Advertising and promoting your business professionally and effectively are critical to your success. This section includes numerous articles on marketing that will help you stay on top of trends and avoid common mistakes.
The materials are organized into section headings. Please feel free to scroll down to view those sections that interest you. They are listed as follows:
• Conducting Market Research
• Customer Retention Strategies
• Determining Your Target Audience
• Developing Your Corporate Identity
• Effective Direct Marketing
• Making Presentations
• Newsletter Development
• Proofing Documents
• Working With an Advertising Agency
• Writing a Business Plan
• Writing a Sales Letter
• Writing Effective E-Mail Copy
• Writing Press Releases
• Yellow Pages and Listings
If you think of other marketing topics you’d like to see added, please let us know.
Conducting Market Research
The Importance of Market Research
Brochures, tear sheets, business plans, marketing campaigns, direct mail, catalogs, reports and sales information sheets need to land in a writer’s in-box first. Researching the product or service before writing is the most important step, and is often ignored. So, what information should be studied prior to writing?
- What are the features and technologies of the product or service?
- How do the features benefit the consumer and what’s in it for them?
- What are the consumer advantages of using the product or service?
- What are the disadvantages and how does the manufacturer counter them?
- What is the product or service guarantee, such as repair and replacement guidelines?
- How does the product or service compete in the business market?
Understanding the product or service in-and-out is the first step. Next, who is the consumer, or target audience, of this product or service?
- What are the demographics, or external characteristics, of the target audience?
- What are the psychographics, or internal characteristics, of the target audience?
- What is the main concern to consumers about the product or service?
- What motivates the target audience to purchase the product or use the service?
Understanding the target audience on paper is one thing, but understanding how the target audience speaks, thinks and acts is another. Read the magazines the target audience subscribes to. Attend trade shows and review trade publications. Schedule a focus group, or request former transcripts. Writing for a target audience is very difficult without first conducting some research. There’s a huge difference between “faster shopping,” which is vague, and “faster shopping with more checkout lanes,” which focuses on how shopping is easier. Focus on what the target audience needs and answer how.
To answer how, you must know the difference between features and benefits. Features are characteristics helping the consumer differentiate between products or services in the market. Benefits show the consumer how the product or service features meet their needs.
Consumers want to know how a product or service can make them happier, richer, smarter or fitter than the average consumer. In order to measure results, first review the main focus of the campaign. The focus determines whether the campaign generates sales or inquiries, answers questions, establishes brand recognition, revamps brand identity, introduces products or services, or changes concepts.
Customer Retention Strategies
People tend to do business with companies recommended to them by their friends and colleagues. Regardless of the product or service, a consistent client list and a positive referral file will inspire confidence in a new customer. Recruiting new clients is only the beginning; keeping client files current and maintaining positive customer relationship is what drives a business. When customer relationships are neglected, the result is bad word-of-mouth and lost business.
An important element in building customer relationships is finding the right person to head the customer service department. The person in charge of customer service needs to earn the respect of both the customer service representatives and upper management. It’s a poor move to make this a dump position by putting an inexperienced person in charge. Instead, choose a person with a strong reputation who is enthusiastic about the position. This person will be responsible for keeping moral high among the customer service representatives and working with customers who may be upset. In other words, this person is your connection to the outside world, so hire or promote someone who is courteous and assertive.
When a customer service manager is in place, they should review and revise the current customer service guidelines. What works? What needs improvement? Begin with concrete guidelines, not fluff-filled objectives such as “service with a smile” or the “customer is always right.” As well, you should replace vague phrases such as “fast response time” with something clear and measurable like “answer the phone in two rings.” Attempt to consolidate and reduce the customer service representatives’ files and procedures package to a simple, easy-to-follow guide. Simplifying policies and empowering representatives to handle customers quickly and directly will improve the overall customer service experience.
Design a thorough training program for new representatives to attend before they work with customers. Begin with discussing management expectations and answering questions. Have each new representative listen to phone calls, take orders, file customer complaints and record recommendations. Pair new representatives with more experienced ones during their first month of service. Provide a tour of the company and invite representatives to ask questions or visit with upper management. Post customer praise on a bulletin board for representatives and management to read.
Handling customer complaints is an critical aspect of customer service. Most customer complaints are related to pricing or billing. There are three steps for handling customer complaints. Begin with listening and allowing the customer to complain or ask questions. When they are finished, ask what can be done to resolve this situation. The customer might have a quick solution, so follow it within reason. If the customer does not provide an amicable solution, offer one or two reasonable options. For example, send the customer a coupon for a future purchase, replace the damaged item or grant a full refund.
Empowering customer service representatives the handle and resolve situations is the most important step in customer service. To often customers hear “I’m not authorized to handle this or worse, these are the rules I have to follow.” Deflecting customer complaints or transferring customers 30 times is poor customer service. When the business is at fault, make a goodwill gesture and admit to any errors. In order to maintain the relationship, you must show appreciation for the customer and attempt to exceed their expectations. Most customers continue using the business or service when problems are handled in a prompt and efficient manner.
Determining Your Target Audience
Knowledge of your target audience provides focus for marketing and advertising campaigns and makes it possible to measure results. Research is the foundation of a marketing plan. Using an existing database is one approach to researching target audiences. Databases house information about what customers have purchased, when, how much it cost and what promotional offers received responses. Research companies can provide database information at a range of prices, depending on size and depth of the list. Businesses can conduct their own market research, too.
Interviewing, distributing surveys, and conducting focus groups are all approaches to gaining information about your target audience. Interviews involve asking standard questions one-on-one, whereas focus group participants provide responses in a facilitated session. This achieves complete and accurate information about a target audience and provides verbal and nonverbal clues about how to reach them. For example, listening to how someone speaks indicates what tone will reach them. Research should answer who uses the product or service, when and where they use it, and for what purpose.
The gathered research is used to determine the demographics and psychographics of the target audience. Demographics describe attributes such as sex, race, income, education and location. Psychographics describe emotional characteristics such as how the target audience feels or acts, and basic behavioral characteristics. Understanding both the demographics and the psychographics of a target audience can lead to increased sales and marketability.
Focusing on features, advantages and benefits is the trick to acquiring and retaining customers. Start with establishing a connection with the customer. What does he or she want to achieve from using this product or service? Next, determine the customer’s situational circumstances and environment. Learn how to meet those needs or how to overcome specific barriers. Then, choose an action plan for the customer to use this product or service and then obtain a purchase commitment.
Researching target audiences produces measured results, in addition to establishing customer rapport. Focus on developing new customer relationships and building on existing ones with newsletters, special offers and events. Finding the target audience and understanding it is the first step to reaching it. Maintaining that knowledge is an ongoing process, and the foundation of smart business.
Developing Your Corporate Identity
A corporate identity will span the course of your entire business, from your logo to your business cards and letterhead. It’s designed to create a brand identity for your company, product or service, and evoke an emotional response from your audience.
Whatever your size, whether you’re a mom and pop or an international megacorporation, a solid business identity can set you on equal footing with the competition. A solid identity can make a small company seem as large as the industry giants.
A corporate identity usually includes a graphic symbol will serves as a reflection of your company, audience and future goals. If done right, your identity will exude confidence and automatically invoke an immediate and positive consumer response.
Although it may be tempting to save money on your corporate identity, there are some things you shouldn’t try to do on your own. Unless you have a graphic designer on staff, leave your corporate identity to the pros. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be involved in the process, but look for professional help to get you started. If all goes well, this will be a permanent identity for your company, lasting for many, many years. Don’t be afraid to seek help and spend a little money on this all-important component.
Your job primarily will be to define what will be your focus. Where has your company been, what are doing now and where are you headed? Surprisingly, many try to develop an identity without thinking about the future, but that’s a mistake if you want your identity to support company progress.
Many companies think of a business identity as merely a logo or catchy phrase, and while both of these can be essential aspects, the identity extends far beyond the primary symbols. Your business identity should embrace the best aspects of your company. If you have the best customer service, your identity should support that. If you claim to be the leader when it comes to technology, the design should reflect that. Identify your key strengths and make those a point of focus.
Clarity should be another goal of your corporate identity, and many times that equates to simplicity. Dominating the visual landscape and incorporating all possibilities into one identity can prove confusing to your customers, or just plain annoying. Anything potentially confusing to consumers should be avoided at all costs.
When you begin to research your corporate identity, start by examining the competition. Find out what they do, how well they do it and what works for them. What does their identity say about their company? Do you see their logo across town and hear people asking about their company? Once you define their approach, examine your own company and define the strengths that will drive your corporate identity.
In the business world, you often hear the phrase, “location, location, location?” Likewise, when you’re developing a business identity, the name of the game is “consistency, consistency, consistency.” Everything should be consistent, from business cards and letterhead to marketing brochures and Web site. Even the interior design of your office should support your corporate identity.
Once established, your identity should accomplish three missions for you. It should inform your current customers and prospective new customers about who you are and what you do. It should persuade your target audience to act in a positive way toward your business, allowing you to grow as a company. Lastly, it should influence perceptions of your company in a positive direction.
Effective Direct Marketing
Lance landed a direct marketing campaign for Super Toaster Ovens in April. After researching their target audience and conducting a focus group, he designed a tri-fold brochure. Using a list he obtained from a marketing firm, he dropped a bulk rate mailing the second week in June. Later, Lance received a phone call from his client requesting information about the customer responses. He calculated the response cards and discovered that there was a low market return. Why?
Reaching customers is a tedious process, as Lance discovered, so understanding a direct approach to marketing a product or service is essential. Direct marketing is a distinct advertising medium in that, in many cases, it requires the customer to take direct action. Other advertising and public relations mediums serve to support direct marketing through brand building and market positioning.
In order for a marketing campaign to be a form a direct marketing, it must have three components. The first component is placing an offer in front of a potential customer. This does not mean the customer has to purchase a product or service, but the customer must be called to action. Again, this separates direct marketing from other advertising mediums that provide information, but don’t necessarily require a call to action.
The second component of direct marketing is the customer’s response efforts. For example, a customer must have a method to respond to the offer, whether it’s a phone number, reply card, Web site or e-mail address. This component prompts the customer to request additional information or make a purchase.
The third component is monitoring the customer responses. Responses can be measured in phone calls, reply cards or Web site traffic. Customer response tracking is one approach to learning the return on the marketing investment. Another is actual product sales driven by the mailing. In order to be considered a direct marketing campaign, a potential offer must reach customers, they must have the means to respond and the responses must be measured.
So how are prospective customers reached? Mailing lists. Companies provide mailing lists for a small or large fee, depending on the scope and depth of the data. For example, those who subscribe to the magazine Better Homes and Gardens are on a mailing list. Better Homes and Gardens is a magazine, not a mailing list provider, but it does have the option to sell the subscription list to direct marketing firms.
Two examples of mailing lists are compiled and response lists. Compiled lists are accumulated from, but not limited to, phone books, permits, trade directories, credit records and advertising files. Response lists involve customers who responded to previous solicitation. Magazine subscribers, buyers of specific products or services, and financial contributors to charities or clubs are all examples of response lists.
Direct marketing is an active approach to prospecting customers and testing new methods. Perhaps Lance’s research didn’t lead to an effective marketing piece, or the list he used wasn’t as targeted as he had hoped. There are many variables in direct marketing, but when they come together, it can be an effective approach to reaching new customers.
In business, the first 30 seconds of a presentation determines whether or not an audience is going to listen. Proper preparation is the first step to winning an audience. Making a positive first impression and dressing for the part is second step. Be consistent with the introduction and conclusion, focusing on objectives, advantages, benefits and action steps. Keep the presentation short, to the point and simple. Avoid clichés, complex jargon and abbreviations that could confuse audience members. Tell the truth and be direct. The ability to deliver a presentation can make or break a career, so be prepared.
An effective presentation ends with a call to action; what should the audience do? Tell the audience what the message is and how it can benefit them. Understanding the barriers you’ll need to overcome to reach the audience members separates the amateurs from the professionals. Next, sell the core message to the audience and persuade them to take action. Research the audience beforehand in informal one-on-ones or in mini-presentations; what are the backgrounds, education levels and preferences? Connect using interests, expectations and goals. When an audience understands how a presentation will affect or benefit them, the members are more apt to listen.
Giving a presentation is a performance, as well as an information session. Plant both feet on the floor and avoid pacing. Give direct, approachable eye contact. Avoid looking from one side of the room to the other; instead, have a mini-conversation with one person for about five seconds and then move to the next person. Find one or two audience members who are listening and taking notes. Use those members as anchors to return to when others are distracted. During a question-and-answer session, be prepared for hostile questions.
Hostile questions are the hardest part of a presentation, and should be handled with caution and tact. When asked a hostile or inappropriate question, often from a competitor or someone with a chip on their shoulder, repeat and rephrase the question including the emotion associated with it. Then, either answer it using factual information (not emotion), or offer to meet with that person one-on-one at the end of the presentation. Most audiences do not want to sit through an argument or heated discussion, and should appreciate the diversion.
Most presentations include multimedia aids, such as a PowerPoint presentation. Take backups on Zip disks or CD-ROM, extension cords and extra connection cables. When using a Web site, store it on the hard drive instead of using a direct line to the Internet, which could be unavailable or slow. Presentation rooms might lack all necessary equipment or live connections, so plan ahead. Be sure to test everything before the presentation and allow enough time to troubleshoot any problems. Prepare, review and practice a presentation several times before giving it. Be open to scrapping a presentation that is not on target or reaching the audience, or soliciting feedback to make improvements.
So, What’s the News?
That’s how a colleague of mine recently approached me and asked how I was doing. Because we had little time, she basically wanted the bullet points on my life in a quick summary. It’s likely that your clients want the same thing from you. If you’ve wondered how best to reach your audience in a timely, effective and inexpensive manner, you should consider publishing a newsletter.
The first American newsletter was published in Boston in 1704. Now churches, businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations and interest groups publish newsletters regularly as an effective means of communicating with their audiences. If you’re not publishing one already, where do you start?
First define your target audience. Who will be receiving this newsletter and what do you want them to know? A clear, concise definition of your target audience will help you design the approach you want to take. Newsletters can lend credibility to your organization or business, demonstrating that you’re a progressive group with an eye to current affairs.
A newsletter will demand that you and your employees stay abreast of the latest issues surrounding your field and make you a better, more knowledgeable competitor. Perhaps an employee of yours has been studying up on a specific area of expertise, but is too rushed with daily operations to share it with others. A newsletter will provide an outlet for that employee to share his or her ideas. Employee moral will benefit if everyone is encouraged to actively participate in a publication.
Newsletters can be published weekly, monthly or even quarterly. The best choice for you will be found in the content you plan to include in your newsletter. Organizations with weekly meetings and constantly changing schedules might find a weekly newsletter to be more helpful. Information can be updated at a moment’s notice. Businesses that like to include coupons for their services may opt for a monthly newsletter to keep customers coming back on a regular basis. Alternatively, because producing a newsletter can be time-consuming, some businesses opt for the quarterly newsletter, perhaps focusing more on the larger picture than the little details.
No matter which option you choose, publishing a newsletter is a lot of work. The best way to streamline production is to place one person in charge. This person should have some skill when it comes to editing and be able to write with personality. Newsletters should not require intense study, but rather should be a collection of bullet points or headlines to catch the eye of the cursory reader. Otherwise, you can quickly lose the interest of the reader.
Don’t Send Junk Mail
Time is a precious resource and one that should be respected as you develop your newsletter. Most importantly, ensure that the content of your newsletter is worthy of the reader’s time. Make it informative, fun, easy to read and helpful. Make note of the time of year and what your customers need to know specific to that time of year. For example, a car repair shop might provide information on winterizing during the late months of fall.
Design a consistent layout that is attractive and easy to read. Fancy fonts can sometimes catch the eye, but also be difficult to decipher. A standard block print makes it easier on the eyes. Bold headlines will attract the reader’s attention and allow them to scan quickly for the information most pertinent to them. Brief reminders and articles that address specific concerns should be the focus. It should also serve as a reminder of upcoming events.
So You Published a Newsletter
The process of producing an accurate sample of a document or printed piece for internal or client review is called proofing. Composite proofing, also known as comprehensive proofing, is used in commercial printing and produces an output of the document’s images, line art and text elements. Off-press proofing checks for a document’s images, pagination and colors. In other words, how a document will look when it prints. Before sending a document to a printing press, proofread it for errors.
20 Proofreading Tips:
- Use a red pen to proofread and mark errors.
- Read the document forward, checking for proper grammar.
- Read the document backward, checking for misspellings.
- Check and recheck dates, names, addresses and phone numbers.
- Check headlines and subheadings.
- Check spacing and margins.
- Check photos and illustrations, and for correct captions.
- Check quotes and documentation.
- Check abbreviations and contractions.
- Check for doubled words, such as to to.
- Check fonts, punctuation and fragments.
- Check subject/verb agreement.
- Check nouns and verbs, and avoid slang words, unless appropriate, jargon, and cliches.
- Check for consistent verb tenses and voice.
- Check for paraphrasing.
- Read the document aloud. Ask someone else to read it aloud.
- Turn the document upside down to eliminate word distractions, then check it again.
- Note that spell check recognizes there, their and they’re as the same.
- When in doubt, reference a dictionary or thesaurus.
- Take a break and then proofread it again.
Working With an Advertising Agency
Developing a solid relationship with an ad agency will greatly benefit your product or service in the marketplace. That statement might seem overly simple, but in fact, it’s the first step to planning a successful campaign. When responsibilities are unclear on either the firm or client side, relationships break down and campaigns can suffer as a result.
Try to treat your advertising agency as a partner, not a vendor. Send them copies of your newsletter or sales bulletins. Include them in the product or service testing process and ask for their feedback. Testing is at the center of consumer behavior. It helps to narrow the focus of the message and how it will be delivered. Testing answers the questions about total sales, costs per sale, total responses, average orders and other consumer behaviors.
In addition to sharing insider information, invite the account executive and creative team to marketing and sales meetings, and to product training. Provide the account executive with an updated product and service list, in addition to distributor and competitor information. Include them in business operations and prepare organized presentations so the agency can move on to brainstorming and creative development.
In subsequent meeting with the agency, keep the meeting guidelines consistent and provide changes in writing after each meeting to ensure clear communication between both parties. Review and return the body copy and layout design in a timely manner, so the creative team can get back to work on making the necessary revisions. Try to be realistic about the resources and limitations of your agency before requesting monumental changes.
Deadlines exist on both sides, so work with your agency to ensure that deadlines are attainable. When campaigns go well, share the credit and praise. When things aren’t so successful, share the blame and work on a solution together to avoid future mishaps. Positive results take time and building trust in the relationship between agency and client is the first step. When uncertain about the effectiveness of a campaign, ask to see other advertisements or campaigns as a point of reference. Campaign success depends on a building a strong relationship with your ad agency.
Writing a Business Plan
The purpose of a business plan is not to evaluate the business and move forward, but rather to sell its purpose to prospective investors. Essentially, a business plan is a sales document. Business plans are sometimes confused with marketing plans, known as the blueprints to a business. Marketing plans are detailed documents about business planning, sales and growth, whereas business plans are used to promote a business to outside investors or internal management.
Reaching and connecting with the investors is at the heart of a business plan. Investors want to know how their investment in the business will benefit them, what the profit potential is, and how to cash out on their investment. Most investors have endured two or more presentations and business plans, so choose investors with an interest in the field. Give an honest and realistic presentation, make sure the numbers add up, and be prepared for questions. The more prepared the presentation and business plan, the better the chances of securing an investment.
There are four components to a business plan: the description of the business, the marketing plan, the financial plan and the management plan. The first component is the description of the business. The business description should include information about products or services, and whether it’s a partnership, proprietorship or corporation. Prepare information about licenses and permits, and the location and facilities.
The second component to a business plan is the marketing plan. The marketing plan is focused on whom the target audience is and how to reach them. Include research information about the audience’s sex, race, income, education, and their relationship with the business. List customer benefits and be specific about how you will communicate them to you audience.
The third component is the financial plan, which determines a budget for both start-up and operating costs. Start-up costs are the fees and expenses needed to open a business, and operating costs are those that are needed to keep the business open and running. Permits, licenses, equipment, supplies, rent, insurance, wages, salaries, taxes and maintenance are examples of start-up and operating costs.
The final component to a business plan is the management plan. The management plan is devised to support personnel and, in turn, promote customer service. This plan should include salaries, benefits and vacation time, as well as operating procedures and manuals. In effect, it’s the blueprint to how the upper management and personnel will operate.
Business plans are used to promote and sell a business to investors. In addition to the business description, and the marketing, financial and management plans, a business plan should include summaries, supporting and legal documents, and financial projections. This provides an accurate description and projection of the business to a prospective, and perhaps future, investor.
Writing a Sales Letter
The headline is the first information a potential consumer reads in a sales letter, so give some thought as to what it will include. What is the benefit of using the product or service? For example, an appropriate heading for a business sales letter could read, “48-Hour Turnaround or It’s On Us.” The heading is short and to the point. Subheadings inform the reader of the purpose, or selling point, of the sales letter. For the reader who glances through the letter to decide whether or not it’s worth the time, subheadings provide enough information to encourage continued reading.
The first paragraph has to convince the reader to finish reading the entire sales letter. The first paragraph needs to answer the age-old consumer question “what’s in it for me?” The trick is to answer “what’s in it for me” and make it short and to the point. For example, a good offer for a parent could read, “For $19.95 You Can Choose Between Three Photo Packages, Each Valued at $29.95.” Then, at the end of the sales letter remind the reader about the previous offer and include added incentive, for example, “Order a Second Photo Package for $9.95.” Ordering the second photo package is a call to action for the reader.
The message follows the opening heading, subheadings and the first paragraph to provide detailed information about the offered product or service. Incorporate highlighted words, whether underlined, italicized or bold-faced, to emphasize specific selling points and consumer benefits. The consumer needs to know the business is credible, so be specific and avoid fluff-filled statements such as “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” instead use, “Guaranteed for Six Months or Receive a Brand New Printer.” Six months is more credible than “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” which is vague and inconclusive.
Consumer testimonials are one of the most effective selling points in a sales letter. Consumers want to read about other consumers who are satisfied with this product or service, or in other words, “nothing sells more than success.” Ask previous consumers to provide information or to complete a questionnaire about the business. Request a release to use the information in the sales letter or other promotional pieces.
Sales letters can be one to eight pages in length, depending on the amount of information. There is no right page amount, so length should be based on the amount of interest in the product or service. Use a 12-point font in a readable typeface, such as Times New Roman or Arial. Address the consumer in name, such as “Ms. Brown,” or based on her role, such as “Dear Client” or “Dear Friend.” Handwriting the address and using a stamp increases the readership, but using mailing labels is acceptable. Go with what works, and review the procedure with each letter you produce.
Writing Effective E-Mail Copy
Many e-mail users go through dozens, even hundreds of spam messages mail (unsolicited commercial e-mail, the online equivalent of mass direct mail) every day. And just as many people throw away junk mail, Internet users often delete spam e-mail without reading it. Though it’s nearly impossible to craft direct e-mail that everyone will read, there are some effective techniques for increasing response levels.
The most important part of the message is the subject heading. Often this determines whether or not a user will open the message or just delete it immediately. Try to develop a brief, relevant subject heading that will persuade recipients to open your message. Summarize exactly what the message is about, or include an offer that will compel them to act. As tempting as it may be, you should always avoid sneaky headings unrelated to your message. Once users read the message, they are likely to become frustrated and delete any future messages from the same address.
Use a conversational and informal tone to make the message seem more friendly, open and intimate. If the message appears stuffy or boring, users will quickly lose interest. Always write in the language of your audience, but don’t use too many slang words or your message (and company) will appear unprofessional.
Keep the message short and sweet. Get to the main points quickly as you can flesh out the important details afterwards. Make sure your message is clear and all pertinent details (i.e., price, ordering instructions, product specifications, etc.) are easy to locate. In the age of the soundbite, most users lose interest if your message takes too long to comprehend.
Try to motivate readers to act immediately, whether through a “limited time offer” or another premium. Your call to action should include specific instructions on how to proceed. Whether it’s calling an 800 number, visiting your Web site or purchasing the product outright, make sure the action step is clearly stated and easy to execute. When appropriate, include automated links to your Web site. If a customer wants more information before making a decision, this will allow them to do so without feeling pressured.
Even if you have a great product, effective copy and a list of prospects who solicited your information, it’s inevitable that some recipients will want to remove themselves from your list. It’s important to be respectful of their wishes and include an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of your message. Internet users appreciate the ability to control their e-mail traffic, and you can ensure that your e-mail is reaching only those who want to receive it.
Writing Press Releases
Press and news releases are integral parts of a press kit, in addition to profiles, photos, business strategies, mission statements, testimonials and press clippings. Each part of a press kit provides an information byte for the media and general public to learn more about your business. That’s why it’s so important to have an organized press kit, and press releases written with purpose.
Writing a press release is similar to writing a news article that you would find in a newspaper, trade publication or business magazine. Press releases should either publicize an upcoming event or focus on a newsworthy issue related to your business. For example, a grand opening, major expansion, industry recognition, a public appearance, or release of a new product are all newsworthy issues that could be highlighted in a press release.
Before writing a press release, research the audience demographics of a publication or station to determine whether or not the information is appropriate. Contact news sources and find out who reports on this type of news, which section it would appear in and how that person wants to receive the press release. When it’s time to write the press release, use the professional letterhead and write PRESS RELEASE at the top of the page. The clearer the information and headings, the better chance the editor will read it.
Since news sources report on immediate news, not impending news, it’s preferred to submit a press release close to the time of the event it’s highlighting. Instead of submitting a press release on Monday about a news event on Friday, submit it Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the editor’s deadlines and preferences. Press releases that are dated for a later release can often end up in a pile of papers never to be read. Make the press release relevant and for immediate release.
List the contact information of two to three people at the top of the press release for quick reference. Include titles and phone numbers. Headlines should be short and to the point, and although writing a good headline can get the release noticed, note that most editors prefer to write their own headlines. The preferred approach to writing body text is in the inverted pyramid format. The inverted pyramid format places the most important information in the first paragraph, ending with the least important information or add-on details in the last paragraph. This allows readers to get the most important information right away, since many will not read the entire article. It also makes it easy for an editor to cut information from the end to make it fit the publication.
The first sentence should answer five main questions and each following paragraph should be separate and answer one of the five questions: who, what, when, where, and why. Avoid business jargon, abbreviations or acronyms. Double-space the entire document and add adequate margins so that a reporter or an editor can write notes. Use simple, clear sentences and avoid redundant writing. Conclude with ### to represent the end to the press release. It’s preferred to submit a one-page press release, but if you must submit two pages, number each page 1 of 2 and 2 of 2.
Submitting a photo with a press release is another option. A standard 5×7 gloss finish photo is adequate, but understand that most photos are not returned, so do not send your only copy. Knowing an editor’s deadlines prior to submitting a press release is crucial. Do not pester the editor with follow-up phone calls, as most are writing under pressure. The editor will contact you if he or she has questions regarding the press release.
Writing a press release that contains accurate information is your job, deciding whether or not a press release is newsworthy is the editor’s job. You cannot control whether or not your press release will be deemed newsworthy, but if you follow the above guidelines, your release will have a much better chance of being considered for publication.
Yellow Pages and Listings
Listings are an integral medium of advertising for small businesses. The Yellow Pages, business directories and notification ads are examples of listings. The difference between listings and traditional advertising mediums is that consumers seek them out. For example, consumers looking for a plumber are likely to look in the Yellow Pages. Whereas traditional advertisements are placed in magazines or newspapers where readers are likely to see them while looking for something else.
Generic business listings can be found in the Yellow Pages, the Silver Pages for senior citizens and the ethnic Yellow Pages. Some advertising trends, such as grocery coupons printed in Wednesday newspapers, can be subcategorized under listings. This is considered a listing because consumers search the Wednesday paper for these ads. Trade publications, such as publishing magazines, also feature ads listing available products or services. This is an example of a listing because trade publications target a specific reader, and that reader knows to check the publication for trade-specific products and services.
Employment agencies, newsletters, bulletin boards, trade journals and magazines are suitable locations for product and service listings. The local Chamber of Commerce can provide additional listing sources. In addition, local newspapers can have special interest sections that cater to small business advertising. Whether looking in the Yellow Pages or local newspaper, consumers can find a product or service information they need.
Listings provide a consistent, cost-effective form of advertising to small businesses. Listings also eliminate the chance for ad agencies to receive media offers and discounts, meaning listings provide the same, fair rate to both ad agencies and small businesses. Due to their affordability and the fact that consumers voluntarily reference them, the Yellow Pages, trade publications, professional newsletters and magazines are a great place for small businesses to start when developing their marketing plan.