Friday, July 22, 2011

Lesson #69: The Marketing Power of Free Publicity

Before you put a penny into traditional marketing activities, you need to figure out how to get the free buzz started in the media via a formal public relations (PR) effort.  And, I am not talking about engaging an expensive PR firm here, as that does not make sense for the tight cash position of most startups.  But, what I am talking about, is identifying all the places where potential customers are reading, watching, listening or engaging about products and services for your industry, and reaching out to the various editors/producers/bloggers of such magazines, websites or radio/TV programs.

Keep in mind, when you approach these key influencers, you need to do so with "kid's gloves".  They are often bombarded by a lot of other startups trying to get free publicity for their business.  So, you need to figure out a way to approach them in a win-win kind of way, that clearly distinguishes your product or service from the masses of others.  But, the good news is, they are already in the "news" business, and are constantly on the hunt for the next big thing in their industry.  So, they should be open to hearing from you.  But, do so in a way that helps them look smart, not is a way that tries to simply promote your company.

For example, with the trade media, you don't open with "I want to introduce you to my new startup".  You open with "this key trend/pain point is happening in the industry, and I think we have the right fix which may be interesting to your readers".  The difference is, you are helping to make them smart on a particular industry topic, which will be the feature of the article.  But, you will get mentioned and quoted in the article as an expert in the space, which accomplishes your goal of getting the free exposure you desired.  Sending the media free samples of your product or service, also goes a long way to getting their attention.  And, for smaller publications, actually helping them write the articles as a guest or ghost writer, can assist them with the heavy legwork and speed up the process.

In addition to the low-cost, high-return benefit of getting your startup mentioned in the media, it is also a great way to get a "trusted stamp of approval" to help stimulate more sales.  As an example, after your company has been featured in USA Today, you can add an "as featured in the USA Today" logo to your home page (including a link to the article), to help new users build trust and gain confidence in using your product or service.  The logic being: if the expert editors of the trusted USA Today like it, so should I.

And, don't forget, public relations is more than magazines or radio/TV programs.  It is very much an online world today, ripe with industry websites and blogs that you need to reach out to, as well.  I recommend re-reading Lesson #52 on Viral Marketing via Social Media, as it discusses how to identify the key professional bloggers in your industry, whom you want to educate on your business and get them to be trusted, third-party brand ambassadors and cheerleaders for your business.

I am huge proponent of getting the media to spread the free word on your business, especially if you can dig up the key media relationships on your own and not waste money on a PR firm.  And, then, once such relationships are identified, they need to be properly nurtured over time to build long term trust between the parties.  Then, good things should most likely follow, with free media mentions from key industry influencers and the trusted stamp of approval benefits therefrom.

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