Publicity for Free – is it possible?

by Sheila O'Mara on March 6, 2010

This week’s TVPG, Get More Business, Radio Show revolved around two topics that are near and dear to my heart – volunteerism and Free Publicity.  Is it possible for the two to intertwine?

You bet!  As a matter of fact, I have built the majority of my business on the basic “how to get free publicity” principles.  As a very small business starting out, I had very little budget for advertising so I felt the need to get very creative with my marketing.  Honestly I relied heavily on my volunteering opportunities to help me build my business.

Rich Bradley came up with a fabulous list of ten ways to advertise for free or very little cost.  Each one makes sense, is easy to accomplish and doesn’t even require tremendous amounts of work.  Whether you are just starting out, rebuilding a brand or launching a new product or service, these ideas can set you apart from the rest.

First on Rich’s list was informal networking.  This can be done in a variety of ways and can be based on your preferences.  If you are a member of the Rotary or the Lions Club, Little League or Scouting, you have a built in network that needs to know what you do.  That doesn’t mean htat you cram it down their throats, but striking up a conversation about what you and another person do for a living is a natural conversation in this type of environment. Have your sixty second commercial perfected so that it feels less like a sales pitch and more like an explanation of your passion.

Next was Event Hosting.  This can take place in several ways and is only limited to your creativity.  If you have a venue – letting other organizations host an event there is a great way to get you some publicity.  If you don’t have a venue, then seek out locations that can compliment what you want to do.  I have held Staging classes in several venues – like a furniture store, a home accessories store and spoke about senior staging at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. 

 Don’t forget about making Charitable donations. Make a donation and tell people about it.  This can take many forms – donating to auctions, providing door prizes for events, table decorating for an event or being a sponsor for whatever.  One of my favorite ideas is to donate books to the library – especially a children’s book.  You have spent less than $25 dollars and have a great opportunity for a photo op that can run in the local newspaper and then you can blog about it and put it in your newsletter.  FABULOUS!!!

Many people are uncomfortable with blowing their own horn.  A great way to eliminate the uneasiness is to have a third party write a press release or announcement and distribute it.  This can take place after you have made a charitable donation, hosted an event, or when you particpated in someone else’s event.  The only caution we have is to read the release before it is sent, just to make sure all of the information is correct.

Next you could try co-hosting a special event.  This is a great way for someone else to pay for your publicity.  Try Co-op/co-branded advertising, such as bringing in a ticket stub from one place OR something like Merchants of Main Street.  I have provided classes and information sessions at locations that compliment what I do.  I have also partnered with other companies that provide complimentary services.  Giving a class during a furniture store’s huge annual sale event was a great benefit.  They were already doing advertising so anything I added was just bonus.

The next few items on Rich’s List were internet related.  Social media can be very time consuming, but if you do it right, the pay off is fabulous and it is free for the most part.  If you develop a website (which everyone should have in this day and age) you may have to pay for hosting, and your domain name, but the benefits are large comparatively.  Blogs were something I thought I would never do, but the payoff has been tremendous.  I have gotten leads that have turned into jobs and have been offered several business opportunities because of my blogs.  If you are serious about getting your message out there for very little money, a blog is an excellent way to do that.

There are countless other social mediums to use – facebook, twitter, linked in, etc.  You choose what you want to use and then use it.  All of those accounts are free and they all lend a transparency to your brand that is necessary for building relationships with consumers.  The caution with these types of outlets is that they can be time consuming.  I set a limit each day, but I make sure to check my sites each day.  It is that valuable when building your brand. 

Regular communication is vital to advertising and a great medium to use is email.  Whether you build a data base and just send regular email or you use a medium like Constant Contact, this is a great way to stay connected.  Newsletters, Items of Value, Specials that you are running, and Holiday wishes are all great ways to communicate through email. 

The next idea is one of my favorites.  Establish yourself as the expert.  Find a reporter in the newspaper, on Facebook, on TV, etc. then make contact and offer your services.  When I first started out I contacted our local newspaper.  I knew I couldn’t afford to advertise there, but wanted the exposure.  So I called and offered to write a monthly article about the industry.  I agreed not to promote my business, but could offer education.  It has saved me roughly $1000 in ad costs and my name, photo and contact info is in the paper everery month.  The Paper has even contacted me about features they need “expert” advice for. I am fortunate to have such a great relationship with our local paper.

One of the last items on the Rich’s list is personalized correspondence.  This can take the form of thank you cards, phone calls, follow-ups, calls or emails, visits, lunches, breakfasts, etc. This a great way to maintain your relationships and the cost is really low.  Sending a thank you note for a referral someone gave you will make them feel great and want to refer you again.  A personal touch is so valuable especially when relationships are new.  Everyone likes to feel special – make the effort it is worth it.

Next post will be about the volunteer factor.  It has been my most valuable tool to date.  Giving of yourself – whether time or other resources – is such an asset and will help you establish a positive reputation for yourself. 

Publicity for Free is vital and you should be using it every chance you get.

If you missed the live radio show – you can check out the podcast here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Allegra Dioguardi March 7, 2010 at 12:04 am

Very nice post! All great ideas. Sometimes we forget all of these venues that are available to us. I love free advertising!

Beckie Henry March 7, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Sheila – your article is so filled with valuable information and true-to-life illustrations, I hope everyone reading it resolves to use at least one or two of these items in their business marketing plans. You are a real inspiration!

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