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Do More with Less New communications and PR tools offer marketers less costly (and equally effective) alternatives for building brand and product awareness

By Rachel Meranus

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Tough economic times are forcing many companies to cut back marketing and advertising budgets. According to figures released by the Publisher's Information Bureau in January, consumer magazine advertising pages dropped nearly 12 percent in 2008. While cost cutting may be necessary to remain solvent, forcing your marketing department to go on a crash diet can cause companies to lose the momentum and brand awareness they've built up through long-term campaigns.

Just because times are lean doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your hard-earned market share. Use this economic downturn as a chance to supplement your marketing and advertising activities with targeted public relations campaigns that capitalize on the brand awareness you've already cultivated.

So how do you do more with less?

Get Social
If your company still hasn't made the leap into social media, now's a great time to establish a foundation for such activities. Research the top industry blogs, and if blogs aren't already included in your media outreach plans, integrate them. Get involved in the conversation. If you don't have the time to start your own blog, become an active commenter, or get involved in microblogging via Twitter.

Check out how your competitors are utilizing Web 2.0 tools and familiarize yourself with the social media applications frequently leveraged by marketers--Facebook, Twitter, Del.i.cious, YouTube, Digg, etc. These applications are rapidly becoming an essential platform for marketing and brand building as more and more consumers increase the scope of their activity on the web.

Make Your Press Release Interactive
Press releases have been traditionally used by marketers to announce larger campaigns, like product launches and sales events. Issued as a text announcement, a release would set the stage for more expansive and engaging communications efforts that would be used to ultimately entice the company's target audiences.

However, advances in technology have made the press release a much more dynamic, interactive multimedia communications tool. Today's press release is actually a multimedia news release, combining text with video, photos, social media elements and much more. Further, changes in the way people access and share information have prompted many companies to reassess how a marketing campaign can be executed and the tools necessary to make an impact in today's dynamic communications environment. As a result, more communicators are turning to the multimedia news release because it's the most comprehensive.

With more people relying on web-based and social media-driven platforms as their first point of access to the world, the ability to package corporate messages, multimedia content and social media links in a single communications format is key. Moreover, this tactic not only presents strategic advantages for reaching one's target audiences, but also economic benefits through the consolidation of marketing and PR efforts.

Stand Out in the Industry
The concept of thought leadership involves positioning people at your company as expert sources available for commentary on issues related to your industry. If done properly, thought leadership offers a valuable opportunity to position your company as an important player in your field and generate marketable attention for your products and services.

Many publications and industry-specific websites accept articles from experts in the field. These bylined articles can be a great way to position your spokespeople and generate further awareness of your brand. Letters to the editor, which are accepted by many print and online publications, can be another great way to highlight your spokespeople and establish your company as a leading authority on an issue or topic pertinent to the industry.

In addition to promoting your company's expertise, case studies offer an excellent vehicle for highlighting your products or services. They're not only useful in hooking the interest of reporters; they can also be valuable collateral for your marketing team or website. Reach out to clients who have the most compelling stories to see if they'd like to share their stories. Often, they're happy to discuss the success that a product or service brought to their business.

Conferences, trade shows and webinars also offer a number of opportunities for industry experts to lead roundtable discussions, participate on a panel or even give the keynote address. Speakers generally get a free pass to the event and an invaluable opportunity to advance both their businesses and personal brand. Deadlines for speaker proposals can range from weeks to more than a year prior to an event, so be sure to plan in advance.

Traditional PR has been an important complement to marketing and advertising programs. The press that results from a successful media campaign can be invaluable in creating sustained corporate and brand recognition. Remember, in these difficult times, there's no actual cost attached to getting an article published other than the time and effort required to develop a story and pitch a reporter.

Don't give up on your communications and marketing goals just because you have fewer resources. In this environment, the companies that make the most out of their resources and bring the most creativity into their communications programs will draw the highest return.

Rachel Meranus is vice president of communications at PR Newswire, an online press release distribution network based in New York. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.

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