From the May 1998 issue of Startups

While I was speaking at a conference in Atlanta not long ago, I met an entrepreneur named Bob. He said he continually sent letters out with his company brochures, but he never got a positive response from prospects. In fact, most prospects couldn't even remember having received anything from him, and others refused to take his follow-up phone calls.

I asked Bob to send me a sample of his mailings. The brochure was professionally produced and was clearly not the problem. The sales letter, however, was another story. It was basically a letter all about Bob--what his credentials were, what his company did and how he really wanted to have a meeting with this particular prospect. Like many new entrepreneurs, Bob had failed to realize that prospect letters, like all other sales literature, must be outer-directed and answer the prospect's question, "What's in it for me?"

Unless you're writing a letter to your mother, no one wants to hear all about you. They want to learn about the benefits to themselves or their companies of using your company, your products or your services. The best prospect letters are about "what you get," not about "what I offer."

A top-flight prospect letter speaks directly to the benefits your prospect will derive by selecting your company or purchasing your products. Make sure you open and close your sales letters with a benefit statement. In between, explain the benefits and what they mean to your prospect. Be sure your closing pragraph states exactly what you plan to do, and then be certain to follow through.

Create one or two good sales letters that you can keep on file and customize for each prospect. That will simplify your sales efforts, reduce the time you spend on each prospect and ensure consistent, high-quality follow-up every time.

Expert Opinion

Day after day, from Oprah Winfrey to your local newspaper, you see the opinions of experts noted in the media. Do you ever wonder how you can become a recognized expert in your own field and what the benefits to your business might be?

"The advantage of getting quoted by a reporter is that it immediately positions you as an expert. Then you can use the publicity as a merchandising tool to improve your credibility and help you increase sales," says Los Angeles media relations specialist Michelle Lawrence, who has more than 15 years of experience placing the comments of the experts she represents in the press.

Hiring a publicist can help you become a quotable--perhaps even famous--expert, but if a publicist isn't in your budget, you can do the legwork yourself. Here are the key steps:

1. Know who you're targeting and go after the media they read or watch. "Sometimes [being quoted in] a trade magazine will benefit you more than being on `Good Morning America,' " says Lawrence. It depends on your type of business and who your prospects are.

2. "Tailor your message carefully to each publication," says Richard George, director of public relations for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in New York City. Familiarize yourself with the media you're approaching. Get a copy of each publication, and decide what information you have that will benefit their readers. It's also helpful to focus on trends in your industry, not just your particular company.

3. Send a "pitch letter" to the media. Start out with a "hook"--something that grabs attention. A financial expert might use a hook such as "Did you know that by doing xxx, you can save 10 percent of your income?" Then explain what your story is about and why you're qualified to tell it.

4. After the pitch letter, contact the reporters by phone to follow up.

5. Send each reporter a press kit tailored to include just the information they need to do their story.

6. "Be in it for the long haul," advises George, "because building relationships with the media takes time." Don't stop until you set up an interview or reporters say they're absolutely not interested.

If you have a story to tell and you'd like to hire a publicist, contact the PRSA at (212) 995-2230 for a free copy of The Red Book, a directory of public relations counselors, including publicists who handle media placement.

Contact Sources

Michelle Lawrence, lawrencePR@ aol.com

Public Relations Society of America, http://www.prsa.org