PR: Your Business, Your Brand


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PR Basics: Promoting Your Business Cost Effectively

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  • Tell people about your business, but don’t be boring.
  • What’s an elevator speech? It’s a 30-60-second pitch that tells potential customers, investors and partners why your business is important. Called “an elevator speech” because you should be able to complete it in the time it takes to get to your destination on an elevator – usually 30-60 seconds. Competitions are held each year for best elevator speech. The best known is one that venture capitalists attend – at MIT. In Chicago, an annual contest for best elevator pitch is sponsored by the City of Chicago …
  • Who? Where? Why?Who are your customers? How old are they? How much money do they have? How much education do they have? Where do they live? Why do they want your product?
  • How to reach them? How many ways can you name?If your customers are young/trendy/hip, you might consider reaching them through events/festivals, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube. If your customers don’t have a great deal of money to spend and/or are older, try print ads and articles, radio and TV, direct mail, point-of-purchase materials and local events.
  • Have a plan!It doesn’t have to be a huge document (unless you’re looking for a bank loan). Just a few pages with bullet points will do. Perhaps you pick out 5 ways to tell your particular audience about your product over the next three to six months. You do have to allow some time to get the word out.
  • Gotta have a budget.Once you’ve developed your marketing plan, you need to allocate funds for each of your marketing/communications elements. If you’re web-savvy and creative, you can do many of the marketing tasks yourself, and save TONS of money. And if you CAN’T do it, and have a vision, perhaps you can barter with others to get what you want. I once got a logo from a designer for just a pitcher of margaritas. Tip: try not to allocate too heavily for just one marketing element; and make sure to get several quotes for design, printing and web site work. Make sure you review the supplier’s work carefully before proceeding and ask LOTS of questions.
  • Have a phone number. And answer it. Professionally.It sounds basic, but we have all have friends, relatives or business associates who do this. You give out your home or office phone number to your potential customers, but you never listen to your voice mail or get back to your customers. Mostly you never answer the phone.  If you’re always out and about, you can consolidate your phone numbers with a service called Grasshopper. It’s a virtual phone system for entrepreneurs that starts at as little as $10 a month and lets you get calls anywhere. OR, you can even have your home phone forwarded to your cell phone if you’re always out. Answer your phone professionally (your friends will understand) with your name or the name of your business.
  • Have a business card. But not an ugly one. Many of you are in creative fields, so a business card is a great way to showcase your talents. Order them very inexpensively from Vistaprint, or even create one-of-a-kind cards for about $20 at And see Smashing Magazine for some incredible business cards…from letterpress…to die-cut….to hand made
  • Introduce your business with a news release. Check out just about every business like yours and you will probably find a news release on the web site. Start out by telling the media about your business and why it’s important. Stay away from pointless hyberbole and stilted quotes. Check the big PR agencies and web sites for products you admire and copy the style shamelessly.
  • Get your release out.If your business is in the Chicago area, check out the Community Media Workshop. You can get a complete Chicagoland media list, which will save you a whole lot of time, as well as lots of tips on how to reach traditional and social media as well. For online, try a great free resource so the media can find your release on the web:
  • Perfect your pitch.It helps to follow up with the media to “pitch” your story. Do you have a special event or sale coming up? Do you have an interesting story to tell? Call the reporter with your short-and-sweet story. (An elevator pitch works especially well here).
  • People love postcards.Rather than a big brochure, maybe you can tell your story in a short form, and save lots of money in the process. Design your own online with a service like Vistaprint, or design it in Ilustrator or Photoshop and have a local printer print loads of them….you can get 2,500 4 x 6 cards for about $100.
  • Have a website. But not an ugly one. There are NO excuses these days for not having a web site. And unless your customers are a remote tribe living on an island in the Pacific you really do need one. There are lots of free website development tools out there that allow you to produce a beautiful site without knowing any code. Some possibilities we like are , and www.typepad.comWix is a flash site, and is popular with photographers and designers; Typepad and Squarespace are great if you want to include a blog or want to update your site frequently. All of these tools let you create sophisticated web sites free or virtually free of charge. With SquareSpace and Wix, you pay a web hosting fee of less than $15 a month.
  • Get out.I really mean it. There are loads of festivals, shows, networking events out there. We know you can showcase your business. Frequently, the best way to sell your product is to let people try it, or to show people that you’re passionate about what you create. Build a spreadsheet of events that you want to attend and make a point of getting out.
  • Tell your story. If you like to write or create often, a blog allows you to tell your story and build a community, too. There are many free blogging tools available, like Blogger and Blogspot and quick-blog tools like Posterous. Whatever you do, if you decide to blog, find your voice and be consistent at expressing yourself and at blogging.
  • Conversate with others. Facebook and Twitter are FREE, people. And they give you a chance to make virtual friends in places that you might never go to. For an artist, it’s a way to exchange creative ideas, get the word out about your latest works and network! If you haven’t yet, start a Facebook fan page and add information about you and your products. Facebook ads can cost as little as $25 and can help to build a fan base.  Go to Twitter and create a Twitter page. Start posting interesting stuff: photos, blog posts, interesting things you have read. Follow people you admire. Follow media people and people in your line of work. Retweet stuff that other people have said that you find fascinating. Join in Tweetchats with groups of entrepreneurs.
  • In conclusion It’s never over. The marketing starts when you answer the phone. And continues when you are at a store, or a trade show or a gallery talking about your creations. And continues as you work to engage admirers and customers and would-be-buyers in a fun, interesting way. As you build your community, you’ll find that doing your own PR is time-consuming, but there’s really no substitute for it. And for the start-up, it’s the perfect way to learn who your customers are, why they buy from you and how you can keep them engaged.
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