Publicity on a Shoestring

by Jean Clement

Whether you run a one-person business out of your home or have a small operation elsewhere with employees, you still need to let the world, or at least your target market, know that you exist. A tight budget is no excuse for not using publicity to gain attention for your company or to keep in front of customers.

What you do for publicity depends on your type of business, what products or services you provide, and the audiences you target (local, U.S. or global; other businesses or individuals, and whether they're niche markets). Further, it's very important that you stay within your capabilities. A small but effective effort is far better than trying to make a big splash and falling on flat your face. As they say, "Image is everything." You don't want to do anything that will damage your image or cause embarrassment or negative publicity for your business.

Here are some ideas to get you started in your thinking.

  1. Compile an e-mail database by group (customers, associates, media, etc.) of the audiences important to your business. Then whenever you have news from your company, new products or services, special sales or promotions, general holiday greetings, or whatever else you want to tell these audiences, you can send the message directly to them via a quick e-mail. A word of caution: be sure these people have agreed to receive your e-mails, or include at the bottom of your message the option for them to e-mail you a request to be removed from your distribution list.
  2. Write letters to editors of magazines and newspapers that your customers read. You can use this vehicle to show your expertise by providing more information on or a correction to a previously published article or letter to the editor, or to open a dialogue by raising an issue or topic of interest to readers. Just be sure your letter is timely, relevant and accurate.
  3. Call community, business and industry organizations and schools and offer to speak at a meeting, participate in a workshop, give a demonstration, or give a tour of your company's facility if you have something of interest to show. The organization will (should) publicize your participation. If what you'll be showing would make a good photo opportunity, call the local media in advance if the organization isn't planning to do so.
  4. Call producers of radio and television talk shows in your region that cover topics related to your business and expertise and offer yourself as a guest. With this one, you need to be confident that you have in-depth knowledge of the topic and excellent verbal communications skills. For TV you must be comfortable in front of an audience and cameras. Also, be sure to select shows that aren't controversial or where the host may try to trip you up. Remember, leaving the audience with a positive impression of yourself and your business is much more important than being able to go around saying you got on radio or TV.
  5. Participate in a fund-raiser or community event. Donate a raffle or door prize, make an in-kind donation, participate with another business in a co-promotion, offer your facility as the site for an event, or offer yourself as an event MC. Don't be bashful about asking what the organization running the event will do for you in return, such as mentioning your business in its news releases, adding your company name and logo to its posters, programs and advertisements, including you in publicity photos, and making your business's brochures available to attendees.

Jean Clement is the owner of Limelight (, an award-winning public relations and advertising firm in southern California serving business-to-business and consumer products / services clients on the east and west coasts.

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