When talking to small business owners, a couple areas of concern always come up. Growing social media presences seems to top the list. Another one: How to increase sales in this economy? And even something like what type of mobile technology should I use? Although I’m not really a tech guy, I’ve heard it before.
And, let me tell you, these are all great questions. Of course, you should think about social media. Yeah, what can you do to increase sales? Of course, make sure your customers can reach you on mobile. But one area of focus that rarely comes up is media outreach. Many small businesses fail to provide effort or time on media outreach. Which surprises me because a media hit can improve your social media efforts and increase sales. So why wouldn’t you?
A little while ago, a friend of mine, Brad Closson, a management consultant in Austin, TX shared with me a diagram on “Business Foundation.” In the diagram, there’s an area for what makes up the foundation and strategy of your company. In this area, you have all the inner workings of the company, which includes sales, customer service, marketing efforts, etc. The idea of the diagram is to show that when all these pieces are working together, and they’re based on effective strategy, then you can create customer value. And that’s the goal, because that’s when you will find success in your business.
Brad also mentioned to me that public relations lies in that foundation level of the business – it works with marketing to improve awareness of your company, which in turn drive sales. Now, think about that for a second. If media outreach has a place in the foundation of a business, i.e. the core structure of a company, why would a small business shy away from getting coverage?
The only conclusion I can come up with: the owners think it’s not something they can do themselves, and that it will cost too much to hire an agency.
In part, they’re right. Agencies can be expensive for the upstart business that’s trying to scrimp and save. If you can’t spare a couple thousand a month, at least, then avoid paying an agency. Anything below that and you will need to wonder about the ability of the agency to provide you with the quality service you need.
Now, on the other hand, as for the idea that it’s not something they can do themselves, well it’s simply wrong. I’ve worked in journalism for a number of years, and not once did I see a pitch from a small business owner and think, “well, I’m going to ignore this one because it didn’t come from an agency.” There are many reasons to ignore a pitch, but that’s not one of them.
The media doesn’t work that way. Journalists find stories by talking to experts, diving into research and uncovering something new. Much of what the agency does when they pitch is to get their clients face-time with the journalist. The agency does this because they know that if the journalist sees the client as an expert then s/he will use the person again and again as stories arise within the client’s area of expertise. Guess what? You can be that expert.
Now as a small business owner, you’re at a slight disadvantage because if I see your website or your credentials, they may or may not scream “expert.” On the other hand, if someone pitches me the user-interface director at Apple, I know that person can teach me a few things about product design. It’s just one of the many uphill battles us entrepreneurs face.
So how do you display your expertise? Well there’s a number of ways to do this, and I will outline three below:
Create a Blog or Newsletter.
It’s not an interesting trick, and you probably already have one for SEO purposes, so why not use it for media outreach as well? Having a well-read blog or newsletter within the industry or your niche will encourage a journalist to talk to you on a one-on-one basis, to get a sense of how you can help. And that can drive multiple hits, once the journalist trusts you. For example, if you run a consulting service for investors, then start building a blog now, which highlights your expertise. It doesn’t necessarily need 10,000 hits a day, but instead shows the journalist that you can answer some questions on investing.
Another example, if you create exotic jams and you have a Tumblr page (notice the synergy between social and media outreach now?) that anyone interested in food in general and jams specifically would read, then the food journalist will see that and want to talk to you. Your blog or newsletter can cover whatever topic you like; just stick to what you know and the journalist will have something interesting to read.
What if you don’t have a well-read blog? That’s okay; guest post instead. Journalists like to know that others in the field trust you. It’s lonely out there, if they’re the only ones using you as a source. It increases the chance of mistakes. But if you have others in the field seeing what you write, and allowing it on their sites, then the journalist can feel more comfortable using you as a source in his/her piece.
The main point for this is to have something online that you can link to, so when you reach out to a journalist you can show them that you have the knowledge to answer their questions.
Pitch Ideas Around the News.
I hate to break it to you, but, especially online, not a lot of mainstream sites will cover your latest product, unless it completely changes the game in a sector. Sure, if you develop a handheld nuclear fission receptor, you will have media knocking at your door because it will drive clicks to their websites. But if, instead, you’re creating a way so your customers can more easily schedule appointments with you, then that might not have as much cache or click rate. That means the blogger or journalist has less incentive to reach out and chat.
Now, on the other hand, if you pitch an idea about customer service right after a multi-national company makes a mistake in the number of orders they planned for a new product launch, then you might serve as a general expert for a story about communicating with your customers. And this has potential in all aspects of life. A new legislation passes; you can reach out to small business magazine about how this will impact your company. You see a new technology created, and know a great use for it in your company then a tech writer might want to talk to you.
Use the news to your advantage, and you can find sweet spots for your expertise.
And once you’re mentioned one time in a national article, you can show that you’ve done this before on your website and in your future pitches, which will drive even more media interviews. This will then drive a stronger social media presence and, in the end, more effective marketing campaigns, leading to higher sales.
See how PR fits? Give it a try. No business is too small for effective PR.