc.–then went on to say that of all the things Columbus has to offer startups, one thing it’s lacking is “champions.” To quote Ghose, “In essence, Columbus needs to brag more and tell its story…”

I found this really fascinating, because as Midwesterners, we do tend to shy away from tooting our own horns…this can hurt us, though.

As a PR pro, I find that working with clients here in the Midwest differs greatly from where I launched my business in Silicon Valley. Folks there aren’t nearly as shy about telling their stories. PR is an integral part of startup life there, as it’s an accepted form of storytelling, or “bragging,” if you will.

This modest Midwestern mindset creates a challenge—not only for me, but for startups and other small businesses here. We need to get away from this “tooting our own horn” phobia and get more comfortable talking about ourselves and telling our stories.

How can PR help with this? Here are five ways:

1) Press releases: A press release can be written and leveraged in a number of ways (see my piece here on 5 ways to make use of a press release)

2) Social media: Use social media to tell your stories. This piece has a nice breakdown of which social media outlets to focus on.

3) Blogging: Use your blog to publish content and share tales of how the company was founded, the challenges faced along the way, building the team and so forth.

4) Speaking engagements: Get out and speak to tell your stories. This raises the visibility of the company, and you can promote it via social media and your site before, during and after the gig.

5) Contributed articles: Write about how your customers are using your products. Many times, industry publications accept these articles. Always check first to make sure they can use it before writing and submitting it.

Those are just a few ideas to get you started.

Let’s keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with tooting our own horn….after all, if we don’t, who will?

 

 

Five Midyear Money-Saving Tips to Cut Your PR Costs

July marks the midpoint of the year, when many businesses assess budgets and begin forecasting expenditures for the remaining months as they start to plan for 2015. In the spirit of budgeting, today’s blog post focuses on tips to help you save money on your PR efforts.

You may not realize that there are free resources out there to take advantage of. Of course, there are some lower cost paid options, as well, if you have some budget but don’t want to break the bank.

Here are five categories of  helpful PR resources, many of them free, to assist you with your efforts:

1) For reporter queries: Here are three resources you can sign up for free that send out email daily with reporter queries (reporters looking for people to interview). Anyone may respond, as long as the guidelines are followed:

  • HARO: Everyone’s an expert at something. Sharing your expertise may land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for. http://www.helpareporter.com/
  • Pitchrate: Simply register as an expert, and then when you see a request that’s appropriate for your expertise, “make a pitch.” That will send your pitch to the journalist making the request. http://www.pitchrate.com/
  • SourceBottle: Exclusively focused on topics around women’s interests, including beauty, business, home and lifestyle, health, parenting and relationships. http://www.thesourcebottle.com/us-can/

2) For awards and speaking opportunities: IT Memos: This service provides a complimentary subset of award and speaking opportunities geared toward the IT industry (the paid service provides even more opportunities): http://itdatabase.com

3) For research: Take advantage of Google. Use it to research to see which reporters and publications are writing about your competitors and your industry. Also use it to research publications that might be a fit and then check editorial calendars for opportunities.

4) Press release services: Issue press releases free via these wire services. There are many, but these are the two I use most often:

  • PR.com, http://www.pr.com/. This one gets the news on the search engines; note there’s a 24-36 hour lag time on the release actually being posted, so plan ahead.
  • PRLog.com, http://www.prlog.org/. This one allows you to add a photo and/or video at no charge. You can choose to issue the release instantly or set a date/time.

And, if you have the budget, here are three services that charge to issue press releases:

5) For editorial calendar opportunities: To find editorial calendar opportunities, here’s a free resource:

You may also visit each publication’s site. Many list their editorial calendar online (sometimes it can be found under “Advertising” or “Media Kit”), so it’s possible to build your own calendar of opportunities that may be a fit for free. Paid services are also available such as MyEdCals, http://www.mymediainfo.com/myedcals.html.

 

Do Startups Need PR?

For startups, getting the word out can be a struggle. How do you cost effectively promote your product or service when you’re just starting out? Marketing funds may be the lowest priority. And, there’s always debate about whether startups really need PR.

In some schools of thought, it seems to depend on which part of the country you’re based in. For example, when I was in Silicon Valley, PR was one of the first considerations for fledgling startups…it seemed an integral part of buzz building and was factored into the plans and budget early on. But, when I returned to my roots in the Midwest, I found that not only was it not one of the top priorities—many startups and smaller businesses didn’t do ANY PR.

Why is this?

  • Part of the reason may be that VC funding here in the Midwest differs from that in the Valley. We don’t see startups based here raising the money that startups out there do. The dollars aren’t as free-flowing, which puts a crimp in marketing, which encompasses PR.
  • However, there also seems to be a mentality in the Midwest about PR that differs—it’s not seen as vital to spreading the word. Maybe it’s the lack of publications based here that cover startups. The Bay Area is filled with tech pubs that cover startup news. But now, there are many blogs that really seem to search for startups located outside the traditional areas. Now, we see more and more stories across the board covering startups based in the Midwest and in other parts of the country. 
  • And, there’s also that old Midwestern school of thought that tooting your own horn is something you shouldn’t do.

In any case, the Midwest seems to breed a culture of seeing PR as nice to have—not vital to making the company successful.

I’d suggest that startups outside the Bay Area reconsider the value of PR. What type of marketing provides more potential ROI? Not T-shirts to hand out at a trade show. Not a direct mail piece that goes directly in the recycling bin. PR provides value because it’s:

  • Credible: Because people trust articles versus ads when researching a purchase.
  • Leverageable: Leverage an article to close a deal or approach a potential customer, for example.
  • Repurposable: Take material from a press release to create a blog post or take quotes from a success story to post on your site; and of course, you can post any PR materials on your social media channels.

One of the key ways PR adds value is by creating buzz so that when you go in to sell your product or service, the prospect is more likely to have already heard of you. “Hey, didn’t I read an article about you? Was that your company I saw featured in that piece?” It adds to overall brand building. 

In short, PR provides some of the best bang for the marketing buck around, for any company or organization, startup or not. And that’s definitely something to toot your horn about!

PR for startups