Business owners work so hard running their companies, they often have little time to think about their own publicity - that is, until they have the time to leaf through a newspaper and find themselves reading about a rival firm. Can small-business owners generate their own press without hiring a publicist? Certainly, but it takes a little work and a lot of thought. There are plenty of pitfalls. Here are five to avoid.
1. Failure to keep it simple: I can’t stress this enough. News editors are incredibly smart people, but they’re also incredibly busy people. Try to limit press releases to a single page. Communicate as clearly as possible. I once suggested a client explain something in a press release. He resisted, saying, “The people in our line of business will understand.” But the editor might not understand, and if an editor doesn’t understand something, he or she is less likely to run it. Don’t expect others to know your business as well as you do.
2. Using footnotes, jargon and/or acronyms: In my former life as a business editor, I received press releases from a large local manufacturer that contained so many acronyms I feared that someday I’d have to decipher entire pages of capital letters. Again, industry insiders might speak this language, but not business news editors. And here’s some advice for those handling publicity in academia and the arts - never, ever put footnotes in a press release. Keep all footnotes in research papers, where they belong.
3. Sending the wrong type of image: There are lots of ways this can happen. I know a fine artist and businessman who designed a lovely press release that combined text with his artwork, in a portable document format (PDF) file. The trouble is, any editor on the receiving end would have no way to disentangle the two, making it difficult to put either text or artwork in the newspaper.
Others make the mistake of sending an image that is too small, such as a photo from a Web site. Don’t ever do this - pictures that look great on the computer screen are usually 72 dots per inch (dpi), which looks terrible in print. On the other hand, don’t send a huge image - such as a poster or collage at a high resolution. The media don’t want to reproduce your poster or brochure. Send a single, strong image at 300 dpi in a jpeg format - something that best illustrates the subject of your press release.
4. Thinking too big: Some people who send out press releases have visions of national media exposure, while neglecting their more humble local outlets. Crawl first, then walk. Don’t waste energy pursuing visions of a seat on Oprah’s talk show or the pages of Time magazine. The local weeklies, dailies, specialty publications and radio shows are all great places to break into the media. And you know what? Most stories that end up in the national media start out local anyway.
5. Not bothering: It’s easy to push any efforts at publicity under the rug while tending to the core business functions of getting the work done and getting paid for it. It’s hard to see the immediate benefit of - for example - having a blurb about your new sales director appear in the local newspaper’s business section. Try to remember that the effects of a good publicity plan are cumulative. (Big companies know this, which is why they’re always in the news.) Commit to spending at least a year getting regular media exposure, and you’ll find that more people know who you are and what you do. And then your rivals will read about you in the papers.
Hope Jordan owns Manchester-based Black Creek Public Relations and Marketing which provides publicity and marketing services for small businesses and nonprofits in New Hampshire.
This article appears in the October 28 2005 issue of New Hampshire Business Review