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When I first started Cybergrrl Inc. out of my studio apartment with no capital, I knew I needed to get the word out about my Web development and Internet strategy services company. What did I do? I decided to call myself an "Internet expert." Back in 1995, who was going to argue with me? I sent a query to the publisher of a neighborhood newspaper, pitching an idea for a column about the Net.
Timing is everything, and at that time, the publisher had just decided they needed an Internet column. He gave me the choice of $25 per column or an expanded byline, which basically read like a small classified ad for my business, including contact information. I chose the latter, and within a few months, my first major client called after reading my column.
Sandra Gassmann of Sage Marketing Consulting Inc. (www.sagemarketing.com) in New York City agrees with my strategy. Says Gassmann, "I wrote articles on varied Web marketing topics that I knew were newsworthy. I submitted them to editors of trade publications and got write-ups. Now they're finding me as a result of all the press. Be patient, target the right papers, and have a good bio."
Today, positioning yourself as an Internet expert ends up putting you in a crowded arena, so you need to narrow your niche. Put out a press release to let the media know you're available to comment on the topic.
How else can you establish yourself as an expert? Lisa Skriloff of Multicultural Marketing Resources (www.inforesources.com), also in New York City, suggests this: "Get involved. Join a committee in your trade organization and help create a program. The media will see your name on the flier. Instant expert status!"
Aliza Sherman is an entrepreneur and author of Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine Books, $12, 800-726-0600). She is currently working on her next book and new company.
Be a Source
Do you have a stellar rolodex? Use it to everyone's advantage. As I began getting calls from the media, I always made sure I offered several other possible sources for quotes. Suddenly, I wasn't just a subject for one story-I was a valuable resource to the media, and I began getting calls and e-mails several times a week. Sometimes, I'd get a call from a journalist who wasn't even considering me as a source for a quote, and after I made several referrals, the journalist changed the focus of his or her article to be a profile about my company.
How else do you drum up media interest in your company without the pricetag of a publicist? Skriloff adds: "Send a press release with good news-for example: 1) you've launched your company; 2) you won an award; or 3) you won new business. Send a press release with expert information and seasonal tips that showcase your knowledge, and offer readers a free how-to brochure or tipsheet. Conduct a survey and release the results."
I must confess that the biggest mistake I repeated many times over as my company received press was not capitalizing on each media hit. As an overloaded entrepreneur, I made every excuse for not sending a press clip to other media, always citing a lack of time. The solution would have been to hire a PR firm or a publicist, but then there was the issue of no PR budget.
Today, I look back and realize that I should have spent the money, charged up that last bit on my credit card, anything to get someone else on the case with the publicity for my company. One good press clip leads to another, but only when someone is behind it, following up with the journalists and keeping your company name fresh in reporters' minds.
Although there are many ways to get yourself noticed on the cheap, you should plan your PR and marketing budget now-or you may soon discover that your business is starving and neglected as you're endlessly feeding the hungry beast of media attention.