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Buzz Skill

Need a little good press? Forget those costly PR agencies--sharpen your own publicity-getting skills.

Sure, you've heard it all before-the importance of PR and the tactics guaranteed to get your company noticed. We here at Entrepreneur are as bored as you are with fluffy stories titled "10 Tips to Great PR." We wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty of PR-the stuff financially strapped start-ups can actually do to get themselves noticed.

First things first. "Don't spend your last dime on a PR agency. You can do it yourself," says Eric Yaverbaum, founder of Jericho Communications and author of Public Relations Kit for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide). This kind of initiative is especially important during start-up, when there are more important things to spend your money on.

Your immediate priority: making sure your product or service is ready for public consumption. "Get your product out and make sure it works and does something that people care about," says Ryan Chamberlain, a PR consultant who specializes in start-ups. Once you're sure your widget is the coolest around, that's the time to tell the world. And though you won't need to ante up the dough for an agency, you'd better be prepared to spend tons of time on your PR.

The center of your campaign is your message. Make sure it's clear, concise and (take it from a reporter) brief. If your basic mission can't be summed up in a few sentences, it's too complicated and editors won't read it (trust us on this).

The best way to get media coverage, according to Yaverbaum, is to gauge the types of stories that are hot-current events, breaking news, the latest scandals-and tie your company in with them. Every reporter is looking for a different spin on the story of the day. If you can think of a way to present the story with a fresh angle and link it to your name, you won't be able to stop the press. But please, for the love of God, read the publication (watch the TV show, listen to the radio program) before you pitch it. That way, you won't pitch Field & Stream about your latest round of financing.

Media relations are only a small part of your job, though. One of the best, and cheapest, ways to get publicity is to get out in your community. Network with other entrepreneurs, join organizations, sponsor charities-now's not the time to be shy.

Finally, in the words of your 8th grade teacher, "Do your homework!" Do what the professionals do and scour the industry publications: Inside PR, PR Week and the Public Relations Society of America's Tactics are all good places to read up on case studies and learn from the big boys. Says Yaverbaum, "Just because you're not Procter & Gamble doesn't mean you can't get the kind of press Procter & Gamble gets."

Oh, and before we forget: If your press release says anything like, "the B2B solution for the 21st century," go back to the drawing board.

Sweet Release

Who better to talk up a company to reporters than its intrepid founder?

Got tons of ideas but just ounces of money? Tenika Morrison, founder of CatchingtheButterfly.com, found herself in exactly that situation. Her online vintage clothing store was groovy-she just needed to do a little work to get the word out. Having no formal PR training and no funds to hire a PR consultant might have hindered a lesser entrepreneur, but 25-year-old Morrison was determined to get her company on the map. Her first stop? "The library! It's just been an amazing resource," says Morrison. "You can get business magazines, computer magazines, business books, marketing books, vintage clothing books . . . it's incredible."

With the expertise she gained from all her reading, Morrison sent out a press release just a week after starting her business in November 2000. She knew the key to getting noticed was to be original-her press release was short and fun and detailed the who, what, why, where and how of her company while still demonstrating the funky side of her venture with a tongue-in-cheek list of the "Top 10 Reasons to Write About CatchingtheButterfly.com."

Working out of her home in Puyallup, Washington, Morrison sometimes spends all day on marketing issues-from scanning different publications to searching for places to list her Web site. Still, she knows her mission is far from over. "I can't just say, 'Hi, my name is Tenika. This is my story; please print it.'"

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Buzz Skill.

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