Power Up Your PR with Multimedia

From RSS feeds to Podcasting, multimedia is becoming the best way to reach the new savvy consumer.

By Mark Nowlan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A second internet revolution is well underway and small business stands to be a major beneficiary. Today nearly half of the U.S. population, over 125-million people, has broadband internet access (Nielsen/NetRatings, September 2005). At the same time, advances in technology are enabling audio and video information to be accessed virtually anywhere at any time. No longer just a novelty, multimedia in all its forms is becoming a staple of many websites and a communication tool for all to use.

For small businesses, the ubiquitous access to video, audio and graphical content, coupled with a sharply reduced cost of production and distribution, has opened a world of promotion and communication opportunities that were once reserved only for television advertisers with deep pockets. So just as the web itself allowed small enterprises to appear as big as their aspirations, the broadband revolution now lets those with smaller budgets reach wide--and niche--audiences with a fully engaging multimedia package that lets the message come through loud and clear.

Two approaches--the multimedia news release and the podcast--can put your business in the multimedia space cost-effectively and with the expertise of professionals to guide you along the way.

The Multimedia New Release (MNRs)
If you've ever distributed a text news release or given a slide presentation, you know that every story can (and should) be enhanced with visuals. A multimedia news release (MNR) presents information in an HTML format--like a mobile website--that can be customized to include a text news release, Video or Audio News Release content (VNR or ANR), B-Roll footage, sound bites and links to other marketing materials such as product brochures, customer testimonials and more. Just like a text news release, the MNR can be distributed to TV, radio, web or print media, or sent directly to customers and prospects, industry groups, employees and others as a direct marketing or education tool.

Ideal for launching new products or services, the MNR allows for a greater depth of information to be conveyed--in picture, sound and written form. This is particularly important when a product is "difficult to visualize," highly technical or requires extensive explanation.

Of further benefit to small businesses is that MNRs offer a level of flexibility that enables companies to use any pre-existing multimedia content, leveraging the material in ways that'll generate renewed customer interest. Video footage of a product demo or snippets from an archived radio commercial, for example, can be reformatted and redistributed online to reach a huge, entirely new audience and attract even greater attention.

For instance, a company launching a new medical device could use an MNR to combine visual, audio and written content into a single product release. The MNR might incorporate a text news release, a demo video, animation on how it works, a recorded Q&A session with a doctor, and a testimonial from a patient. The entire digital package could then be distributed directly to doctors and interest groups, sent to key media outlets over a newswire and placed in the media, employee or public sections of your own website. Within the same MNR, recipients could also be encouraged to submit queries regarding the device or to register to attend a webinar (online seminar) which will showcase the product in more detail.

As an added bonus, MNRs are ideally suited for search engines, and when properly formatted for them can vastly increase a company or product's exposure. MNRs, like websites, can be optimized to increase their attractiveness to search engines and to display the content higher in natural search-engine results. (Optimizing your content for search engines is a must-do, regardless of format because virtually all sales today begin with a visit to a search engine for the latest information.)

Video podcasts are fast becoming an important outlet for marketers and advertisers who want to reach a financially capable, media-savvy audience. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project Report (April 2005), more than 22-million Americans own iPods or MP3 players, and more than 6-million adults have downloaded a podcast of some type.

Podcasting relies upon RSS (Really Simple Syndication, an XML-based format) to deliver MP3 audio and video files. Users can subscribe to podcast "feeds" through their RSS "readers" or through Apple's iTunes database. The initial content and subsequent updates or episodes are then automatically copied to the iPod or other audio device when it's connected for battery charging. IPod users then view or listen to podcasts on the train, at the gym and so on. In addition to iPods, podcasts can be accessed directly via computer from yours or others' website.

Similar to an MNR, companies can create podcasts using entirely new content, or they can develop them using pre-existing video or audio material. Regardless of the source material, the final podcast must be brief, inventive and dynamic. If the content doesn't keep the interest of the viewer or listener, the individual will likely not stick around long enough to take the desired action.

Podcasts also have applications beyond marketing. As an internal communications tool, podcasts can be used to keep members of a sales force up-to-date on a company's latest developments or product upgrades. For instance, the aforementioned medical device company might use a podcast to demonstrate to its employees and sales force the benefits of all its new devices as they're rolled out, enabling the sales force to visualize how the product should be marketed and communicated to potential customers.

Once beyond the reach of most small businesses, advances in internet and multimedia technology has now made audio and video both accessible and effective for small and medium-sized businesses. The result is better ways to bring your message to your many audiences, moving them faster from awareness to interest to intention to buy, even facilitating their ability to respond. Importantly, like websites themselves, what was once a nice idea, multimedia is fast becoming the preferred tool to address increasingly sophisticated audiences and thus, to remain competitive.

Mark Nowlan

Mark Nowlan is senior vice president of marketing & communications at PR Newswire. Nowlan is a frequent lecturer on media relations, strategic communications and crisis communications at industry conferences around the country. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.

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