By John Pellegrino

You are a small business owner without the resources to hire a public relations firm or an in-house PR professional so the task of publicising your company falls onto your lap. How can you achieve PR greatness without a staff or budget? The following 10 tips will help small business owners grab the attention of media members and gain positive media coverage for your organisation.

1) Media list excellence — Crafting the most persuasive public relations pitch in the world is a wasted effort if the proper media members are not targeted. Media lists can be created for free by identifying the media outlets you want to target, finding the proper people to contact by visiting each organisation’s web sites and calling their offices. Quantity doesn’t matter as much as quality when it comes to media lists. A list of more than 100 media contacts is great if every contact on the list will potentially have some interest in the story you are pitching. Otherwise, you are sure to find a lack of responses or angry replies exclaiming for you to “take them off your list.”

2) The art of the email subject line — Once you have built your media list, it’s time to develop your email pitch. The subject line is the first thing your intended recipient will notice as your email lands in their inbox. A subject line such as “Check This Out” will result in your email being deleted as if it was spam announcing the latest male potency pill. Choose a short subject line that will make it clear that you have information that will pertain to the media member’s publication. For example, a subject line of “Unique Entrepreneur Story” will grab the attention of a reporter who profiles company leaders.

3) The art of the handwritten note card – Handwritten note cards can be very effective when it comes to thanking a media member for their professionalism during the process of cultivating your small business into a full-blown media sensation. It’s inexpensive, makes a lasting impression and has a strong impact, especially because so few people use them these days. Consider uploading your logo or company tagline onto the note card for a professional look.

4) Keep it short and to the point — Media members often have little patience and even less time to listen to lengthy phone pitches or read long email so explain the heart of your story pitch within the first few sentences (spoken or written) because it may be your only opportunity to grab your contact’s attention. A couple of paragraphs and a press release at the bottom of your email should be enough to get the job done if your pitch is presented in a clear, concise manner. Never send attachments unless absolutely necessary and always make sure your contact information is included.

5) Go for the feature but welcome the brief — Every small business owner would love to place a story about their organisation on the cover of a major national publication. While it’s certainly worthwhile to aim high, it’s important to create unique ways to get your company mentioned on a smaller scale as well. Offer yourself or another company leader as an expert source to be quoted within an article, or pitch readymade briefs to smaller media outlets that run business briefs and shorter features. Making photos or other art available to your targeted media outlet will significantly increase your chances of getting your story placed and will add visibility to the piece.

6) Look like a professional — Your organisation’s image is at stake every time you present it to the media, so it’s important to use professional-looking materials when mailing and faxing pitches, cover letters and other printed samples or items. Your chances for a media placement will be vastly improved when your pitch materials look professional and are printed on high-quality paper. Include your business card and use sharp looking return address labels for all mailings. Display your logo on mailing envelopes for extra visibility.

7) Be persistent, not pushy — Media members have feelings too. Be aggressive when pitching, but not in a manner that makes it impossible to forge a professional relationship with your contact. An initial call or email, a follow up phone call and additional email without a response is all that’s needed before you should move on. Leave a few days between your follow up call/email and subsequent inquiries and avoid having your emails put on a “blocked senders” list. Be polite and let the media member know you understand they are busy and thank them for their time, even if they reject your idea.

8) Timing is everything — As a small business owner, you know all too well that deadlines are a part of the business world and the same can be said for the lives of media members. Do not call or even email your contact while he or she is on deadline. Deadlines vary but frequently occur later in the day. Morning calls and emails are often more effective, especially to daily publication, television and radio outlets. Making your initial contact at the wrong time will increase your chances of hearing a frustrated voice at the other end of the phone, and may result in your email being moved over to the recycling bin.

9) Lend a helping hand — Thinking like a reporter is a creative way to increase your chances of achieving PR success. Background research can be most valuable for your media contact by offering up facts and figures related to your business or product. Offer a trend story featuring information about your company and similar but non-competing organisations. Media members are always looking for timely stories to report on, and are often more likely to mention multiple companies or products in their article. You should be easy to work with and be sensitive to your contact’s deadlines, with the need to conduct interviews or gather information within a certain timeframe being of a particular importance.

10) Don’t forget Christmas – Networking and building lasting professional relationships is key to small business success and your public relations efforts is no exception to that rule. What better time to accomplish this than during the Christmas holidays. Sending a Christmas card to media members you’ve dealt with in the past may seem like a small gesture but it is an important way to keep in touch and thank them for working with you. Choose high-quality, cost-effective cards and upload photos and customise your cards with a personal message for that extra touch. Send cards for Christmas or other significant dates to stand out among the sea of competing professionals.

As your small business is not a household name like Nike or Virgin, an effective public relations campaign is a great way to gain positive exposure for your organisation through the media. The above suggestions will assist you in getting that extra public relations boost and help you gain new customers through the power of the press.

About the author:
John Pellegrino is the public relations manager at VistaPrint (www.vistaprint.co.uk), an online supplier of graphic design services and customized printed products to small businesses and consumers.

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