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Effective press releases for small business

Days after a EF4 tornado tore up Central Arkansas and killed 15 people, this press release arrived in the local TV weather team’s inbox:

Saying “enough with the tornado clean-up” to a media person in the area of a killer tornado in question is at best, someone being an inattentive and/or insensitive jerk. The media person who receives it is likely to not only delete your message, but put you on their email block list.

That isn’t why you send press releases.

Why press releases?

If you haven’t written for a newspaper or magazine, or worked for a media agency, you may not realize that many of the stories you see start with ideas seeded with press releases.

Sending press releases to your local media, and selected national media (such as the editor of a nationally-read newspaper, blog, magazine, podcast, etc) can make sense to draw attention to your business and what it’s up to, but only if you don’t make a few key mistakes.

What qualities do effective press releases for small business have, and what should you watch out for? As with any other marketing piece – what matters is your understanding of and ability to reach the audience.

That doesn’t mean your PR should grind to a halt every time there’s a disaster of some kind, but you should make these efforts with care.

What media people need from your press release

Media people need story ideas, but not just any old story idea.

They need story ideas of interest to their readers, which means you need to consider their audience and what’s on their mind.

This isn’t about how many people you can get to see your press release. It’s about how many of the RIGHT people see it.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like the kind of content that you’d create when direct marketing? Of course.

Media people don’t need spam. Like you, they get plenty.

Getting stuff you don’t want to read and aren’t interested in (ie: spam, junk mail) is an annoying waste of time. Why would you expect the reader of your press release to feel differently?

What media people don’t need from your press release

They don’t need you to waste their time

When you send a press release about your new sailboat trailer product line to a writer for a national magazine for electricians, the message they get is something like this:  “My story is more important than anything you’re doing, so I think it’s OK to waste your time by telling you about something that has nothing to do with your readers’ interest, much less your publication’s chosen subject matter.

Media people don’t need story ideas that have nothing to do with what they write about / what their publication covers.

If there’s a tangent that does apply for a seemingly off-topic press release, you’d better make your point quickly. Let’s use the sailboat press release as an example.

If your sailboat product line press release reads like something sailboat owners want to read – DON’T send it to the electrician publication.

On the other hand, if there is a unique technique or technology that you used during your manufacturing process handled grounding, wire protection, or wiring that spends time underwater, then write a press release specific to those topics. That’s something the electricians who don’t sail are more likely to care about.

Media people don’t want to see press releases about stuff their readers don’t care about.

I get press release emails quite often because of the weekly newspaper column I write. I can think of one in the last seven years that had anything to do with what I write about. That one press release was not about an author’s just released romance novel – and yes, I do get those releases.

Think twice before you send

If you look over the press release image, you’ll see that the PR agent’s client is an author and that author appears to have some sort of relationship with Wyndham resorts.

If you’re the author or an employee, manager or stockholder of Wyndham, would you want that PR email blast associated with you?

I sure wouldn’t.

You do PR so people will discuss and hopefully promote the subject matter in your press release. Take care what you send and send it to someone whose audience genuinely cares about the topic.

Simple, right?

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Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!” – Who knows, but it can’t hurt”

Broncos Defense

Any number of claims will be made about this weekend’s Bronco victory in the AFC Championship game, but one stands out above the rest.

Sponsorship evaluation firm Front Row Analytics said the city of Omaha got its money worth with each verbal mention of Omaha worth the equivalent of $150,000 in advertising.

This claim, from an ESPN story about Manning’s calls during the game – each of which generated donations to Manning’s Peyback Foundation, ignores marketing reality and most likely determines the value of advertising based on conference championship football game advertising rates.

Problem is, that’s not what determines the value of advertising – though it can impact the price.

While the PR and donation campaign by the Omaha Chamber is pretty smart, don’t even think about believing the claim that “each verbal mention of Omaha is worth the equivalent of $150,000 worth of advertising”. In no universe is this claim going to hold water.

It’s quite clear that Omaha Steaks’ SVP Todd Simon understands the nature of this project – in this quote from the same ESPN story:

“This is really great for Omaha as a community and for the businesses that are embedded here,” said Todd Simon, a senior vice president of Omaha Steaks, which his family owns. “Who knows whether any of this will translate to the bottom line, if ever, but it can’t hurt.

The emphasis in the above sentence is mine.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a very intelligent project by the Omaha Chamber and they should be quite proud of what they pulled off. It’s particularly impressive to see them jump on it so quickly and get something fun, beneficial and PR-friendly organized after last week’s game against the Chargers, where Manning said “Omaha” 44 times.

It’s also a great example of the “Use the news” tactic that we’ve discussed repeatedly in the past.

“It can’t hurt”

If each of Manning’s 31 mentions of “Omaha” are worth $150k, then Front Row should be able to describe how Omaha can track those mentions to purchase / investment and related actions made as a result. Obviously, I don’t believe they can do this. They can certainly inquire at every sale made over the next few months, but this is unlikely to produce results that would provoke someone into additional advertising investments.

Small businesses should not be investing their marketing budget in “who knows…but it can’t hurt” advertising.

Every bit of your advertising spend can be tracked so that you know whether it worked or not. Don’t let it out the door if it isn’t trackable.

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Golf Boys – The PGA’s First Boy Band. Not Kidding.

Unlike Farmers Insurance, the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) hasn’t really ever come off as an organization with a sense of humor, no matter how funny some of their members might be.

While golf is full of decades-old (if not centuries-old) tradition and is traditionally thought of as a game for the well-heeled, it’s really about spending time with your friends, even when you’re playing a course that would make a good cow pasture.

Friends who golf aren’t just mostly-white, stodgy old geezers in funny-looking polyester pants.

The boy band may not have this on their agenda, I have to ask: What have you done to reach out beyond your traditional market?

PS: Farmers Insurance is donating $1000 to charity for every 100,000 views of this video.


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Jim Koch’s Teachable Moment

Yesterday, President Obama sat down in the White House Rose Garden to have a beer and a “teachable moment” with a couple of Cambridge residents and the VP.

The only brewery CEO who managed to use the event for PR during that famous Rose Garden beer party – Jim Koch, the CEO of Sam Adams.

Not only did he let the press know that he’d brew a special beer for the occasion, he (one way or another) managed to get his beer served during the event despite Red Stripe having the early nod from Gates.

Of course he knew full well that every story in the news would likely mention what beer was consumed (amid all the handwringing about that, geez). Even if it meant giving Gates free a 6 of Sam Adams every week for life, it would likely be worth it.

But…that’s all there was.

Silence is not golden

I searched for stories and press releases about Blue Moon – from Blue Moon – about the event. Nothing.

I searched for stories and press releases about Bud Light – from InBev – about the event. Nothing.

I searched for stories and press releases about Sam Adams – from Sam Adams brewery – about the event. Nothing other than the previously mentioned special occasion brew Koch was talking about. To his credit, Koch had managed to the special beer idea into stories from NPR and many others in the mainstream press.

I searched for stories and press releases about Buckler – from the Heineken brewery – about the event, though that was expected since the beer is supposedly being taken off the U.S. market.

None of these breweries had anything on their website about the event or the fact that their beers were chosen.


I searched for stories from pizza stores and chip/dip makers about why the POTUS should serve their food/snacks during this get together. Nothing. Not even the articles mentioned what sort of chip and dip was on the agenda.

Maybe I missed one somewhere, though there were a few stories asking the public what they’d serve.

Teachable moment? Use the news in your marketing and public relations efforts.

You might think that this is a negative moment to tout your brand/product. Not even close.

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KFC Potholes Fix: Another example of using the news

Springtime in Iowa

In colder climates, it’s pothole season.

As the weather warms, ice and snow thaws and “spring break up” begins. The ground creaks and ripples as some areas thaw faster than others, while others go through numerous freeze and thaw cycles until spring truly arrives.

It begins for the roads too, as thawing ice breaks up pavement and creates potholes (or exposes the ones frozen and smoothed over by ice all winter).

Earlier this week, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) parent Yum Foods offered $3000 to help the city of Louisville fix 350 potholes. In exchange, KFC gets to apply temporary chalk emblems to the repaired potholes saying “Re-freshed by KFC”.

Free publicity you say? (11,000+ results as of the morning of Mar 27 2009) (how many listeners to All Things Considered?)

What exactly to potholes and chicken have to do with one another?

Not a darned thing. And does it matter?


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Is your marketing as clever as the Stimulus Prize Patrol’s?

Whether your politics allow you to appreciate the message in this video or not, you can’t help but admit that the parody is clever.

Odd thing is, I’ll bet you’ve never seen a local business use their own “prize patrol” in any way, shape or form – even if prize delivery wasn’t the goal of putting the patrol together.

The problem is that being clever isn’t enough.

Clever isn’t the objective (neither is cute). Results are the objective.

Note that I didn’t say positive or negative results – just results.

If someone unsubscribes from Business is Personal (or swears never to return<g>) because of this post, that’s a result.

Ultimately, it probably means that they couldn’t really take working with me anyhow. While my name is Mark, sometimes I can be a little Frank.

While the fact that they might leave is a shame for both of us, the right person is out there for that person who leaves BIP and never comes back. Likewise, if someone stays because of this (or any post) at BIP, that is also a result (and a better one, but still a result).

Not everyone has to be – or is ideally – your client. And that’s ok, really.

Clever, cute, useless

You see clever ads that win national advertising awards with regularity. But did they produce a positive return on investment? Did they attract a group of new raving fans for that business?

Guess what – results are not part of the criteria for most of the national marketing/advertising awards that the “big name” agencies win.

Do I enjoy these ads? Sure.

Do I think they are clever? Absolutely.

Do I wonder if the client can find a single identifiable return (or result) from the ad? Definitely.

It’s Payback Time

The job of marketing is not to entertain. The job is to sell, motivate and/or engage. And even to build the Tribes that Seth talks about, though the growth he talks about occurs organically because you do what you do so darned well (among other things).

Don’t get me wrong – The prize patrol could easily be used in a campaign that not only was entertaining, but also produces results. In the case of the stimulus video above, it wasn’t designed to product quantifiable results…or was it?

How many views on YouTube did it get? About 70,000 between Feb 22, 2009 and today (March 14, 2009 when this was written).

But…what did those views produce? Hard to say. If I’m the owner of the site that produced the video, I can look at my inbound links from YouTube and see how many of them turned into donors, subscribers and so on.

Those are quantifiable results.

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Happy Birthday, Barbie!

TM Resort (48)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Picklepud

Anyone in the beauty / spa / cosmetics / girls / women’s products or similar businesses has a nice opportunity to feed off of the likely sizable public relations push surrounding the reveal of the 50th anniversary Barbie’s new face by Mattel.

Yep – she’s getting a facelift (or something like that) for her 50th birthday

Even if you aren’t in one of these businesses, with a little thought there are ways you could siphon off a little free PR from it.

“Take Barbie (and your parents) out to a birthday dinner tonight and get a free dessert” (that was the easy one)

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The folks at Axe Body Spray think like a guerrilla. Can you?

are you  tough enough ?
Creative Commons License photo credit: piotrek plecke

You’ve likely seen the catchy commercials for Axe products for men.

Here’s an example of how they are always looking for the right opportunity.

They could have staged the run. That would have cost thousands.

This cost them a tshirt and a few moments with a camcorder. My guess is that the guy doing the stunt was one of many volunteers, and possibly an Axe employee having some fun.

A little creative thought goes a long way, even if your product isn’t quite like Axe’s.

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Don’t tick off the moms

Motrin learned this the hard way recently, with this ad on their site (note: it might disappear from YouTube):

Want to see what happens when you say the wrong thing to moms?

  • 5,700 hits (as of noon Monday Nov 17) on #motrinmoms, which is a tag for people blogging and tweeting on the subject – that is, Motrin’s misguided website ad about moms who carry babies in a sling.
  • 61,300 hits on motrin+baby+carrying+ad+mom
  • At least 16 people went to the trouble to make a YouTube response video.

You might be thinking that it’s hard to imagine that people give a rip about something like this, but when you insult the same people that your marketing is supposed to attract, it’s not hard to wonder who in your business is on the same wavelength as your clientele.

Peter Shankman has a pretty good angle on this Motrin thing as well – particularly as he wonders who is writing the ad, 23 year old guys or 20-30-something moms, but more importantly that there either isn’t anyone listening, or the right kind of person isn’t listening.

Though it took a while, McNeil has posted this apology on the website:

With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you. On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin Brand, please accept our sincere apology. We have heard your concerns about the ad that was featured on our website. We are parents ourselves and we take feedback from moms very seriously. We are in the process of removing this ad from all media. It will, unfortunately, take a bit of time to remove it from our magazine advertising, as it is on newsstands and in distribution. Thank you for your feedback. It’s very important to us.

Kathy Widmer
Vice President of Marketing
McNeil Consumer Healthcare

I suspect the folks over at McNeil have been taking some of their own medicine over the last few days.

Once again, I’ll say it: Enter the conversation already going on in your customers’ minds. If you can’t relate to the situation of the person you are trying to sell to – find a way to get yourself to relate to it. McNeil could have saved themselves a lot of pain by showing this to 5 moms who work at McNeil.

You can – and should – do the same. If you can’t understand your customers, their problems, their wants and their needs, you’d better find someone who can.

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If 7-11 can use the news, why can’t you?

Over the years, I’ve advised a number of businesses to use what’s currently going on in the news, sports (Super Bowl, World Series, Olympics) and politics as creative fuel for campaigns of this nature:

But few have the nerve to actually do so, particularly as well as this campaign (no pun intended) by 7-11 convenience stores.

The public relations boost from local media alone is worth it. Many times these kinds of things are picked up nationally. This was the case with the introduction of a Palin sandwich in a Anchorage Alaska restaurant called “Lion’s Den”.

In case you want clear evidence, click here to find 1,250,000 search results for “Palin sandwich”.

Could your business use some national publicity for the price of a couple of cases of custom cups, plates, pizza boxes, etc?

If you’re on a tight budget, mosey over to the local election headquarters and tell them you’d like a pile of free stickers to put on your pizza boxes, coffee cups, or whatever.

Let your customers choose which sticker they want. Keep track, make a big deal of it when you announce the results of your very scientific poll just before the election.