The elevator speech—a statement that sums up what your business does in 60 seconds or less—seems to be a staple of marketing today. It's also a reminder for business owners to use every opportunity to make a clear, memorable impression on their clients and prospects. As president and founder of Virginia-based The Inkandescent Group, Hope Katz Gibbs reels off her elevator speech without hesitation: "A PR publishing company that gets entrepreneurs more visibility." Recently, business writer Robert Lerose spoke to Gibbs about how she leverages an array of marketing tools to get her clients attention in a very crowded media landscape. (Gibbs's marketing guide—12 Inkandescent Tips for PR Success—is available as a free PDF download. Her new book, PR Rules: The Playbook, will be published this fall.)
RL: In your upcoming book, you write that small businesses need to understand the five parts of the public relations playing field before they put together a strategy. What are they?
HG: We identify them as public relations, marketing, advertising, social media, and sales—with sales at the end, because all those things build up toward the big sale. If you don't have a business that's making money, you don't really have a business.
RL: How do these parts work together?
HG: PR means getting out in the news because you're setting yourself up as the expert that you are. You have to be sure that as many people see it as possible and therefore you leverage it. In marketing, it's more than just a great business card. It is a newsletter. It's having a stunning website and telling great stories about what you do or say. When it comes to advertising, if you only put one ad in a little community newspaper, that's not going to do anything. I really encourage people to have a budget, understand the return on their investment, and link it to their PR, marketing, and social media outreach. And always try to get editorial when you buy an ad.
RL: Could you elaborate on that?
HG: When I worked in the advertorial department at the Miami Herald, we put out special sections that got a lot of play because they used a combination of editorial and advertising in an ad. [Today,] I make my clients think about what they are teaching the public. Why is their company important and valuable? What do they know as an expert? Then we help set them up that way.
RL: Do you have an example?
HG: One of our big clients is Egan, Berger & Weiner, a financial planning firm here in northern Virginia. We buy them TV ads on NewsChannel 8, which is a direct hit in their demographic market. Then once a month they appear on Let's Talk Live, a TV news show from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. every day, in a five-minute educational spot. We post those videos on their website, put the clip into their monthly newsletters and their columns, and blast them out. So they're leveraging a lot of things they're doing all at the same time, and getting as much bang for their buck as possible.
HG: Journalists and publicists are sort of arch-enemies. I'm always trying to get my clients to think like a reporter. When my son was two, he looked at one of my husband's illustrations and asked, "Daddy, what's interesting about that?" It was such a great question! He wasn't baiting him. He was honestly asking what's interesting about that. That's what we always ask our clients to think about: what's interesting about what you do?
RL: You also recommend having fun with PR and marketing campaigns. Can you give an example from one of your clients?
HG: We worked on a visitors' bureau promotion for the city of Annapolis called "Get Your Joy On Annapolis". We looked at Annapolis through a visitor's eyes. We walked around. We were at the sideline at the military football game. We went to the bars. We interviewed people who owned boats in the slip. We followed a couple that had married that day. It was just a pleasure. You can do that with anything. You look at something from a child's point of view and ask: what's fun about that?
RL: OK, I'm a small business owner who would like to do more PR, but I don't know where to begin. What's the first step I should take?
HG: I cover the eight steps to PR success in my book, PR Rules: The Playbook, but the first step is to have a stunning website. This is really hard for a lot of entrepreneurs to grasp. There's a template for what they need—a 10- or 12-webpage site. I recommend that they get somebody in there that's really going to reflect their business back to them and think about what they want to teach.
RL: You also write about the three mistakes that every small business makes. What are they?
HG: First, they're control freaks, so we discourage that. You need to play well with others. Second, they're small-picture people. They're not really seeing the forest for the trees. Third, they're winmeisters in the old school way: I only won if you lost. That's from the '50s. Now it's more like: I win, you win, the world wins. You really shouldn't make a decision unless that's happening.
RL: Final thoughts?
HG: Think about what you do and why you're doing it. I think of business as soul work. We all come here with a purpose, and your own business just allows you to reflect that back and play it out in a dramatic way quickly. If you want to have fun, if you want to have purpose, if you're here for a mission, then your business gets to be that vehicle for you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.