Which Presidential Candidate Favors Small Business?

Food for Thought

The problem at election time used to be voter apathy.  People didn’t vote because they believed it didn’t matter much who won.  Nothing would really change.  Today voters on both sides appear engaged and fearful that things will get much worse if the “other” candidate wins.  Undecided voters can sway the 2012 election.

Along with the undecided Ohioan voters, who seem to matter most, very soon small business owners will decide whether to choose a new leader or keep the one we’ve got.  Should the choice be based more or less on how the policies outlined in the campaigns would impact such things as hiring and marketing budgets? What about these larger issues: the ability of the man to lead and his view of the world?

Do You Have a Small Business?

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which uses the 500-worker maximum in its definition, small businesses employ half of all private-sector workers. In 2009, of the 27.5 million businesses in the U.S., 99.7% were defined as small firms. More than 70% of U.S. small businesses are one-person operations.

A lot of numbers are being tossed around in this campaign.  It’s important to remember that statistics are always subject to interpretation and will be cited by each candidate in whatever way helps to make his case. Finding the whole truth will take some digging.

Contrasting the Policies that Relate Directly to Small Businesses

President Obama:

  • When Bush-era tax cuts expire in 2013, eliminate them for anyone who makes a profit of more than $250,000 to stop taxes from going up on 97 percent of all small business owners. The president would allow the top two tax rates of 33 percent and 35 percent to revert to Clinton-era levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively.
  • Expand the Health Care Tax Credit created in the Affordable Care Act to businesses with up to 50 workers (up from 25). This credit seeks to help small businesses afford the cost of health insurance.  In 2014 if you employ less than 25 or are self-employed, you may find that the health care reforms bring you tax relief.
  • Use bank-bailout funds to recapitalize community banks that lend to small businesses and expand lending by the Small Business Administration in order to open up more credit.

Mitt Romney:

  • When the Bush-era tax cuts expire in January 2013, permanently extend them for all income levels. Since the top 3% of small businesses are in businesses that are taxed not at the corporate tax rate but at the individual tax rate, by lowering that rate for these 750,000 taxpayers in that 3%, they will be able to hire more people.
  • Reduce income tax rates by 20 percent and permanently repeal the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.  Pay for these tax cuts by reducing or eliminating as yet unidentified tax credits, deductions and exemptions. If the cuts are distributed equally across the board, the Romney-Ryan budget could cut Small Business Administration funding by 19% ($170 million).
  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act to create jobs.  Romney has cited a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey that found three-quarters of small businesses said they would be less likely to hire due to ObamaCare. (The NFIB, whose funders are undisclosed, recently has come under fire for allegedly representing the interests of big business and for primarily backing Republican candidates.)

What Are the Signs of a Good Leader?

The Harvard Business Review says that the two most important qualities in a good leader are trust and empathy.  I would add that trust comes largely from a perceived integrity and shared values.  Real empathy involves actually walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

According to renowned motivational speaker Tony Robbins, a good leader has:  “the ability to influence the thoughts, emotions, and actions of other human beings.”  Robbins cites as important “energy and passion,” pointing out that, “There’s a level of connectedness that leaders have with others. It’s their ability to get things done and make progress that sets them apart.”  Let’s not forget perseverance and, wouldn’t you agree, those same qualities are key to success for small businesses owners. 

How Important is Each Candidates’ World View to Leadership?

A candidate’s world view is derived in large measure from his/her personal past, which in part foreshadows the future.  World view is likely to shape domestic as well as foreign policy positions. The results, in turn, can have an effect on U.S. small businesses.

How would these factors influence Candidate Romney’s leadership

choices as President:

·         successful business record as a venture capitalist with Bain Capital
·         initial failed bid for governor of Massachusetts and the Olympics turnaround that to some degree resulted in his subsequent successful bid in 2002
·         failed presidential bid in 2008
·         “out of the mainstream” religious views and work as a missionary
·         his early life as the son of Michigan Governor George Romney

  How would these factors influence President Obama’s leadership

choices in a 2nd term:

·         success in becoming the nation’s first African-American president
·         success and pride in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2009
·         success in overseeing the mission of eliminating Bin Laden as the head of al-Qaeda
·         lack of success in achieving bipartisan support in Congress on several issues
·         earlier role in the Illinois and U.S. Senate
·         the multi-cultural influences in his early life

Consider the Role of Campaign Spending

Broward Bulldog, an independent non-profit online newspaper, reports that “Since Labor Day 70 % of outside spending on the presidential race made possible by the Citizens United  Supreme Court decision has benefited Mitt Romney, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. More than $106 million of the $117 million spent on the Obama-Romney matchup since Sept. 3 has been on negative ads, with President Barack Obama absorbing more than $80 million in attacks, according to the analysis of Federal Election Commission data.”

Is Running the Government Just Like Running A Business?

Because in a democracy the process of running a government really is different from that of running a business, neither candidate will be able to have everything completely his way as President.  Although the buck stops with the Chief in both cases, a Commander-in-Chief does not have the same kind of power as a Chief Executive Officer. That’s where leadership qualities and the world view come into play. While a CEO has every right to change direction whenever it helps profits and benefits his company, a Commander in Chief must demonstrate clear and consistent, not contradictory, positions in order to persuade colleagues and earn support worldwide.

Summing Up

In essence the choice should be a visionary who shares your values, a truth-teller whom you would trust to make a tough critical decision, but who also has empathy for the less fortunate and who seeks to represent all the people.  You want someone whom you can count on to grasp the big picture, search for the middle ground and not shoot from the hip.  You want passion but not a zealot.

You want someone who has the same leadership qualities that you have as a successful business person, but someone who also possesses the perspective and ability to inspire the cooperation that it takes to function really well within a democratic system as the leader of the free world.  Tall order?  Ultimately the decision may rest with the undecided swing state voters.

HOW TO MARKET A SMALL BUSINESS IN TOUGH TIMES

SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING ON A SHOESTRING

Word of mouth can be your best spokesperson. This post is a four-step outline for building your small business without an advertising budget.

 1. BUILD A SOLID FOUNDATION FIRST

• Know who your clients or customers are and what they want; create a profile of the ideal client/customer.  This definition becomes your target audience.

• Perfect your professional profile and photo. It all starts with YOU!

• Figure out what makes you different and how to say it in a “sound bite” or “tag line.” These words become your key message. Create your “elevator speech,” a 60-second summary of whom you help and how.

• Get your house in order so that you won’t fail to deliver on your promises.

• Sketch out a plan with a tentative timeline and budget, including:

1)  Website – This is your online brochure and list builder. It must have educational value and continually fresh content as well as good design.
2)  Blog – Regularly demonstrate your knowledge and industry expertise; posts can later become an ebook.
3)  Brochure–Goes beyond the business card for trade shows, luncheons, etc.
4)  Create desirable incentives, freebies, special discounts and rewards for your target audience, and offer finder’s fees for referrals.
5)  Newsletter marketing can reach current and prospective clients/customers via your website or directly through email.

2. LEARN and PRACTICE PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING SKILLS

The best way to get new clients or customers, far and away, is by being recommended.

Networking is not selling. It’s making business connections, seeking and giving referrals.

• Become a connector who facilitates business introductions.

• Join your local chapter of Business Networking International and other groups.

• Take on pro bono activity and make known your involvement.

• Choose and engage in appropriate social media.

3. DON’T HIDE YOUR LIGHT UNDER A BUSHEL

Small firm visibility can be increased through publicity, which is more credible than advertising. Understand what the media considers news and what editors want.

• Event marketing can be used to obtain publicity.

• Surveys and case studies can also generate publicity.

• Trend articles can demonstrate your expertise and be recycled.

• Speaking platforms let you reach beyond the captive audience.

4. GET THE HELP YOU NEED

Marketing is not something you do with your left hand. Don’t think you can go it alone or expect your existing staff somehow to do double duty.

• Look for experienced marketing counsel with some knowledge of your industry.

• Use your network to find professional marketing help at a price you can afford.

MARKETING SURVIVAL MUSTS

TODAY’S SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING SURVIVAL MUSTS:

A LEAP OF FAITH AND A SENSE OF HUMOR

For the moment the debt ceiling crisis has been averted, but it’s no secret there will be challenges in coming months for the small business ROI. 

Let’s start with the good news:  sales of luxury goods are up, corporations are sitting on a good deal of cash, the Federal Reserve has vowed to keep interests rates near zero, and a lot of people are pushing for quick remedial action. 

What’s the situation right now?  Fueled by the unprecedented Standard and Poor’s rating downgrade and abetted by economic distress impacting Europe, fiscal uncertainty will color business decision making at least for the rest of 2011. 

Until Thanksgiving business will hold its breath, watching and wondering whether the 12-member Super Committee will make the deficit reduction recommendations needed to avoid triggering automatic spending cuts in 2013.  The nail biting will continue until the Congressional vote in late December.

Given that situation and all that goes with it, today’s small business CEO survival kit should contain a leap of faith coupled with a good sense of humor just to stay the course. 

Don’t Toss Out the Baby with the Bathwater

Long-term marketing efforts should not be the first to go just because they may be hard to measure. In theory your initial business plan was based on a sound strategy and you have made prudent adjustments over time.  A review may suggest more revisions, but hoarding gold is not the answer.  Why uproot a solid foundation simply because it turns out it will take longer to build the house?  Trust the decisions you’ve already made, and just reduce the pace as needed. 

Better ways to save:

  • Shop carefully for office equipment and supplies
  • Risk the mayhem and reduce insurance coverage
  • Cut shipping costs
  • Eliminate interest charges by paying on time or in cash
  • Cancel all but essential memberships, frills and perks 
  • Postpone the new hire; instead use contract services or freelance services and/or offer incentives to the existing staff 
  • Barter for goods and services
  • Do some of it yourself, but only if it doesn’t detract from your core business.
  • If all else fails, employ robots!

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

See how comic Stephen Colbert Explains the Debt Ceiling Deal & the Coming Super Congress.

Learn from the poem Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.   Look for the humor.  Find something to laugh at or at least smile about.   Your smile will be infectious. “Rejoice, and men will seek you.”  Network.  Be charismatic.  Let business find you.

Solitude

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;

Weep, and you weep alone.

For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,

But has trouble enough of its own.

Sing, and the hills will answer;

Sigh, it is lost on the air.

The echoes bound to a joyful sound,

But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;

Grieve, and they turn and go.

They want full measure of all your pleasure,

But they do not need your woe.

Be glad, and your friends are many;

Be sad, and you lose them all.

There are none to decline your nectared wine,

But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;

Fast, and the world goes by.

Succeed and give, and it helps you live,

But no man can help you die.

There is room in the halls of pleasure

For a long and lordly train,

But one by one we must all file on

Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Nine Well Tips for Business Righting

(MUCH BETTER: Nine Good Tips for Business Writing)

Why nine?  Ten is overdone.

You are a businessman or businesswoman, probably an expert in your field.  It’s likely you would not have gotten where you are without first knowing the basic rules of grammar and how to put words on paper.  You know what makes writing good or bad, right?

Why then might you hire a freelance business writer?  Ask yourself whether you just want to blow bubbles or you want to blow bubbles with kittens inside them.

Tip #1:  Your press releases should follow an accepted journalistic style; and it also helps to learn what reporters and editors consider newsworthy so you don’t waste your time and theirs.

Writing is an essential part of all business communication.  It’s how you get your message across.  For example, if you’re starting a business in the Fort Lauderdale area, you may rely on publicity in local newspapers to help get the word out.  Do you know how to get someone to write about your business?  Do you need to hire a local free lance publicist?

Tip #2:  Strive for web content that does three things:  keeps visitors coming back, converts them into customers or clients and attracts search engines. 

If you have a website, or need a website, you need to know that content is king. Business writers and web content writers always write for the reader. But what is it about writing that persuades or engages visitors?  What does it mean to write in pictures?  Your web content should be educational and informative and at the same time colorful and interesting.

Tip #3For your blog, or for the one you don’t yet have, you’ll need copy that’s crafted for blogging and includes keywords that search engines more likely will find.

Do you know what gives words power and which words create more compelling copy?  Does your blog copy hold your reader’s attention? How personal should it be?  When should you add a “call to action?”  Time is money. Do you have time to keep your blog fresh?  Most writers will admit they find writing hard work but thoroughly enjoy having written! Ah, there’s the rub!

Tip #4:  Business writing, unlike creative writing, is best kept short

Since busy people more and more access Facebook, Twitter and e-mail from their small-screen cell phones, it’s important for your message to grab the reader and be concise so there’s less scrolling involved.  Put the key message upfront.  Don’t lead into it.

Do you know which words can safely be left out without risk of distorting your meaning? Example:  It isn’t necessary to use the word “that” after “say” or “think.” What’s the best way to present complex information?  When there’s a lot to say, condense it to three bullet points.  Paraphrase.  Summarize.  Use examples.  Pick one important statistic.  Don’t be boring.

Tip #5:   When creating copy for your e-marketing campaign, use words to motivate, but be credible; and avoid headlines that are spam triggers.

Don’t turn away your prospects with copy that isn’t believable.   I cut my teeth in the advertising industry where a word can make or break a product.  Words like “new” and “improved” were powerful in product advertising because research tipped off advertisers that consumers wanted better and better products.  Those two words could motivate a consumer to buy.  In today’s world, certain words can dump your message right into the spam can.

Tip #6: It’s always safer to choose the word you know.  Don’t take a chance on one that may not mean what you think it does.  When in doubt, rewrite the sentence.  And choose the one-syllable word.  

Much like football, communication requires a sender, a receiver and a message.  It also requires listening or reading.  Communication is not complete until the intended receiver is holding the ball. Fumbles with words – choosing the wrong one and using it incorrectly — can be costly and embarrassing to say the least.

Here’s a bit of advice.  I would advise you to be sure you know the meaning and proper use of common words like these:

  • Podium.  It’s the platform, not the lectern.
  • Disinterested.  It means neutral, unbiased.  Not interested?  No!
  • Peruse is a careful review, not a casual review.
  • Hone means to sharpen; home refers to pinpointing a target.
  • Nonplussed  means bewildered, not unimpressed
  • Discrete means separate unless you spell it “discreet,” in which case it means allowing for privacy.
  •  If it is complementary, it completes, unlike a compliment, which flatters.
  • To each “their” own is just wrong!  It’s to each his own.
  • That or which? – If the clause cannot be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence, use “that.”  If the clause is parenthetical, use “which.”

Tip #7:  Ask someone to read what you’ve written to look for red flags before you hit “send.

My long-time favorite saying on communications is this:  “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Perspective, tone and style contribute to your message. Do you bring the right perspective to the subject?  (Are you talkin’ ta me?)  Is the tone friendly, or not so much?   Writing style can be verbose, descriptive, detailed, terse, bold or flippant.  A word can be redundant, politically incorrect or convey bias.  Varying the pace or rhythm of the piece can help to hold readers.

Tip #8Try to stay on top of things.  (I know, right?) 

For example, Oxford Dictionaries Online has added a ton of new abbreviations related to the Web.  Did you get that memo?  Twittersphere and unfollow are words now.  Of course, a sheeple would never unfollow anyone.

Tip #9:  Allow me to hammer in the importance of proofreading – again and again — with fresh eyes and on a different day if possible.  Fact check! 

Whatever else it may be, business writing should always strive to be accurate and clear.  I’ve heard it said that writing is re-writing, which makes proofreading and editing vital to the process.  A writer’s first draft is rarely the best.  Don’t rely on spell check totally.  Spell check helps, but it won’t alert you if you’ve used “there” when you should have used “their” or “they’re.”

When it comes to shoes, although we may not know our Manolo Blahniks from our Christian Louboutins, we ought to do our best to spell the words right.

As Congressman Weiner recently learned, it’s not what you say, it’s how you type it.  A typo in a tweet address apparently turned a private photo message into a public one.

Words matter.  Make them work for you!

Marketing Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo 2011 is upon us, so look for parties and special promotions with Margaritas a plenty.  Why not make the most of your Margarita experience (and impress everyone) with a little knowledge about tequila?  My knowledge comes from working  in the  wine and spirits importing industry and from free lance writing about wine and spirits.

The Margarita remains the best-selling cocktail year ‘round in bars and restaurants throughout the country.  With help from marketers, the wine and spirits trade easily keeps the Cinco de Mayo spirit alive every month of the year by promoting unique experiences with Mexico’s most popular drink and by teaching patrons how to tell their Margaritaville from their mescal.  It’s not clear exactly which year or by whom, but in the mid- to late 2000’s, National Margarita Day was declared on February 22nd.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council, the introduction of upscale tequilas back in the 90’s helped make tequila the fastest-growing distilled spirits category.  Sales jumped 75% while spirits overall declined. Nearly two dozen new tequilas came onto the scene in 1999 alone.  Jose Cuervo and Sauza became the world’s best-selling tequila brands.

Most American drinkers first tasted tequila mixed in a Margarita or tossed down as a shot.  Many Mexicans (and savvy connoisseurs) sip tequila followed by Sangrita, a non-alcoholic chaser of citrus juices and grenadine.

Bartenders and restaurateurs are on the front lines when it comes to teaching interested patrons the options for tequila drinkers. Traditionally, a Marguerita is made with tequila, Triple Sec and lime juice. Some consumers opt for margaritas made with aged super premium tequilas mixed with upscale liqueurs such as Grand Marnier instead of Triple Sec.”

High-end tequilas (premium or super premium) can cost upwards of $25 a bottle.  Anejo, Reposado and Silver Espolon, for example, are produced from estate-grown 100% agave, crafted without any chemicals, flavorings, colorings or alterations of any sort and aged in specially built barrels.

There were six Tequila categories in the 2011 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, held March 1-4 at New York City’s Astor Center.   Expect to pay $100 for Grand Mayan Extra Añejo, top winner in the Extra Añejo 100% Agave Tequila category.

Tequila Tutorial

Understanding tequila, which is roughly an 80 proof spirit, is a little like understanding wine.  Origin, production, age and labeling are important.  Over one hundred varieties of agave plants grow in Mexico and the southwestern U.S., but tequila is made only from blue agave plants (in the lily/amaryllis family), not from cactus plants; and (unlike mescal) no worms are found in tequila bottles.

  • Production is controlled by the CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council)
  • Norms (NOM), established in the 70’s, call for each authorized distillery to have a designated NOM number, and approved tequila brands display it on their labels
  • Authentic tequila can only be made with at least 51% of the blue agave extract
  • Blue Agave can only be harvested, and tequila can only be produced within five Mexican states:  Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.
  • Tequila must be distilled twice and aged (14 days to 7 years) only in oak barrels (which impart color).*
  • Labels must include the words “hecho en Mexico,” (made in Mexico), the producer’s registration and ID number, plus the tequila’s age.
  • Anejo means “aged” (barrel-aged at least one year)
  • Reposado means “rested” (aged two months to one year)
  • Oro means “gold” (aged up to two months)
  • Blanco “white or silver” (aged up to two weeks, or essentially not aged)

*  There are no regulations about what may have been in the barrel before, such as a lesser quality tequila or another spirit altogether.

Is Traditional Networking Dead?

This post advocates the preservation, versus total abandonment, of old-style business networking at least until Xtreme Networking becomes truly widespread and each new person one meets is screened for value in four minutes. (Interestingly, in recent years a Chicago company has been offering such speed dating style networking events for business.)

Lately I’ve attended a lot of local workshops, breakfast, lunch and after-hours meetings in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton.  I’ve watched a lot of webinars.  My goal is to help clients achieve their best marketing return on investment (ROI).  To do that I need to keep up with the latest trends and to continually educate myself about changes in the way goods and services are marketed in 2011.  It’s also part of my own networking plan.

All the meetings I’ve attended so far were ostensibly designed to educate the under-informed; but, of course, the underlying intent was to sell services.  Similarly, social networking seeks to engage potential customers through a mutually-beneficial dialogue, but the underlying intent is still ultimately to sell something.

Not what you’d call a “newbie,” I’ve been immersed for decades in advertising and professional public relations; yet I’m learning a little something new with each session.  Essentially a freelance business writer, I take copious notes.  As I review them, one thought keeps haunting me:  “The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.”  Let me attempt to draw a few parallels.

Martha and Maxine Talk About Networking with Social Media, Etc.

Martha’s Way

Maxine’s Way

Build your reputation through personal branding I don’t own any cows
Synchronize LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages with your website and Blog Try dialing the phone
Write an insightful Blog every week Take more naps
Recommend and Friend people Friend is not a verb
Start a dialogue and engage people Oh, shut the duck up
Develop friendships, not leads Don’t call me, I’ll call you
Use links for better SEO results SEO? New sausage recipe?
Set up RSS feeds Is that like the KISS principle?
Keep an eye on your ROI as you go viral Only under doctor’s supervision
Use Google Analytics to gauge results Analyze THIS!

Seriously, the point is that face-to-face networking is still alive and well, and e-mail is not quite dead yet.  We shouldn’t be too quick to declare things “dead.”  As always, marketing efforts work best when integrated or synchronized. In-person networking can flow in tandem with social media networking. Just as a book can still become a movie, a blog post might become a video.  Someone you meet at a business function can be someone you connect with on LinkedIn or Friend on Facebook.

Not a sausage recipe, search engine optimization (SEO) is, of course, vital when it comes to being found by Google’s “spiders” and by other search engines.  If you are paying to help ensure that your business can be found when someone searches for it on the Internet, SEO that works will surely enhance your ROI. But don’t forget to put a sign out front that can clearly be read by approaching cars.

For my money Really Simple Syndication (RSS) doesn’t quite qualify under the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (KISS) principle of old.  RSS feeds aren’t that simple to explain, yet the benefit is not complex:  easily being able to subscribe to and read timely updates from favored websites. RSS feeds are a great time-saver, yet you may still want to track down a hard copy of that newspaper article with your quote and photo in it so you can frame it.

Both word-of-mouth and viral marketing rely on trust.  Most people still will not spread the word about a product or service, either in person or through social media, unless it comes from a trusted source, such as possibly a medical professional.  We still need our soft skills, reputation rules and words still matter.

Various methods of measuring advertising’s effectiveness have existed as long as advertising has existed.  Google Analytics is simply a modern version of tracking your advertising ROI and more.

Even as I write, technologies are being developed that will present new and faster ways to do things. But it can’t hurt to review your options when you choose how and when to embrace those new ways.  It’s important to note that audiences are not migrating from one medium to another. They are spreading their attention across all platforms. For example, people are watching more online videos than ever, yet tv viewing is actually on the rise as well.

Until everyone owns and can operate a smartphone that scans an encoded business card which instantly takes them to a website, or until the facial recognition app is perfected, we will still exchange uncoded business cards and later visit each other’s websites.  In the extreme, we might even want to get out of our comfort zones, attend a “meet and greet,” shake hands and send someone a hand-written follow-up note!

Your Best ROI

Advertise Or Publicize for a Better ROI

You are a small business owner looking to find new customers.  Perhaps you’re a professional services provider and need new clients.  Or you’re heading a non-profit development department and need new donors.   You know that marketing is necessary, but how do you really know where to put your dollars for the best return on investment?

Marketing is the umbrella term that covers a number of options to reach the same destination – get new customers/donors/clients — but each option takes a slightly different road.   This blog contrasts advertising and publicity.  Both can be part of a marketing plan to help raise visibility, get your message across and help to establish and build your reputation.  A reputation for good quality and service eventually leads to a sale,  donation or new assignment.  Other marketing techniques include creating events, seeking speaking opportunities, using direct mail and promotions.

Advertising 101

Advertising is paid for by the advertiser.  Readers, viewers, visitors and followers know that.  Thus, the advertising message has less credibility than publicity.  Advertising often has broader reach and definitely greater frequency if it runs as part of an ongoing campaign.

Good advertising is professionally designed to 1) attract attention quickly amidst the clutter of messages seeking attention and then 2) to communicate and repeat a clear message to motivate action.

Publicity 101

The term “free” publicity is a misnomer because, to be effective, publicity-seeking is done in a professional manner by trained professionals who specialize in media relations.  Keep in mind that a company or firm does not obtain publicity simply by sending news releases to media personnel.  The process is more circuitous than direct, and it is not instantaneous.

The art of obtaining favorable publicity involves knowing:

  1. what makes news
  2. which medium will be receptive to a story idea
  3. what will appeal to a particular editor, reporter, columnist or TV producer, and
  4. how to approach that person in the way he or she prefers to be approached.

Media relations professionals cultivate relationships with journalists in order to increase the odds of placing a story on behalf of a client.

Publicity is not controlled by the seeker, not paid for directly, but instead must be obtained by persuading the editor or reporter that the message is one that his/her readers, viewers, visitors or followers want to know about.  Because we have a free press, publicity is never guaranteed.  Traditionally, the “persuasion” is done via a professionally-written news release or “pitch” in the form of a letter, text or phone call.

Publicity is sometimes actually perceived to be the opinion of the medium in which it is seen or heard.  Thus, publicity creates a valuable third-party endorsement.  Publicity coverage can also be “merchandised” to increase its reach by, for example, distributing an article that contains a quote to a target audience via e-mail and calling attention to the quote.

It’s important to know that “hard news” from the point of view of the media is not about selling a product or service.  The media covers changes, human interest, controversy, noble gestures, recognition, et al.  They also selectively cover “soft” or “created” news, which can be achieved by staging an event.   Many times the primary purpose of an event is to create an opportunity for publicity that would not otherwise exist.

Last but not least, the more prestigious the medium, the more difficult it is to obtain publicity.  In other words, if your goal is to be in Business Week, and your business is a start-up, you may have to advertise.

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