Public Relations on a Shoestring Budget

public_relations_on_shoe_string_budgetBy Gordon Benzie


Having just discussed the importance of measuring the incremental marginal value and marginal cost of public relations as a way to determine an optimal level of investment, sometimes that option simply doesn’t exist. If you only have a limited budget, then you must simply learn to make do with what you’ve got.

For the purpose of this post, let’s assume you have at least some funds that can be allocated to PR. For your initial public relations campaign, you need to start small. Regardless of your budget, spending a high proportion of available cash flow on an untested, unknown marketing activity is needlessly risky, so don’t do it! Instead, set a few targeted objectives and allocate a modest budget to accomplish.

Most importantly, you must be able to measure these actions with metrics that matter. Then give yourself a minimum of 3-4 months to lay the foundation for your Public Relations campaign to allow for a bit of a “runway” to experiment with a couple of activities. Often a campaign will “grow legs” and set in motion other, related actions that bring rewards and opportunities you never even considered.

First Steps

Once you have mentally committed to this “experiment,” the first step is to identify an objective or goal that can be measured and is a reasonable expectation. You don’t need to talk to a marketing consultant to know that if you are currently ranked #50 amongst your competitors, issuing a press release won’t get you to #1 over night!

To help illustrate, let’s say you own a shoe store, located in a mall. Your customers primarily consist of those who are either already at the mall and see something interesting in your window display, or are repeat buyers. Given your knowledge of the business, you know what a “normal” traffic baseline is, so for this example, our goal is to increase foot traffic by 20 percent. Note I am not directly targeting an increase of revenue, but instead that increased traffic will lead to more sales. My hypothesis is simply that a rising tide will raise all boats, leading to more sales. If increased traffic does not improve sales, then a different problem might exist.

The Campaign

Now we have a goal, the next step is to think about is what event or activity can be established and communicated to achieve more traffic at the store. Perhaps you are friends with a local celebrity in the area, in which case you could advertise they will be in your store next Saturday to sign autographs. With this “call to action,” you can now invest the time (and resources) to draft a press release announcing this activity, which then would need to be published in time for your prospects to read about it and make time in their schedule to visit. You could then reach out to your local paper to make a short announcement, even inviting someone from the paper to attend (if they are available). A few phone calls and some time spent writing the announcement sums up your investment for this trial activity.

Another example might be to sponsor a local school event by providing running shoes for some (or all) participants. This could be a way to raise awareness to the other athletes in the area your commitment to being part of the local activities, helping to make your store be known as one that is investing in the community. In “marketing speak” this is referred to as brand awareness. With this scenario, the investment cost all depends on what you want to give away.

In the end, the activity or campaign will then need to be measured against your objective to see how it fared. Missing your objective can teach you just as much as over-attaining it. Dissecting this activity can reveal enormous intelligence on how your customers perceive you, as well as insights into their buying behavior. From this knowledge, you can then adjust your approach, message or outreach to hopefully continuously improve your results and return on investment.

And that, after all, is the key to unlocking the future upside in any business.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

The Importance of Editing

Having written many business plans, press releases and other marketing collateral, one thing I have learned is the importance of an edit and review process. It doesn’t matter how good your writing skills are – no one can write anything great the first time.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking there isn’t the time or that it isn’t necessary on this particular communication. Or, maybe you were told the document only had to be a rough draft. Regardless, it is always a good habit of either hiring a third party to review your work or simply save your work and come back to it in 24 hours to have a look with fresh eyes. I am always amazed when I look back at my work from the prior day and reflect “What was I thinking?”

When we speak in a conversation, we typically don’t put much effort into editing what we say, so it is easy to think that writing is the same. But, if you think about it, when we have something important to say, then we will rehearse and practice it … just look at the industry of speechwriters that serve this need. We will edit and re-edit a speech many times before we are comfortable it gets the right message across. Writing is the same way.

Here are five benefits of following a good editing process, or having a good editor:

  1. Ensures your written message matches what you were trying to say
  2. Helps to condense and improve the efficiency of your writing
  3. Questions your flow of thoughts, ensuring there’s good logic
  4. Tells you if your content is too technical or if it doesn’t make sense, at least to the general public; it is very easy to “get into the weeds” about a topic you are very knowledgeable about
  5. Asks questions or presents an alternative perspective that you might not have considered; in the case of a blog, this feedback might be an excellent follow-up for a new post

The best person to edit your work might be someone that is not too close, so as to have the courage to tell you exactly how they feel, or what they didn’t like. A good editor might be someone that doesn’t even work at your company – or even in your industry – so as to focus purely on the content in your article, without the worry of political ramifications.

To be a good writer, one must write concisely manner (see my prior post on taking the time to write shorter copy). A great way to achieve this objective is to work with an editor. It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing about a topic you are familiar with and forgetting to take into account that your audience may be just learning about this topic for the first time.

5 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Press Release

In the world of marketing communications, writing a press release plays an important press_releaserole in disseminating information about your company or product. Most importantly, if done correctly, a press release will get other websites, news sources and editors to communicate your message as a third party, important from a validation perspective. The more times your message is told, the better chance your target audience can receive your message.

So, before you sit down to write your press release, ask yourself these five important questions:

  1. What is the news I am announcing? There must be something you are announcing that comprises the “news” of the announcement. It isn’t ok to just regurgitate existing content from your website, collateral or brochures. There must be something newsworthy to announce, such as a new product, customer or region, an award or a management change. This requirement can sometimes be a challenge, but, if you don’t have any news to announce, no one will be interested to read your press release.
  2. Who are you writing your announcement to? In other words, who is the target audience or “persona” of your press release? Traditionally, press releases were written for the press; these documents would then become a basis for writing an article summarizing the announcement, or might be a trigger to write a more detailed perspective on the announcement. Today, this is not necessarily the case. Many press releases are now issued directly to the public via news websites. You need to think about whom the person is that you want to read your release. For example, just to name a few, are they engineers, teachers, business leaders or IT programmers?
  3. What are the 3 points of the story? Unless you specifically focus your thoughts on what these key messages are, chances are your target audience won’t get the right message.
  4. What do you want your readers to do next? In other words, once you have identified your topic and audience … in a perfect world … what you would like them to do next? Go to your website? Attend a conference? Purchase your latest book? How is this announcement going to help your business? How will you sell more product or service, as a result of this announcement? Think about what your desired call to action is, and then ask for it, or point readers in a direction so they come up with your desired action as a logical conclusion after reading the announcement.
  5. Could my mother understand this release? In other words, is it filled with industry jargon, abbreviations and other difficult words to understand, or, is your message clearly stated using terminology that is understandable to most readers? This question may appear to be in contradiction to item #2 above … if I am writing for a technical audience, isn’t it ok to write in a technical manner? Yes, and no. It is a reasonable assumption that if you are announcing technical news for technical readers, then some level of technical wording is probably appropriate. But, the flip side is that you also want other editors and websites to host your story. The person in charge of deciding if your press release goes on their site may not be very technical. If your release is too confusing, they will simply elect to “pass” and go on to the next news announcement. In the end, your press release must make sense to the laymen, regardless of target audience.

What do you think? Have I missed any other critical questions?

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.