May 19 2014, 7:42am CDT | by Forbes
By Ritika Puri
When launching a business, building your brand is a critical first step. But hiring a top public relations firm can cost as much as $50,000 a month, according to Harvey Farr, president of Farr Marketing Group. Fortunately, you don’t need pockets that deep to achieve public relations success.
Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on an external PR agency, start by leveraging the talents and assets your team already has. The process may be scrappy, but it’s highly authentic and potentially very high-yield. There are a variety of effective PR strategies that can work on a shoestring budget. Follow this step-by-step guide to get started:
Step 1: Focus on your story
How does your brand add value to the world? The answer to this question is what journalists care about.
“As a startup that is entrenched in an ecosystem with wealthy storage companies, we can’t afford to out-spend them,” explains Rion Harman, head of marketing for MakeSpace, an on-demand storage and delivery service. “But what we do have is a great story.”
Harman explained that PR has been MakeSpace’s biggest driver.
“I’ve been at MakeSpace for just over two months, and I’ve been lucky enough to land a piece about us nearly every week: Apartment Therapy, Brooklyn Based, NY Magazine (Best of 2014), Lucky Magazine, Daily Candy, Of A Kind, PIX11 News, TimeOut NY, Quartz, Fast Company, VentureBeat, Brokelyn, Televisia and more.”
MakeSpace’s PR strategy is straightforward: be authentic to your company’s goal, purpose and vision.
Harman’s pitch is short, to the point, and focused on explaining his company’s value proposition and service. He explained that a PR strategy should be centered on the unique narrative and benefit that a business provides.
“Our company naturally has a timely and interesting story, so I made sure the reporters I thought would be interested knew that we existed,” he said. “They could make the call from there about whether or not we were right for their publication.”
Harmon noted that this strategy has had a snowball effect. “These media outlets read and watch each other,” he said. “Each successful opportunity would make it that much easier to get the next.”
Step 2: Get technical
Harman explained that cold-pitching is hard work.
“It takes a lot of time to really understand each publication and what they are looking for, and even more time to craft a relevant pitch to their writers,” he said. “Cold pitching is not easy. You have to know who you’re talking to. And you have to send a lot of emails.”
Keep in mind that the time you invest in PR is an opportunity cost. When you’re spending time pitching journalists, you risk neglecting other business needs./>/>
“We’ve been pitching and finding new publications since about two months before launch,” said BrewCrate founder Samuel Gimbel. “It first started as a way to build an email list and continued as a strong source of subscription growth through the new year.”
To automate the information-gathering process, Gimbel built a tool that collects information from websites relevant to BrewCrate’s business. The team used this technology to extrapolate trends, identify locate journalists and determine potential PR channels.
“We pulled articles to distill a list of authors,” Gimbel said. “We created email lists based on this information to write more targeted and effective pitches.”
However, Gimbel emphasized that this process should be used in moderation.
“Authors are busy, and contacting them more than once is the easiest way to get sent to spam, and rightfully so,” he said. “If you’re cognizant of this and keep your communications short and to the point, this is absolutely the cheapest way to get press, especially in publications you wouldn’t seek out through traditional means.”
Step 3: Focus on adding value
Another effective way to publicize your brand is to team up with companies that are trying to reach a similar customer base.
He added that it’s important to give before you expect to get.
“I spent most of my time finding ways to keep writers interested and sending free kits to people to try,” said Gimbel. “This led to some launch day press and a lot of leads in the next couple months.”
According to Gimbel, “You don’t have to know a lot of people when you start a business.” But as you build your brand, add contacts and keep in touch with them regularly. That’s a large part of what expensive PR firms do, but you can do it, too—without breaking your young business’s budget.
Ritika Puri specializes in business, marketing, entrepreneurship and tech. She writes for American Express OPEN Forum, Forbes, Investopedia, Business Insider, CMO, the SAP Innovation Blog, and others.
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