Posts Tagged ‘Small Business Marketing’

Five Myths About Public Relations

April 6th, 2010

With the heat in DC nearing 20 degrees above normal today, it’s time to vent!  Figuratively, at least… So, let’s get right to it.  Here are five myths about public relations – or misconceptions, mistakes and shaky assumptions business owners make at their own peril:

“PR is a waste of money.” Truth is, positive publicity is a fundamental growth element, and without it your customer base will never expand.  Business owners can easily forget that even customer word-of-mouth is actually good publicity by another name.  If your small business has a reservoir of goodwill, what steps are you taking to capitalize on that?  And it’s not just the obvious attention-getting opportunities that count.  Skilled publicists know how to identify and seize openings for publicity that the busy entrepreneur may not see, the way a smart accountant knows how to maximize deductions.

“Once I get a good spot of PR I can go back to laughing all the way to the bank.” Yeah, try telling that to Toyota.  After months of relentless negative publicity, Toyota’s PR efforts to rectify problems from the mass fleet recall seem to have worked, with recent sales rising significantly.  Then this happened yesterday, and now Toyota needs another round of smart, aggressive PR tactics to get back on track.  Good public relations means never taking your eye off the ball – or tweets, Facebook page, chattering class or whoever is talking about you.

“My product/service/awesomeness will generate press all on its own.” Possibly, if you are this guy and happen to sell this.  But if that’s not you, then you’ll need help.  Building positive publicity requires the same immense discipline, passion and resolve as creating a new product or service, since you are essentially generating something from nothing.  If you’re not on the radar of reporters and bloggers covering your industry, then you should consider professional advice on how to get there.

“I went to law school/I kick ass on Jeopardy/I always win arguments; therefore, I will control/intimidate/steamroll any reporter interviewing me.” Most journalists are fair, hard-working and want to deliver thoughtful perspective and comment on interesting issues.  While some may have cavalier morality when it comes to ethics, they don’t represent the high standard in their profession.  But never forget – just like your aim is to generate commerce, a media outlet’s aim is to generate attention.  If you haven’t been media trained before you do an interview, you run serious risk of your answers being twisted into a catchy headline, at your expense.  Once it’s printed, you can’t take it back.

“How hard can it be to write an op-ed/letter-to-the-editor/press release?” Like many things in life, a lot harder than you may think – at least if you want it done right.  Many business professionals are excellent writers, but may not know how to identify all relevant stakeholders and use a media platform to make messages resonate with each one.

With these principles in mind, and with the economy on the rebound, now is the best time for business owners to leap ahead of the complacent competition – let clever public relations help fight and win that battle for you.

Why App Makers Must Use PR to Win on the Ipad

April 2nd, 2010

For all you wanna-be iPhone/iPad app-making millionaires, we applaud your ambition in this tough economy, though take note of this sobering anecdote reported by the Washington Post: a game called Shot Bar was developed at a cost of $30,000 and released in November, but has a total return under $1,000 to date.

The need for public relations is real: as a tech small business, you must have room for a small business marketing budget.  Given that the Apple app marketplace is saturated with close to 150,000 different products, PR is an acute pressure point.  Once the iPad goes on sale, this number is going to explode.

App makers, your game/utility/whoopee cushion may be a big deal to you, but what good is your product if you can’t distinguish it from the competition?  Do you really think that consumers will take the time to browse the Apple app store the way they shop at Best Buy?  Are you leveraging every social media platform for potential sales and to recruit brand ambassadors?  Are you making nice with every key tech reporter who will cover the goldrush?  How about moving beyond the simple commercial aspects, perhaps maybe try to establish thought leadership and authority in your industry?

If your company isn’t keeping these considerations in mind, your killer app can easily become dead on arrival.

In PR for the Entrepreneur, Stick with What You Know Best

March 24th, 2010

For any entrepreneur, the rush from starting your new business empowers you in many good ways.  With each initial success, the new business starts to dream (and rightfully so!) about conquering their particular industry.

But, as with all things in life, never bite off more than you can chew – particularly with your small business marketing.  That’s where smart entrepreneur PR strategy plays a vital role, by making you focus on what your business does best.

With social media now as the most attractive and cheapest small business marketing platform available, the entrepreneur has more temptation to promote themselves as an expert on anything and everything, even if it’s a topic outside their industry.  In doing so, the entrepreneur risks muddying their message and ability to market their product or service in a targeted way.  They start to resemble this guy:

Instead, initial entrepreneur PR strategy shouldn’t expound on more than 2 or 3 core message topics at first.  Opened up a new coffee shop in your neighborhood?  Then blog about coffee, not local celebrity gossip (unless it’s about those celebs drinking your coffee).  Are you the new iPhone app maker in your city’s digital corridor?  Then tweet about emerging app trends for small businesses, and not trade battles between competing nations.

And, as a side benefit, by concentrating your messaging on a handful of discrete topics, you generate SEO on your particular business and help brand your new enterprise as a trend-setter.  Focus, focus, focus!

Anti-Social Media: Cost for IRS to Worsen Its Reputation = $.04

March 18th, 2010

Yes, the Internal Revenue Service has managed to pull off the impossible: a public relations implosion for the mind-blowing cost of $.04.

Some background: The IRS sent two representatives to Harv’s Metro Car Wash in Sacramento to collect an overdue tax bill for $202.31 from the business.  The only thing is, the initial amount owed was $.04, which eventually ballooned due to late fees and penalties.

The IRS ranked near-bottom for federal agencies in a public opinion poll last year.  Incidents like this certainly won’t reverse that trend.  Let’s count some of the key factors behind this IRS PR disaster, ready-made for starved news outlets to exploit:

Sheer absurdity.  Which number do you think the media will latch on to, $.04 or the full bill?  Search online and just look at how many headlines cite four pennies.

Showing up in person.  Did the IRS really need to dispatch two agents to collect this bill?  It’s also doubtful they were as charming as the groovers above.  The irony is that the time and money spent in using such resources likely outweighed the bill itself.  Why not just keep mailing a bill to the business?

David v. Goliath.  The current national mood is so anti-establishment/big-bad-guv’mint against “the little guy” that an entire right-leaning political movement has awakened as a result.  What better way to illustrate this sentiment than to have a despised federal agency go after a helpless little car wash.  Incidents like this also have strong appeal to local, folksy interests.  Just read the column in the local paper.

No IRS response.  Talk about missed opportunity.  In fact, when asked about it the IRS declined to respond, citing privacy and disclosure laws.  That still doesn’t mean that the agency can’t say anything in support of its tax collection practices.  Harv’s Metro Car Wash is light-years ahead of the IRS on this one, gladly speaking to any and all reporters and even using small business marketing tactics for a four-cent car wash promotion – now that is how you publicize!

The IRS should have had at least a canned response of some sort, offered by someone who’s had media training and who could help the agency appear like it has somewhat sensible priorities.  Unfortunately, unlike paying taxes, the agency can’t ask the media for an extension to comment on this one.

Crisis Corner: What a Small Business Can Learn From Toyota

February 24th, 2010

Toyota’s predicament speaks for itself, but what would your small business do if it faced a raft of angry or injured customers?  Crisis management principles are often the same regardless of the scale of your business – it’s not just mega corporations that risk dealing with angry, hurt or confused customers.

In preparing for incidents of blowback with their goods or services, here are some questions any small business marketing or communications professional must ask:

Have you accepted the possibility of a mistake? The first step is always the hardest.  In small business communications, it’s important to accept that something in your supply chain can (and will) go wrong.  Define the potential problem before you start crafting messages to respond.

Do you have a crisis response plan in place? You must determine what you’ll say depending on who are the key stakeholders – customers, business partners, regulators, and so forth.

Have you designated a spokesperson for media inquiries, and have they undergone media training? Don’t just assume that your spokesperson will do great on camera.  Media training is a serious discipline and absolutely necessary if you’re going to survive tough interviews.

Do you have a media list of reporters and media outlets who would cover your crisis? You know your industry, trade and community better than anyone else.  Identify the key media outlets, trade publications and other interested journalists and bloggers who will take interest in your business’s response to any situation.

Can you update your website’s home page quickly to ensure your response is easily visible? Your site designers should have built the site’s architecture in a way that allows a prominent update to appear on your homepage.  And on that end, do you have a process in place for Facebook and Twitter updates?  You do have Facebook and Twitter pages for your small businessright?

If the answer to any of these questions are “no” you should let us know

Small Business Marketing Tactics: Sometimes All You Need Is Good PR

February 3rd, 2010

Often, publicists are asked what the difference is between marketing and public relations.  The answer varies greatly, but a soft distinction helps separate the mess – paid media vs. earned media.  In this post, let’s focus primarily on the hurdles small businesses face.

When we hear about small business marketing, we think of goal-oriented communication that ideally encourages consumers to purchase a product or hire a service.  In that process, a marketing firm dictates the content, placement and reach of the communication, for example an advertisement.  Let’s call this “paid media” because the client, i.e. the small business, is paying for these messages to be delivered to customers, based on the marketing firm’s recommendation.

In contrast, a publicist recommends public relations strategies that encourage newspapers, websites, blogs, etc. to devote coverage and content to the client.  The best small business publicists know how to target interested media and increase the likelihood of getting that prime headline or story.  You’re not paying for the content but rather the publicist’s services, so when you get that sweet press hit, you’ve got “earned media.”

The great advantage of earned media is the objectivity associated with the messenger.  For example, when the small business CEO is quoted in an article on investment advice, and the outlet has a reputation for impartial reporting, the messaging gains significant authenticity.  And once the press hits pile up, the publicist can then push them through viral media, social networking sites and other platforms where potential clients, customers and stakeholders are waiting to hear about the next big thing.

So, the moral of the story is that in developing a small businesses marketing plan, the client should always appreciate the importance of paid and earned media, working in tandem, to generate more revenue, positive attention and ultimately success over competitors.

Getting Small Business Marketing out from under the TARP

December 10th, 2009

Put aside your politics (yes, even in DC!) and evaluate a case study of communications opportunity presenting itself.  This past week, President Obama hosted a White House forum on job creation, and part of the discussion focused on possible federal incentives to support small business recovery.

Obama made the point that while he supports such incentives, “ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector.”


Always remember, in public relations, perception consistently trumps reality.  Accordingly, here is what the public perceives and/or is real.  First, the TARP program that blunted the recession actually will cost $200 billion less than the forecasted $341 billion.  While this certainly is good news, the common perception is that TARP helped Wall Street more than it did Main Street, USA (a nod to for excellent analysis).  So, Obama’s private sector argument immediately gets a leg kicked out from it.

Second, with all the discussion on what TARP does for big business, the public misses the point because they don’t hear about (i.e., perceive) what could be done for small business.  This is where small business marketing and small business PR can play a big role, even if it’s just talk being made by one small business.

Effective small business marketing tactics could turn part of the conversation toward the idea of steering more federal bailout money specifically toward small business programs.  The narrative and talking points almost write themselves – with small businesses success offering feel-good stories and great statistics, the small business community has ample room to enter the federal bailout discussion aggressively.

Through blogs, trade associations, chambers of commerce and other platforms, messages of support for small business programs can be broadcast and ultimately force public officials to acknowledge the questions being raised.  When these officials begin making relevant statements and proposals, allies and opposition can be defined, and small business public relations tactics will then prove their worth.