Once your business is ready for operation, you obviously want to let as many people as possible know about it. That requires promotion. Promotion is the distribution of information about a product or service to those who may use it. Some business promotions, such as advertising, are more obvious than others, like news stories. In fact, advertising is often called above-the-line (more obvious) promotion, and news stories are part of below-the-line (less obvious) promotion.
How your business plans to use promotion is called its promotional mix. In addition to advertising, some businesses will use public relations, endorsements, sponsorships, product placements, or trade shows to promote their offerings. So can you.
Newspapers, broadcast stations, and some other media thrive on information. For example, a newspaper must fill approximately 50 percent of its pages with “news.” It may be about a recent crime, fire, or scandal. But it may also be about your store's grand opening or a new line of products or services. Your news probably won't make the front page, but it can be somewhere in the paper, attracting readers who are looking for “news.”
Most daily newspapers have a business editor who is looking for anything newsworthy from the local business community. Contact these papers and introduce yourself as someone starting or growing a local business. Then ask what the editor is looking for in news stories. Also ask for a direct phone, fax, or e-mail address. Make sure you know in what issue(s) business news is published and what the deadlines are.
Many new and growing businesses hire a public-relations (PR) firm to help them identify and design promotional opportunities. You establish a promotional budget and hire the agency to help you develop a cost-effective campaign.
How can I find a public-relations firm that will fit my promotional budget?
Start with your local chamber of commerce, mall tenant association, or other business group. Some agencies will be members as well. Ask other members about their PR experiences and whether they can make recommendations. If your budget is small, some PR agencies can assist a group of similar clients (neighbors, related products or services, etc.) pool their resources and cooperate in promotional campaigns.
What kind of “news” can you promote?
New product line
Changes in technology that impact customers
Special sales events
Customer-appreciation events with prizes
The list of promotional opportunities for your business is endless. Read your local newspapers and shoppers, and listen and watch local radio and television to identify promotional opportunities that your business plan can mention to impress its investors.
Wouldn't it be great if local celebrities used and recommended your products or services? It would be a newsworthy opportunity to bolster your business. Endorsements are used by national brands, but they can also be useful to local businesses. Think of the restaurant visited that had signed autographs from national entertainment or sports figures. Your business can have a signing wall as well. If you sell books, consider a writer's wall with titles and signatures from local writers. If you sell sporting goods, ask local athletes to sign a wall or bring a sport photo in for display. If you have numerous visitors from other cities or countries, display a map and encourage customers to put a pin up for their hometown.
Endorsements can backfire on sponsors. Many have invested millions of dollars in endorsements by celebrities who get negative publicity that hurts the sponsors’ image. Make sure that any endorsements you purchase are immune from negative publicity.
You can also attempt to gain endorsements from other local businesses. You can display an ad, menu, poster, or other promotional collateral from other businesses (with their permission) in your store. Offer reciprocal endorsements or offer a gift certificate in your store to other businesses that will allow you to be promoted in their store. Creative endorsements don't have to be expensive.
Local businesses, especially, have opportunities for community sponsorships and related promotions. For example, your business name can appear on youth sports uniforms, baseball-field outfields and scoreboards, car-show trophies, charity prizes, local stock cars, and a dozen other promotional opportunities.
Which sponsorships are right for your business? The answer depends on your specific business. Which sponsorship opportunities are available in your marketplace? Which ones draw the type of people you like to call your customers? Look for sponsorship opportunities that cost-effectively promote your business and make sure that you mention a few of them in your business plan.
Big business spends big money buying what are called product placements. They want to make sure that when actor Ben Affleck is drinking a soda in his next movie, the soda is clearly their brand. And they pay the movie studios thousands of dollars to make sure that it is.
You don't have to spend thousands for local product placement, but it will cost you something. For example, if your business rents and maintains decorative plants for doctor's offices, make sure that your business information is prominently displayed on the product or nearby. If your business sells used cars, try to get a product placement at local banks who, in turn, will get placement and mentions on your car lot. Include product-placement opportunities in your business plan to impress your investors with your promotional skills.
Some small businesses benefit from trade shows. A trade show is an event that attracts people of similar interests or needs. A small furniture store can promote itself by participating in a local home show or bridal fair. A number of local car dealers can sponsor an auto fair to draw buyers in.
A similar promotional event is built around businesses in a specific location, such as a downtown merchants event or one in a shopping mall. The events are promoted through local media and typically feature local entertainment (artists, musicians, writers, broadcast celebrities). There is usually a cost for participation, but it can be less expensive than an advertising campaign while offering better results. However, to take full advantage of shows, you must make sure that it will draw prospective customers and build your brand name.
How can I tell if my trade has a trade show?
The best opportunities can be found by reading newspapers and magazines that serve your trade. Also, trade associations often sponsor trade shows. In addition, check online resources such as Trade Show News Network (www.tsnn.com).