This is a guest post by Jay Hickman, director, public relations, at MMI Agency.
Everyone has a story to tell, and for entrepreneurs or small startups, the success they have in promoting that story can be make-or-break for the business model. Marketing plans, of course, aren’t free, and putting together a high-caliber communications campaign can be even more costly. So what can the early stage company—with an amazing product/service, but a relatively tiny marketing budget—do to raise awareness for their remarkable story?
1. Use local services
Startups that are based in a town with a media-savvy Convention & Visitors Bureau or Chamber of Commerce might have some convenient opportunities to have their story pitched for them, to national media. These organizations, interested in recruiting visitors, new business or talent to their city, are routinely looking for interesting and inspiring “home-grown” stories to promote the unique experiences or business successes that are possible in their city.
2. Get your timing right
In a similar vein, is your city about to enter the national stage by hosting the next Democratic National Convention, Super Bowl or NCAA tournament? If you’ve got a unique product or success story, you could benefit from the media attention that is soon to be focused on your area.
3. Borrow a little of the local limelight
The local host committees for conventions and major events will be busy preparing their marketing campaigns in advance, and the primary focus will understandably be on the amenities the city offers its visitors. But a secondary focus of their public relations efforts will be on drawing attention to those attributes of the city that can create lasting impressions for visitors, long after all the streamers and confetti have been swept up. The big idea is to put your best foot forward for the region that extends beyond the event. These efforts will rely heavily on local people and places and their stories—the perfect PR hitching post for startups and small businesses.
You might envision the spokesperson for the city saying, “Welcome to our fair town, visitor! While you’re here, visit the unique new restaurant that’s changing dining in our town. Stop in to see our homegrown artisans at work. And take a look at the groundbreaking initiatives launched by these local tech entrepreneurs.” You get the picture.
As an example, the Greater Houston Partnership in 2014 launched “Houston: The City With No Limits,” an image campaign crafted to attract businesses and young professional talent to a city with a strong economy and jobs to fill. One of the campaign’s key elements was built on storytelling; specifically, to share the diverse stories of Houstonians (comprising both natives and transplants from various points across the globe) that had found success in a broad array of fields.
A search was launched to find these inspiring narratives, and an initial group of 10 people were identified to be featured in profiles. One of these people was Gaurav Khandelwal, the owner of a tech startup that has developed a number of enterprise-level Web and mobile applications and launched a unique co-working space for like-minded tech entrepreneurs. His story was told in a highly stylized infographic (pictured, left) that, along with the nine other notable Houstonians, became print and online elements of “The City With No Limits” campaign. Khandelwal’s profile was sent to media markets across the country, and was picked up and run by a number of Houston outlets and on area billboards.
As the Greater Houston Partnership continues its talent recruitment tour through major U.S. metro areas, it will share his story with high-powered influencers in those regions, drawing further attention to his business ventures and the welcoming landscape for entrepreneurship in Houston.
So, for the business owner with the great story (or the PR practitioner representing one), there are publicity options within your city and within your budget. Take a look at your local CVB or Chamber, assess their media relations efforts, then learn what high-profile events might be coming to town. Make sure these organizations know all about you, so that when they need compelling stories that put the region in a positive light, they’ll have you at the top of their list. Response might not be immediate, but it’s good to be on their radar, and it never hurts to have a little extra practice at refining your messaging.
Jay Hickman is Director of Public Relations at MMI Agency. You can find Jay on LinkedIn.