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The 4 Secrets To Unlocking Free PR For Your Business

Matt B, Marketing Coordinator

Apr 3, 2018 @ 4:00PM 4 minute read

In a world where the media never stops and people crave more and more information, there's an opportunity for businesses that want to put in a little extra work for a big payoff: use public relations as a way to differentiate your business, tell your story, and get far more exposure than those who ignore it (which is pretty much everyone).

Isn't this a secret that's gotten out yet? Turns out it's not. Very few small business put any effort into PR; they think PR is only for huge companies . That's a mistake because media outlets need stories, so you have a receptive group who's willing to create content for you. And more importantly, consumers are more likely to make decisions based on decisions from press reports than paid ads; in fact, 80% of decision-makers about the vendors they use trust articles and press information over ads. From a cost basis, and for marketing purposes of instilling trust, it's hard to do better than effectively using PR to get your name out there.

But why PR? Doesn't social media give you the same thing? Actually, PR provides two advantages over other sources of information that consumers frequently use:

  1. People trust what they read in a verified press source because the press uses fact-checking, their stories are coherent and readable, and they spend time finding things that are interesting, which means readers WANT to read their content. In other words, the press is authoritative, and in a world where dogs have their own Twitter accounts, people seek that validation;
  2. Media outlets use their own social media channels to promote their stories, so in many ways, a story in a press outlet will get additional coverage simply because that media organization needs the clicks and eyeballs too. You're getting a built-in, free social media campaign out of the press organizations you work with.

Keep in mind though, the press isn't just sitting around waiting for you to answer interview questions. You have to be smart about how you position your business so you not only get attention, but so that the attention aligns with your own story and puts you in a positive light.

Here are four ways you can effectively work with the press to promote your business:

Size doesn't matter

If CNN did a 30 minute special all about your business, you most definitely would see a huge uptick in business. But as much as I hate to break it to you, that's probably not going to happen any time soon. But then again, you don't need a major news outlet. The "press" is really just anyone with an outlet and an audience, and you'll find it in a variety of people and sources, and many of them are very niche in who they cover and often emphasize local stories.

Seek out these kinds of PR opportunities:

  • Grass-roots: I guarantee you that you'll find websites and bloggers on any and every topic. There's a great blogger named Ron Hock who focuses on saw sharpening; here's a website on gutter installation and maintenance; there's even a list of the top 100 sites about HVAC topics (which clearly tells me there has to be hundreds more of them). These people need to keep their blogs fresh, so reach out and offer to be interviewed or to even write a blog for them.
  • Clubs and associations: Every type of business has an industry association meant to further the interests of members and to provide information for customers. A quick Google search will help you find find ones that relate to your business. There's more than likely a person responsible for sending out a regular newsletter or publishing information to their website. Here again, connect with those people and see how you and them can initiate some mutual back scratching.
  • Community groups: Many regional areas have groups like HOAs, community advocates, or other types of organizations that highlight quality local businesses and people. These groups carry a lot of weight among their constituents because the people involved in them are usually also local and have to engender trust.

Make effective use of blogs

Bloggers need one key thing to stay in business - content. The more content, the more traffic, and the more traffic, the more they can sell advertising. Consider also that 47% of buyers viewed 3-5 blogs before engaging with a sales rep, and that small businesses that get their content on blogs get 67% more leads than those that don't.

Now, there are good blogs and there are a ton of lousy blogs. They key is first to identify those bloggers who are influencers in your industry. You may already know who they are, but if not, search for blogs in your field and you'll probably see the same names continue to pop up. Look for ones that don't necessarily promote products (they might be a pay-to-play kind of deal which could lose you some credibility), but instead maintain a neutral stance about topics and vendors. These bloggers almost always provide a way to contact them on their website or through their social media channels. The best approach is to connect, ask if they have any content needs, and offer your time to chat for an interview or provide of your own original written work.

You should also start your own blog for your website. It gives you a valuable platform and one you can use as currency to work with other bloggers. As I said, bloggers need traffic and engagement, and if you offer to highlight their content on your site in return for them doing the same for you, you'll become much more "findable" on the internet, and in the context of those topics your potential customers will be searching. In this kind of situation, you truly are offering them something of value, and it gives you the ability to launch your own personal PR platform.

Create and work the network

As we've established, the beauty of PR is usually that it's free, and the people who own the PR channels usually need good stories in order to keep cranking out new content. There's an element of reciprocity that can serve you well if you network yourself and your stories effectively.

Now, don't think that website owners and online publications are waiting around for you to call. Others like yourself are going to be working to get coverage too, so you have to bring something to the table to make your story compelling. On the internet, the greatest currency is traffic, so find ways to offer to promote the websites of media outlets and they will be more inclined to promote you. This is certainly a nice thing to do, but from a tactical standpoint, it's a critical element for bloggers and website owners to stay relevant. The more links to their site, the better they will do in Google search results.

Look for other types of businesses that are not competitors, but are complementary to yours. Offer to promote special offers or a link to their blog on your website in return for the same treatment from them. The more of this you can do, the more your name will be seen by potential customers, and your brand will be validated by virtue of being associated with reputable companies.

Don't expect a few links to your site or a story about your business to create an avalanche of new customers. It takes time for the effort to have an effect, but it has to be a continuous effort on your part. The more press outlets and friendly businesses you reach, the greater your overall potential for getting exposure.

When you reach out, it's okay to be direct and ask for attention, but be respectful and find a way to connect. You might want to try one of these formats:

For email, go straight to the owner with an email that is to the point, but that makes you and your business appear compelling. Something along these lines:

Hi Mike...I love your blog and think you're providing a great service for our industry. I operate a four-person ____ business in the ______ area, and I wanted to let you know about a new service we're operating that might be of interest to your readers. We call it, "Thank a Vet," and it's a way for us to serve those who have served our country. We're offering a 40% discount on all services for anyone who is serving, or has served, in the armed forces. We are also taking out ads in local publications where we thank these veterans with a picture of them and a thank you note.

We'd love to consider including ads on your website as well, so wanted to see if you might be interested in talking with us about possibly highlighting our program and our business in a forthcoming blog. I'd be happy to chat with you any time.

Thanks for your time.

Or maybe try a text, in which you can be briefer and get straight to the point:

Mike...it's ____ from _____. We have a really interesting program we've initiated that thanks veterans. Seems like it could be of interest to your readers. Would you be interested in learning more?

You have to make the ask in order to get the attention, and while you may have to send quite a few requests before you get a response, the outcome will likely be more than worth it.

Get local

There's a big movement towards going local and it's an important thing for you to tap into. First off, there are apps and websites like Nextdoor, Hood, and JustMyNeighbors that verify people's locations and help them connect about things to do and vendor recommendations. These are more specific to neighborhoods and communities than Craigslist and other services because these hyper-local ones go to great lengths to keep communication and engagement just for people living in their communities. Find apps and services like these and identify opportunities to introduce yourself and your business within your community. While this may be more like social connecting, it's also an opportunity to let people get to know you and your brand without trying to specifically sell them something.

Next, identify local groups that have publications and/or meet regularly. This would incline homeowners associations, Rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, and others that serve the interests of locals. Offer to write articles with tips and helpful hints about an area where you have expertise. You don't necessarily need to promote your services, but let's say your business is installing hardwood floors. Maybe you want to publish articles about DIY floor maintenance and the best products to use to keep hardwood looking new and vibrant. Here again, these publications are usually in need of content, and by offering your expert advice, you're providing them with a service.

Don't neglect local arts and crafts fairs, and downtown merchant's nights; most towns and cities host a variety of activities during good weather to bring people out to learn about local vendors. Consider setting up a booth with flyers and other marketing collateral. Print up DIY information and distribute it with your name and brand prominently displayed on it.

Remember, to serve IN your community, you have to be part OF your community.

The key word in public relations is "public." You have a great business, and it can get bigger and better, but you need to make the public aware of it. Doing so with media and community outreach will humanize your brand and allow people to get to know you and your services. While it requires some work, it's also generally free or at least cost effective. Most importantly, though, it gets you front and center with potential customers through trusted sources.

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