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How to do publicity for a small business on a budget

PR ideas for small business: Marketing professionals in a meeting

Key takeaways

  • Generating publicity for your small business can help you get the word out about your company and reach potential customers
  • Publicity differs from other types of marketing as it’s usually free and less targeted than a paid marketing campaign
  • Learn how to engage with journalists, work with social media influencers, and respond to customer reviews to maintain goodwill among the public

Whether you’ve just launched a new business or you want to get the word out about a new product or service, learning how to do publicity for a small business can give you the necessary tools to increase brand awareness and raise your local business profile.

Generating free publicity can help you reach new customers while other PR ideas for small businesses can help you manage your online reputation and maintain goodwill among your target audience. Learn how to do publicity for a small business on any budget and how to tie it into your overall marketing strategy.

Publicity vs. marketing

Publicity can often look a lot like a traditional marketing campaign. You might get your business featured on TV, in the newspaper, or on social media channels. The primary difference is that you don’t usually pay for publicity, whereas a marketing campaign usually requires you to put together a marketing budget and marketing plan.

Publicity often takes the form of earned media, which is when you appear in media outlets because you do something newsworthy, like host an event or win an award. It can also take the form of a word-of-mouth marketing campaign, in which you encourage your existing customers to tell other people about your business or products.

Marketing, in contrast, includes paid ad campaigns and other forms of outreach, like direct mail. Some ads, such as native ads, might look like free publicity, but they’re usually developed by marketing teams and are considered sponsored content.

Another key difference between publicity and marketing is that publicity is aimed at a broader audience—the general public—rather than at a specific target market or demographic.

Publicity is intended to get your business mainstream attention and name recognition, even among people who aren’t likely to become customers. Marketing, on the other hand, is focused on getting your brand in front of target customers, including niche markets that aren’t regularly served by mainstream media.

While you can generate publicity by sending out press releases or launching a guerrilla marketing campaign, what happens next is largely out of your hands. Contrary to the idea that any publicity is good publicity, media coverage can be both good or bad.

That’s where public relations comes in. While publicity is all about getting the word out about your small business, public relations, or PR, is about managing your reputation and focusing on specific aspects of your brand. It also entails how you respond to negative press or get feedback from the local community.

How to do publicity for a small business

Large businesses often hire PR firms, but as a small business owner, that may be beyond your budget. Fortunately, it’s entirely possible to do publicity yourself. Here are two core skills to master as you learn how to get publicity for your business.

1. Put together a PR kit

A public relations kit, or PR kit, is your shortcut to free publicity. It’s basically a set of materials that you can send to bloggers, journalists, and other media professionals when they come calling about your business.

Your PR kit should include your business name and logo, contact details, a description of your business, and any other relevant images or information. It may overlap with a lot of the material that’s already on your website, but this should be compiled into a handy digital format, such as a PDF file or a Dropbox folder.

That way, if a media outlet wants to feature your business on their website or in a news article, you won’t waste time tracking down content. When you create a PR kit that’s ready to go, you’ll be prepared to make the most of any media inquiries.

2. Learn how to write a press release

Next, write a press release that gets attention from the media. A press release is essentially a “heads-up” that you send to journalists or news outlets to let them know that something interesting is about to happen.

If you’re hosting a local event or opening a new branch of your business, you could take out an advertisement to promote it—or you could just let the media know it’s happening and hope they may be interested in covering it. The grand opening of a business may be noteworthy enough for them to send out a reporter to cover it.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that your announcement will spark anyone’s interest, which is why it’s important to make your press release stand out. Start with a headline that sums up the main point of the press release, followed by a few brief paragraphs describing the who, what, when, where, and why of the event or announcement.

Send out your press release far enough in advance that news outlets have time to ask any follow-up questions or conduct a formal interview.

11 low-cost PR ideas for small businesses to raise brand awareness

PR team researching ideas for small businesses brand awareness

Compiling a PR kit, creating a press release template, and responding to online reviews will ensure you have the basics of publicity for small businesses covered. However, you may need to implement other PR ideas for small businesses to make an impact.

Here are 11 free publicity examples to get your creative ideas flowing.

1. Highlight customer stories

In marketing, it’s common practice to develop buyer personas—imaginary customers who represent the kinds of people in your target audience. But why not tell the stories of actual consumers who had a positive experience with your business?

Customer stories are a bit more detailed than a review or testimonial and often take the form of an interview or blog post. All you have to do is reach out to a few of your loyal customers and see if they’d be interested in being featured on your website or social media posts.

Highlighting customer stories works better for some industries than others. Ideally, the customers or clients you feature will stand to benefit from the publicity too. For example, the accounting platform Wave highlights small businesses and entrepreneurs that use the platform, raising Wave’s profile along with the clients they profile.

2. Work with micro-influencers

Working with influencers allows you to ride the coattails of social media personalities with engaged followers on social media platforms. But big-name influencers can charge high fees for exclusive partnerships and social media posts, putting them out of reach of many small business marketing budgets.

Working with micro-influencers can be a better PR idea for small business owners since they allow you to tap into niche markets at more cost-effective rates.

In fact, some micro-influencers can help you generate free publicity for your business simply by trying out your product or service and reviewing it for their fans. Even if you haven’t paid an influencer to review your product, they’ll still need to meet disclosure requirements by using the hashtag #gifted or #prgift on their post.

3. Seek out brand ambassadors

Brand ambassadors are similar to influencers in that they can extol the virtues of your products or services to potential customers—but there are a few differences.

A brand ambassador tends to be someone who’s already a fan of your business and can help you grow your customer base through grassroots connections. It’s usually a less transactional and longer-term partnership than an influencer arrangement.

For example, if your business makes custom bikes, your brand ambassadors could be people who run local cycling events in each of the cities you operate in. By engaging with potential customers in person, they help put a face to your brand.

Brand ambassadors may or may not be paid for their PR efforts so at the very least, expect to give them free products or other incentives.

4. Get to know local journalists

Sending out press releases can help you get media attention, but developing a personal relationship with journalists is even better. Learn which reporters cover which topics, or “beats,” and contact them directly if you think you might have a noteworthy story.

Many journalists use social media accounts and industry forums to look for stories so being active on these platforms can help you get on their radar. You can also sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out), a website where small business owners and industry experts can volunteer to be a source for a news story. You’ll get an email when a reporter is looking for a quote from someone in your region or industry, and you can reply with your opinion or expertise.

Just be sure to follow the rules when engaging with HARO reporters, and don’t expect payment in return for your quote.

5. Break a world record

One fun marketing idea that can generate widespread publicity for your small business is to break a world record. Not only does breaking a record give you ongoing publicity if you make it into the record books, but simply making the attempt can be a great way to host a local event that draws media attention to your business.

Ideally, your world record should have some relation to your business. For example, a farm in the U.K. recently created the world’s largest mosaic made with pumpkins. The more participation your record requires, the more people in the community will take notice. Invite as many people as you can and make a newsworthy event out of it.

6. Start a referral program

Sometimes word of mouth happens naturally, but a referral program is a low-cost way to give customers an extra incentive for telling their friends and family members about you. Existing customers who make a successful referral can earn a free product, a discount on their next purchase, or even a cash reward. For best results, give new customers a discount as well, offering them a deal that’s too good to pass up.

To streamline the process, give customers an email template they can send to friends and family members that describes your business and the terms of the referral.

Referral programs work especially well for companies that have an e-commerce element since it’s easy to keep track of how many people each customer has referred. However, even sole proprietors like massage therapists and personal trainers can leverage a referral program to reach new customers.

7. Launch a co-branding campaign

Marketing professional launching a co-branding campaign

Co-branding helps you leverage the power of collaboration to get publicity for two small businesses for the price of one. How does it work? Let’s say you’re a photographer who shares a storefront with a puzzle shop. You work together on a giveaway in which the puzzle shop creates a puzzle with one of your best photographs on it.

Co-branding is a great PR idea for small businesses because you can appeal to both companies’ customers, often creating something newsworthy in the process.

Other co-branding initiatives include creating an app, co-hosting a webinar, or starting an email newsletter. To make the most of co-branding, create a high-quality product or service that shows off the best attributes of both brands at once.

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8. Compete for industry awards

Trying to win awards can seem like a distraction from other marketing efforts, but an award can go a long way toward generating free publicity and boosting your credibility. Not only will you get some free media coverage if you win, but you can show it off for years to come on your website or the wall of your brick-and-mortar business.

Start by competing for your local or regional Readers’ Choice Awards or other contests specifically related to your industry. Depending on the competition, you can submit an entry yourself or ask a loyal customer to nominate you.

Even if you don’t win first prize, your business might get shortlisted and mentioned on the organization’s website or social media posts. Adding an awards page to your own website can even boost your search engine optimization (SEO).

9. Be a guest speaker

Being a guest speaker at industry conferences and community events can raise your business profile. You can tell the story of how you started your business or learned how to grow your email list to 100,000 subscribers without any email marketing tools.

Speaking engagements aren’t sales pitches, and the idea is to grow your reputation rather than sell to audience members directly. But it can be a cost-effective way to establish thought leadership in your industry—you might even get paid for it.

Not sure if public speaking is right for you? You don’t have to get up on stage to use this PR idea. Consider being a guest on an industry podcast or writing a guest post for an industry blog. Sharing your thoughts on LinkedIn and other social media platforms can draw attention to your small business without the stage fright.

10. Launch a crowdfunding campaign

Crowdfunding isn’t just a way to get a new business idea off the ground—you can also use it to expand the scope of an existing business. Maybe you’re a food truck ready to open your first brick-and-mortar venue, or perhaps you’re a game store attempting to launch a board game or video game of your own.

In addition to raising money from customers who support your business venture, you’ll also generate publicity during the course of your crowdfunding campaign. Naturally, you don’t want your crowdfunding campaign to be a dud, so make sure you do your research and create a compelling digital marketing campaign to support it.

11. Create an online community

Consider creating an online community around your business. Online forums are especially useful for companies that sell products or software. Customers can go online to share ideas and troubleshoot issues without contacting you directly.

But even small and local businesses can benefit from an online community. For instance, a local gym or yoga studio can create a forum on their website for members to share exercise tips, find a workout buddy, or communicate with personal trainers. A successful community can take on a life of its own and become a calling card for your business.

Most importantly, building an online community makes it easy for you to get customer feedback and address PR issues before they reach the general public.

Watch your business grow with free publicity

PR team in a meeting

Knowing how to do publicity for a small business can help you get free media coverage without the expense of an ad campaign. Publicity differs from marketing in that the goal is to generate interest in your business without paying for it. You can get free publicity by preparing a PR kit and sending out a press release with newsworthy content.

Combine these PR ideas with other online marketing strategies like content marketing and social media marketing to attract more customers to your business.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.