Interested in free DIY PR for your small business?
Many small businesses can’t afford to hire a firm to increase media coverage. And that’s perfectly understandable. Even just a single press release can cost between $400 and $2,000.
Running a business is expensive, and there are only so many hours in the day. So what’s a small business owner to do when they need to get the word out about their product or service but don’t have the time or money to invest in a PR firm?
The answer is simple: DIY PR.
Instead of relying on pricey traditional advertising methods, there are thousands of reporters out there that will help you promote your business, completely free. If you aren’t using publicity already, you’re missing out on the most powerful and affordable way to market your business.
In this post, we’re going to cover DIY PR step-by-step and walk through 17 ways you can get free PR for your business.
DIY PR – The Difference Between Advertising and Publicity
As a small business owner, you may be wondering if public relations is really worth your time and money. After all, can’t you just stick with marketing and advertising?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, I certainly recommend you continue marketing and advertising activities, but if you want to connect with customers on a deeper level – and create long-term relationships that will benefit your business – then you need to consider adding public relations to your mix.
Free publicity is far more valuable than advertising, and it’s something you can’t buy at any price. While you can make claims and say anything about your business in advertising, it’s often met with skepticism by the general public.
On the other hand, if a newspaper reporter says something about you or your business – people listen. People trust media sources significantly more than advertising messages. The media has inherent credibility and believability versus you making claims about yourself.
As Richard Branson says, “Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.”
Small businesses should all have the goal of getting as much free publicity as possible.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. Public relations helps you build trust with customers
In today’s world, consumers are bombarded with marketing messages everywhere they go. They’re skeptical of ads, and they’re often turned off by hard-sell tactics.
With public relations, you have a chance to build trust with customers by providing them with valuable, informative content that isn’t trying to sell them anything. If they see that you’re an expert in your field, and that you’re interested in helping them, they’ll be more likely to give your products or services a try.
2. Public relations can generate incredible word-of-mouth marketing
If you do a good job with your public relations efforts, then your customers will start talking about you – and their friends will start talking about you, too. This type of viral word-of-mouth marketing is invaluable, because it’s coming from people who know, like, and trust you.
Publicity has the potential to give you free advertising worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) to scale your business. Think about how much it costs to run a full page ad in a local newspaper or national magazine. You can get better exposure with PR, completely free (other than the time you invest).
3. Public relations can significantly improve search engine optimization (SEO)
When you create informative blog posts, press releases, and other pieces of content as part of your media coverage efforts, you’re also helping to improve your website’s SEO. This means that you’ll have the potential to rise in Google search engine results (i.e. moving up to page one for certain keywords), and more people will be able to find you online.
DIY PR For Small Business – Get Free PR
Before we get into any specifics, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the media.
Journalists and reports aren’t there to purely promote your business or highlight your products and services. They want enticing news stories that can capture the attention of their audience.
Think about “what’s in it for me”… you have to give the media what they are looking for.
They want a story and are constantly looking for new information that will appeal to their audience – think about how can you be helpful, informative, or entertaining.
If you’re just trying to send out a disguised sales pitch, no one will read it. That’s not what they’re looking for. Your job is to be a great source of information on your topic – not advertise and make it about you.
Make your angle on the story entertaining, interesting or newsworthy or don’t bother sending out a press release at all. You don’t need a perfect pitch, but be sure that you have something to say that’ll be relevant to an audience.
If you do your job by providing reporters solid info on your topic of expertise, they in turn will give you tremendous visibility and exposure.
17 DIY PR Strategies for Small Businesses
The first step to coming up with publicity is to think of a compelling story.
You might think it’s challenging to come up with story ideas, but we’re going to cover 17 DIY PR tactics to get you started. In reality, once you get started brainstorming, you could come up with hundreds of variations and have an endless list of ideas. Think about combinations of these topics that can fit together.
If you feel stuck, think of the questions people ask most frequency about your product, service, or business. Each one of these could be a great topic for a press release.
If people ask you frequently about how to pick a great insurance agent, write a release telling people what to look for.
Your job is to simply be a solid, reliable source of information for the journalist and to share information that’s helpful and interesting for the general public.
1. Eye-Catching Claim
Can you make an outrageous promise or guarantee (and actually deliver on it)? How are you unique in the marketplace?
What significant benefit do you bring to your customers, and how can you incorporate this into a press release?
Paul Hartunian is a well-known PR strategist who came up with this wildly successful press release right before Valentine’s Day: “I Can Help Anyone Find the Love of Their Life in 90 Days or Less”
2. Connect With Local or National News
Think about how you can piggy back onto popular news stories either at the local or national level. For example, how does the rapidly rising inflation environment of 2022 connect to your business? Is there a way to tie in labor market trends to your audience?
An accountant might talk about how a recent IRS audit announcement impacts their clients. The possibilities are endless here.
This is one of the simplest strategies to implement, it just takes some creativity to connect what you offer to a broader story.
3. Expose Industry Scams and Unsavory Tactics
Pretty much every industry has bad characters partaking in sketchy behavior. This is an opportunity to expose scams, rip-offs, or disingenuous practices that occur within your industry.
One example: If you’re a life insurance company, you could call out the overpriced and unnecessary coverages sold by others in the space. These topics can be controversial and quick to grab attention in media coverage.
4. Give Away Educational Information
Do you currently use any sort of lead magnet or free report for customer lead generation? If not, it’s definitely worth implementing in your business. For a car dealership, an example would be: ‘7 Myths About Buying a Used Car.’
Your free report could serve as your publicity hook and the press release could feature the topic covered. There are a few benefits to this approach: you get to demonstrate your expertise, deliver valuable information, and add a ‘call to action’ to entice people to download the full report from your website (allowing you to pick up qualified leads for free).
If you don’t already, think about opportunities to potentially work with charities and publicize it.
Can you donate non-perishable items to a food pantry around Thanksgiving? Can you donate a portion of proceeds to a local charity? There are ample opportunities to support charities in your local area – all you have to do is make sure the newspapers and TV stations know about it.
Running a contest is one of the easiest ways to get attention from local media outlets. Think about what you can offer – a gift certificate, special service package, a cash prize – it could be anything.
Besides building buzz for your business, this is a great lead generation method, as you’ll collect all the contact info of people who enter. Even after factoring in your contest prize, this typically results in a very low cost per lead (leading to affordable new customer acquisition).
7. Human Interest Story
Think about you, your employees, and clients. How can you tell an interesting story and tie it back to your business? Has your family worked as small business owners over multiple generations? Have you helped others overcome significant obstacles in their lives? Have you done anything interesting over your career?
All of these have the potential for a compelling human interest story you can highlight in a press release.
8. Special Events
Consider hosting a special event in your business – a community appreciation event, a themed party, or kids night. Get creative, make it fun, and then spread the word through the media.
This will generate interest in your business and get people talking about you.
Think about an award you can create and build a lot of excitement around. This could feature someone serving your community (teacher, nurse, philanthropist etc.) or it could be a silly award just to be entertaining. You could even create a special event around it and have an awards ceremony to celebrate.
Think about how you can tie the weather to a news angle for your business or industry. Take advantage of the seasons changing by connecting it back to something in your business.
A few examples:
- Landscaping business writing about how spring is upon us (how to keep your plants alive and grass green)
- Fitness coach demonstrating indoor home workouts during the wintertime (how to stay fit in the winter months)
- Fashion designer talking about the hottest fall fashion trends (what new style is hot right now?)
Everyone wants to hear about predictions. The funny thing is we don’t even care if they are right.
Think about how stock market prognosticators are constantly predicting the next bull or bear market. What predictions can you make in your industry?
12. Solve Problems
What problems do you solve? How have you helped clients and customers solve their problems in the past?
This is more straightforward than some of the other strategies, but still highly effective. Think again about “what’s in it for me” – how can you help the media’s audience solve their problems and make their lives easier?
Challenge the status quo or a common misconception in your industry. Think about all the conflict and debate over certain diets (keto vs. vegetarian) and exercise programs (HIIT vs. pilates).
How can you channel this into your press release? Controversy sells.
14. Educational Class
Consider hosting a seminar or class sharing useful information around your subject matter expertise. This could be anything from a lecture to an interactive workshop, and it gives you the ability to demonstrate your credibility while getting in front of your target market.
15. Be Funny or Entertaining
How can you be unusual, entertaining, and show up differently in the market? Do you have an unusual story behind any of your products? Humor can also be a great tactic for publicity.
The key here is to stand out and grab attention.
Think about ways you can connect your products and services to upcoming holidays. I mentioned Paul Hartunian’s Valentines Day press release above, but the same idea could apply to any holiday. You could have a costume contest for Halloween or a special drink special for Cinco de Mayo.
If you’re looking for even more ideas, you could tie your business into little known obscure occasions over the course of the year – Appreciate a Dragon Day or Scrabble Day. This is another category only limited by your creativity.
17. Be Helpful
If you can be a helpful resource to reporters, you will receive a tremendous amount of press opportunities. They are constantly looking for interesting story ideas – simply ask them how you can help.
One of the most important aspects of public relations is building relationships with journalists and reporters who can help spread your message. These relationships take time to develop, so don’t expect results overnight. But if you’re patient and consistent in your outreach, eventually you’ll be able to forge meaningful connections that will pay off down the line. Over time you’ll build a relationship, be relied upon for quotes, and become a trusted resource.
Press Release Copywriting: The PR Writing Process
Before you start reaching out to journalists and reporters, you need to make sure that your message is clear and concise. Don’t worry about coming up with the perfect pitch – your purpose with your press release is to catch the attention of the reporter, that’s it. Your goal is to get them to call you for more information
What is it that you want to say? What are your key points?
An effective public relations strategy starts with having a clear message that you can communicate quickly and easily. Otherwise, you run the risk of confusing or boring your audience.
Remember: they don’t want to promote your business. They want a compelling story for their audience.
One of the best pieces of advice for anyone doing their own public relations is to simply be yourself when pitching your story idea to the media. If you’re authentic and transparent in your communications, people will be more likely to respond positively and want to learn more about what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through.
Here’s a quick video that covers the mechanics of how to write a press release:
Writing and Formatting Your Press Release
When writing a press release, it is important to follow the proper format in order to maximize the chances your release is picked up by the media. You don’t need any fancy PR tools to do this.
Here are some tips on how to format your press release:
1. The headline of your press release should be attention-grabbing and concise. It should be intriguing while giving a clear idea of what the release is about. I recommend writing multiple headlines while you brainstorm – writing a lot of ideas on paper often leads to great headlines.
2. The first paragraph of your press release should be a summary of the most important information in the release. Using the AIDA framework can be a great way to structure your release.
3. The body of your press release should be well-written and free of errors.
4. The last paragraph of your press release should include a call-to-action, such as contacting you for further information or requesting a product sample. Think about what you want the reader to do next – should they visit your website, purchase a product, etc.
5. Your press release should be formatted using standard grammar and punctuation rules.
6. Keep it brief – your press release should be no more than one page in length.
7. Include your contact information at the end of the press release so that media representatives can easily get in touch with you.
8. Make sure to proofread your press release before sending it out. Errors can make your release look unprofessional and could prevent it from being picked up by the media
One final tip: after a story or interview runs in a paper or on TV, always be sure to send a thank you note. Beyond the goodwill and relationship building, this simple gesture often translates into additional coverage opportunities.
Contacting the Media
Once you’ve written your press release, it’s time to get the word out by contacting the media. There are many ways to do this, I’m going to touch on the top three:
- Email Pitch: the quickest method which is also free. You can often find the best contact to reach out through the media outlet website. Keep in mind email works best when you’ve already established a relationship with the journalist or reporter (you want to avoid getting lost in spam).
- Phone: the most personal method and often highly effective. When you get someone on the phone, provide a brief overview of your topic and be ready to share additional details via email.
- Online Newswire Services: for broad distribution, you can pay a service like PR Newswire to distribute your press release nationwide. The advantages of these services is speed and wide media list distribution at a low cost (you don’t have to find journalists individually).
Media Relations & Your PR Strategy Plan
After reading this post, you have all you need to start taking action.
Don’t abandon your standard advertising activities, but I strongly recommend you add publicity into the mix. As we’ve covered, you can get a tremendous amount of free advertising and built-in credibility through simple DIY PR efforts.
At this point, I want you commit to a monthly PR strategy as part of your business plan. This could be as simple as sending out a press release every 30 days, but consistency is absolutely critical to get your name out there and establish relationships with reporters.
Make sure to use different story ideas for each press release, but a little bit of time devoted to brainstorming will give you plenty of ideas to work from.
In the meantime, watch the news and always be on the lookout for good stories. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can tie them into what you do in your business.
Once you have articles published or TV interviews go live, make sure you display them prominently on your website and marketing materials. As you get more PR success, you’ll quickly become an authority on your subject, gain credibility, and continue to scale your business.
Let me know any takeaways you have in the comments, and as always, I’m interested in hearing how these techniques work for you. Good luck!