We all know that famous adage about how there’s no such thing as bad press. Perhaps a better way to think about publicity comes from writer Oscar Wilde, who said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Fortune 500 companies devote a lot of money to creating publicity for their brand. But how can a small business build buzz without that same cash flow or manpower? Many small business owners and entrepreneurs rely solely on Facebook or Twitter, yet there are other low-cost ways to generate PR and get people—and potential customers—talking about your company.
Become an expert
You’ve sent out press release after press release with not-so-great results. Many media outlets—from local news to national online sites—need content. Go beyond the traditional “here’s my company” pitch and become a source for stories already in the works. “When you see something important happening (nationally or locally), reach out to the media and offer to be an expert source,” suggests Dave Manzer, founder of Dave Manzer PR and Marketing, an Austin, Texas-based PR firm. “I was interviewed in Austin about Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah because I had a good relationship with the ABC News affiliate, and they wanted a PR expert to talk about how the interview could help/hurt Armstrong.”
Samuella Becker, CEO and founder of TigressPR, agrees. “I'm biased toward editorial coverage versus paid advertising to gain creditability and drive new business. Think about the knowledge you possess that can be passed along to others, which will brand your expertise,” says Becker. She says to offer know-how in an engaging way that people can use. “For example, a photographer may contribute tips on the most flattering clothing to wear when taking photographs to be used for an article in the local newspaper,” says Becker.
Think about holidays. Sure, the ones that come to mind are circled on the gigantic dry erase board in your office, but how about centering a campaign on those not-so-huge holidays. A Groundhog Day Spectacular is sure fire-way to stand out, and get a bit of local buzz going. “Every day and every month, there is a celebration of something: National Ice Cream Day, National Bird Feeding Month, even National Cheeseburger Day,” points out Manzer. “Find a clever way to celebrate the special occasion and let the local TV news know about your plans. You could win a studio interview or get a film crew to come out to your event.”
Becker says to find an angle that works for specific holidays, even if it seems to not be a not-quite-exact fit. “At Halloween, many parents worry about the candy-laden trick-or-treating holiday and its sugar-overload effect on their kids,” suggests Becker. “If you are a dentist, you may want to team up with a nutritionist to provide recipes for delicious and healthy Halloween treats for your patients and community as a whole. Beyond posting the recipes on your respective websites, reach out six weeks before the holiday to the local parenting publication, the local food editor for the newspaper or the affiliate TV stations—and offer to appear in a make-and-bake segment on camera. On Halloween, offer these same treats for those who stop by your business in costume.”
Sometimes it is not what you do, but whom you do it with. “Striking strategic alliances with other small businesses for special events can build outside testimonials,” as well as new customers, notes Becker. “A skincare specialist could team up with the local farmer's market or grocery store to demonstrate homemade facial mask recipes using fruits, vegetables, and everyday ingredients found in a typical kitchen.” Becker says to use social media (Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn) to announce your guest appearance to generate foot traffic.
When you team up for an event around a worthy cause, you achieve that common goal of helping others and introduce a different side of your company to the public. “Find a way to partner with a local nonprofit,” suggests Manzer. “You get attention for the nonprofit’s cause and how you're encouraging innovative business partnerships.”
Hop onto a trend
Mustaches. Anything in leopard print. Grumpy Cat. All of these are trends that have made people take notice, talk, and spend money. Mike Beck, marketing consultant and senior manager at the Chicago Sun-Times, suggests an easy way to build buzz. “Find a current pop culture trend and make it work for you,” says Beck. “One great example is an outdoor gear e-commerce retailer I consulted for in 2012.They wanted to create buzz around their technical packs, outdoor equipment and survival gear so we generated a campaign that tagged onto the zombie pop culture phenomenon.”
The end result? The campaign got picked up in multiple regional and national publications and websites, including Uncrate, Business Insider, and MSNBC. “It also helped that we purposely set one of the promotions to an extraordinarily high price point, helping it garner that aura of publicity-worthy content,” Beck says.
Create an event
The “Grand Opening” sign or “Big Anniversary Sale!” banner are so commonplace, no one notices anymore. To really capture attention, create another way to get folks talking—and not just the press, but customers too. “Do something in such a way as to attract not only reporters and editors, but the public as well,” says Will Kruisbrink, account director at Chicago-based PR firm Walker Sands Communications, “For example, say you're opening a new gym in town, you could leave boxes of brand new sneakers in hidden places all around the area and spread the tips via social media so people can find them. Make sure you identify local influencers beforehand, as you need the campaign to catch. Chances are if you get enough viral juice [for an event], reporters in your area will hear about it and want to write about it.”