If you’re operating a business in today’s marketplace, you can feel like you’re walking through a minefield. Markets are splintering into niches, customers are foregoing brand loyalty and the Web is expanding traditional boundaries, making it easier than ever for new competitors to enter your market. How do you rise above the fray and build “mindshare” with your prospects that ultimately results in market share? One great way is through the use of public relations. Whether you’re a local law firm with one attorney aiming at new markets, a new bank looking for mortgage business or a business selling widgets throughout the world, the process of using public relations to break through the information clutter in your space is the same. At its most basic level, public relations is the act of making a suggestion to a journalist that leads to you, your company or your product/service being included in a story. It works like this: You suggest a story idea to a journalist; he likes the idea and builds a story around it. Or you can capitalize on the news and fit your company into a larger trend story. Identity theft, for instance. If you’re a bank, you can develop an “Identity Theft Toolkit” that shows how consumers can protect themselves. Your booklet might be called “Ten Tips to Preventing Identity Theft.” By bringing in a university professor or author with experience in the identity theft arena, you add credibility and newsworthiness to the topic. Or if you’re a veterinarian, you can develop a top 10 list of ways to protect your pet during a cold spell - or a heat wave. Accountants can talk about changes in the tax code as we near April 15. The topics are endless - but the process is the same. Regardless of your field, ask yourself these questions and create a toolkit of your own: What worries your customers? What kinds of trends or news events are happening that your customers should know about and don’t? Are there some new advances that your customers can benefit from? If you offer a journalist some good, sound information that appeals to his audience, you’re on your way to positioning yourself as an expert and building mindshare. Target customers Here’s a list of techniques that, when properly executed, can result in big wins for your business: • Use news to make news: Try to tie your company into the current news issues and subjects of the time. Ask yourself: Do I have a relevant story? What’s the impact — does it affect a large number of people in my market? Is it novel — does it have an unusual twist to it? A medical device company recently came up with a non-invasive way to perform brain surgery. Once it had a test patient, the story was picked up by a TV newscast for a feature during National Stroke Week. • Seasonal tie-ins: News editors are always looking for feature stories that tie in with holiday or seasonal happenings. I remember a very successful campaign for a software company that revamped a candy manufacturer’s manufacturing system around Halloween. As the candy rolled off the conveyer belts, 20 million viewers were treated to information about how this candy company was meeting demand at Halloween. • Local growth stories: News producers like winners, especially during recessions. One private service company recently started to talk about its fantastic growth during the time when the Boston area was experiencing a recession and most companies were laying off employees. A Boston TV station was captivated by this company’s growth and did a segment on it. What would have been just good news to employees finding jobs resulted in a TV spot for this company and its CEO. • Anniversaries: If the product is vital to the American way of life, or can be incorporated in a story about a product that is celebrating an anniversary, the media might click with a suggestion for a story on a major anniversary of the product. • Trends: One company I work with recently was highlighted in a segment on the “Today” show when one of its employees was awarded a house by Habitat for Humanity. By working closely with the producer of the segment and giving the “Today” camera crew open access to the employee’s work area, the company received a nice mention about its business during the segment. You just can’t buy this type of publicity. To uncover the newsworthiness in your business, think about your target customer. Put yourself in his or her shoes. What would make you excited? Intrigued? Provoked? Now, think about how your business provides some type of service, product or information that feeds into these reactions. Nancy Pieretti is an independent public relations and marketing communications practitioner. She can be reached at 268-8007 or email@example.com.