Know Your Audience
Before you reach out to potential customers, figure out how they get their information on the kind of products and services you sell. One way to keep research costs in check: Ask a local university, trade group or Chamber of Commerce to tack on a few key questions to one of their surveys. Focus on pinpointing which sources people think are credible and what sorts of information catch their eyes.
Make A (Useful) Press Kit
Most of the time, reporters treat press kits like junk mail–but that doesn’t mean you don’t need one. All it takes is a word processor and a trip to Kinko’s. The kit should include a clear description of your business and its goals. Also include a backgrounder on you–complete with interesting, relevant anecdotes that just might grab a reporter’s attention–as well as copies of any media coverage you have received, testimonials from important customers or awards you have won. If there is an important technical aspect to your product, include an easy-to-follow description of how it works and why anyone needs it. (Note: Avoid any and all jargon; it will only hasten your kit’s path to the circular file.)
Craft A Compelling Story
Trust us, most PR folks aren’t particularly effective–mainly because they haven’t bothered to really understand the publications they are targeting. If you plan on calling the press directly, spend some time figuring out the types of articles they tend to publish. “Advertorials” (puff pieces masquerading as journalism) won’t fly at worthwhile publications. Instead, look for a compelling story angle, something that other readers (not just potential customers) can learn from. Be prepared to discuss specific challenges you have faced–pain sells, after all–and how you overcame them.
Take On Cheap Help
For better or worse, PR has made its way into many college curricula. Mine the local schools for eager interns looking to pad their résumés at rock-bottom rates. The smartest can handle calls to the press, hunt for local events you might sponsor or even develop a company blog to attract customers.
Apply For An Award
Like a positive news story, awards confer credibility. And there are sponsors aplenty, including the Better Business Bureau, your local Chamber of Commerce, trade groups and even trade and mainstream publications. Beware, though: Most judges are looking for any reason to cull the field of applicants, so mind the application rules unless you want to be summarily disqualified.