extraAs a business owner for over 17 years, I’ve spent thousands of dollars in advertising.  I’ve had ads in magazines, newspapers, and the like; I’ve sponsored a variety of events for good causes.  And what have I gotten out of it?  Nothing, zilch, zero; except for a huge credit card bill!

What I found is that unless advertising is done consistently, is timed right, and has a compelling message with a sense of urgency, then you’re wasting your money.  GEICO is a great example of this.  With an advertising budget of over $300 million, there’s no place you can go to get away from GEICO.    And it must be working because GEICO is has moved from the number seven to number three position among auto insurers, with sales increasing every year.

You see GEICO’s message everywhere; on television, radio, billboards, newspapers and magazines.  Their message is timely and urgent.  Everyone wants to save money during this slow economy.  But most of us don’t have the big bucks that GEICO has.  And that’s why, in my opinion, for small business owners, traditional advertising is dead.

But that’s not to say that having your name in the newspaper or on television isn’t valuable; in fact, it’s priceless.  If you become the story, (in a good way) suddenly you elevate yourself to expert status.  Having a story about your business in a newspaper, magazine or other traditional media validates your business, adds credibility, and makes your business stand out from the crowd.  That’s the value of publicity; it will get you noticed!

With that in mind, here are 9 tips to help you successfully generate positive publicity for your business and get your name in the spotlight.  Move over GEICO!

1.          Make friends: The number one tip I can give you is to make friends with the media before you need them.  I like what Peter Shankman says in his book Can We Do That? Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them. “Once a year I send out… good karma emails to thousands of reporters.  They don’t ask for anything!”  The intent of the email is to offer the reporter help, as in expertise or a connection.  I have done this with great success.  The idea is to develop a relationship so you can help each other out.  It works nicer that way.

2.         Make more friends: Then once you make friends, make more friends.  The industry is always changing, media is changing, and reporters come and go.  You want to be well connected.  Get to know top bloggers in your field, connect on Twitter and Facebook.  Don’t limit yourself to getting to know people in traditional media.

3.         Pay attention to the buzz: With the economy in a recession workers are under extreme pressure to deliver more results with less resources and time, and reporters are no exception.  The best way you can help them is to make sure that your story is relevant to what’s going on right now.  If the public is talking about recession, providing a reporter with a story idea such as: 7 Tips to Save Money on ________, would be a big help.  The more you can make your story relevant to what’s going on right now, the more likely you will get free publicity.

4.         Make people feel better: Right now people are struggling due to the economy, but your company or employees can make a difference.  ABC 15 in Phoenix featured a story about a business that is collecting water bottles for the homeless.  The contact info to the business was also linked on the ABC 15 webpage.  Talk about great publicity. What could your company do?

5.         Do it up big: This story is so big it’s getting national attention! A Portland Main neighborhood association is aiming to get into Guinness World Records by building the World’s largest Lobster roll on June 7th during Portland, Maine’s Old Port Festival. You can bet the media is going to be there on June 7th to document if they set the record or not.

6.         Party like a rock star: Everyone loves a party!  One of my clients, Joe’s Real BBQ, in Gilbert, Arizona, recently hosted their 11th annual Client Appreciation Event, giving away free BBQ sandwiches and drinks all day!  They set a record serving over 6,184 meals to everyone who walked in the door!  The owners think it’s well worth the time and investment, saying, “We don’t spend a dime on advertising all year, this is the only thing we do.”  It worked for them too; they were on every television station and newspaper in the area for days.

7.         Give it away: You don’t have to do a huge client appreciation event to benefit from giving something away either.  Phoenix area Fairy Tale Brownies got their start by giving free brownies away to the media and companies like crazy.  Those freebies gained them plenty of free publicity, helping them get the start they needed to grow what is now a very successful company.  They still give away tens of thousands of brownies every year.

8.         Hold a contest: Everyone loves to win, and the more valuable the prize the better.  Structure your contest around an upcoming holiday, such as Father’s Day, or a theme such as summer.  Holding a contest gets people involved and is a fun way to get the word out about what you do.

9.         Dare to be different: Media people are inundated every day with hundreds of email messages from companies wanting media attention.  You only have a few seconds to grab their attention and the best way to that are to make your story stand out from the crowd.  Use compelling headlines, but be brief.  Make your story interesting, newsworthy, different, and appealing.    Make sure you’re contacting the right reporter about your story idea, and if you’re not sure ask.  And lastly, once your story is run, contact the reporter and tell them “thanks!”  That will really make you stand out from the crowd.

Publicity should be a key strategy in every small business owner’s marketing plan, and when you know how to do it, it’s easy.  By following the 9 steps to generate free publicity for your company you will reap priceless results.

Wendy Kenney is the crazed creator of 23 Kazoos, a creative marketing company that helps business owners build the buzz through their business through organic (word of mouth) marketing. As an entrepreneur for over 17 years, she has become an expert in small business marketing.

Wendy is the author of the book “Build Buzz for Your Biz: 23 Creative and Inexpensive Marketing Strategies That Will Get You Noticed,” and has won numerous awards including the “Entrepreneurial Mother of the Year.” Wendy has also been a featured contributor to East Valley Women Magazine, and Doctor of Dentistry Magazine. For more information go to 23kazoos.com or you may email Wendy at buzz@23kazoos.com