Free publicity: A guide for SMEs
Small businesses and start-ups know the value of good Public Relations, but for many, there just isn’t a budget to put a significant amount of money into PR in the beginning. Luckily, these days there are a lot of ways to connect with people that don’t involve spending massive amounts. Although a solid communications strategy will require investment for consistent results, the advice in this post should help any small business achieve free publicity.
Sign up to Help a Reporter Out immediately
Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a service journalists all over the world use to connect with sources. Sign up to receive a daily list of requests and act quickly when you see one that is relevant to your industry. Respond offering your insights and knowledge, and give the journalist thorough responses that position you as a thought leader and industry expert. Over time, you’ll get coverage in relevant publications, build relationships with journalists that cover your niche, and – if the journalist links back to your website – you’ll be building your SEO. It’s win-win.
Get involved with a local charity event
Without a budget, you may not be able to run your own charity event, but there are bound to be many others taking place in your area that you can get involved with. Choose a high profile event, and raise as much money as you possibly can. Naturally, your first priority should be to raise funds and awareness for the charity of your choice – but of course you can get a photo opportunity out of it at the same time. You could run a 5k in an outrageously funny fancy dress costume or take a trend like the Ice Bucket Challenge a step further; you need put a twist on what you’re doing to stand out from the crowd and get some coverage in the local media.
Send an email offer to all your customers and leads
This isn’t sexy, but it is quite possibly the easiest way to get some instant, free publicity. Sign up to a service like MailChimp, and you can send your customers and leads customised newsletters advertising current offers, announcing new products or services, updating them on your company’s news and encouraging them to connect with you on social media. The service is free until you reach 2,000 subscribers, so it’s ideal for small and medium enterprises, and you can jump start things by uploading your current customer’s email addresses through an Excel file. Despite frequent claims that email marketing is dead, the evidence suggests something completely different. Use a discount code to push for a hard sell.
Barter with other small businesses
Okay, so you haven’t got any cold, hard cash to pump into marketing – so it’s time to get creative. Offer your products and services for free in exchange for services you need. This works best with people who are already a part of your network. If you’re trying to get your digital platforms off the ground, see what relevant businesses you could partner with for mutual benefit. Perhaps you know a graphic designer who can come up with a logo to help you promote your brand, or an SEO expert who could write an optimised press release for you, in return for which you would offer a product or service of similar value. If you’re a photographer, you could do professional head shots, if you run a clothing store it could be a couple of free t-shirts – whatever works.
Create interesting, relevant content
Start a blog about your industry and write in-depth articles that solve problems for your audience. If you sell clothes, blog about fashion trends and show your audience how to style and accessorise your clothing. If you run a cafe, blog about recipes. If you’re a finance guru, blog about how to get a mortgage, or invest money. Even if you work in an industry that has a less obvious public appeal like selling computer software, you can create useful How-To articles or FAQs. Whatever you’re writing about, use great photographs, infographics or video to add colour.
Go beyond the basics on social media
Okay, so you’ve got a Facebook page that was updated a couple of times in the last month, and there’s a Twitter account in your company’s name that you update every now and then… So you kind of feel like you’re on board with the whole social media thing. Not good enough. Take it to the next level. Share original content that you created above, and other relevant articles your readers might be interested in (For example, I post articles by Public Relations experts worldwide on Twitter)
If you haven’t got a budget to sponsor posts, make up for it with engagement – like, comment, share, repost and retweet as much as you can. Get involved with groups and pages that are relevant to your business too. The more you do this, the greater your following will be. Don’t neglect sites like StumbleUpon, Digg and Reddit, which are great for reaching a wider audience.
Over to you. If you run a small business, I want to hear about any other ways you’ve found to gain free publicity. PR pros, I’m throwing down the gauntlet and challenging you – what would you add to the list? Leave me a comment.
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Katie Harrington is a Public Relations professional based in Galway, Ireland. Her book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November. Katie has worked with global brands including Emirates Airline and Allianz, as well as the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.