Q: I know I need to do some PR, but I have little to no budget for it. Are there some things I can do for free?
A: PR is popular because it is very cost-effective and it works. If you send out one press release, for example, and it gets into print, it could generate nice business. The return on your investment is infinite, since the press release didn't cost you anything to write and distribute (unless you hired someone to do it).
Sending out a press release is just one example of free PR. There are many reasons for sending out a release: introducing a new product or service, celebrating an anniversary, winning an award, reaching a milestone and so on. Doing this on a regular basis is key to keeping your name in front of your customers' and prospects' eyes and being at the top of their mind when it comes to awareness. Let's look at some other free PR:
- Writing articles: Articles don't have to be long; they just need to be informative. Share your experience. Cite your wisdom. Tell a story. Make a list. These are all things you can write an article about. Everyone is more of an expert in one particular area than another. Writing about how to do something is always something of value to readers. Writing articles gives you instant credibility, too. Submitting online, as well as offline, provides another good chance to get your name in print at no cost. Be sure to put your contact information in a contact resource box at the end of the article.
- Newsletters: Writing a newsletter is another way to keep your name top-of-mind. This can be online or offline. Online newsletters are often referred to as e-zines; offline newsletters are printed and mailed. Both contain content valuable to your target market and many times advertise your products and services. It's always been said that your best prospect is a current customer. Advertising to current customers is your best bet to get more business. E-zines are e-mails to your permission-based e-mail database. The cost of this is nothing, yet the return potential is infinite.
- Public speaking: Speaking in front of an audience usually makes you an expert. People like to buy from experts. If they're in your audience, then they'll remember your expertise and come to you when they need your product or service. Chambers of commerce are also good targets, but so are all the service clubs that need luncheon speakers. Speaking is free, and it's just like making a sales call to many people at one time.
- Free reports: Offering a free report online is a good way to get an e-mail from prospects so you may market to them later. This is the whole basis of permission-based marketing, or opt-in lists. You can do the same thing offline. If you're doing a postcard campaign and you offer a free report, you can get an instant appointment from the postcard or at least a phone call. You can increase the response of a direct-mail program from 1 percent to double-digit percentage returns. The free reports can be a dressed-up article, a list, a survey that you've done or some research-based information. Use your imagination here.
- Radio: Radio is expensive, you say? Not if you are being interviewed or calling in on a talk show. Getting interviewed is free, except for your continual follow-up with producers. Calling in is free, but sometimes it's hard to relay contact information. Both of these work, especially when supplemented with other marketing strategies.
- Online forum participation: There are many online newsgroups or forums for a particular subject area. Participating in these is another way to get your name out. Advertising is not usually permitted. Participating by answering and asking questions will position you as an expert and a resource for others. Many online forums will let you put an e-mail signature with a link to your site or message with another site linked. Take full advantage of this; these links get clicked often when of interest to the forum participants.
- Letters to the editor: A little-known secret that's a good follow-up to a press release is a letter to an editor. This is free PR. Many times a letter to the editor has a better chance of getting published than the actual press release. Sometimes you'll get a press release published with editorial comments from the editor. The letter to the editor is a great place to respond to editorial comments as well as to further state a position. You'd be surprised how many people read this column in publications. This is also another way to become friends with the editor. If they see you enough and match you with a newsworthy press release, then your chances of getting a press release in print increases.
These are just some of the many free PR avenues that can increase the top-of-mind awareness with your target customers and prospects. As always, it's best to do this as part of an overall marketing plan with measurement and follow-up.
Alfred J. Lautenslager is an award-winning marketing and PR consultant, direct-mail promotion specialist, principle of marketing consulting firm Marketing Now, and president and owner of The Ink Well, a commercial printing and mailing company in Wheaton, Illinois. Visit his websites at www.market-for-profits.comand www.1-800-inkwell.com, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.