Every entrepreneur knows they can't make any money unless their customers know they exist. But in today's multi-channel, multi-media world where does one start?
Traditional advertising revenues have fallen year on year over the past decade as media savvy businesses seek more creative ways of getting through to consumers. Over the same period PR agencies have enjoyed a boom with revenues increasing as entrepreneurs increasingly appreciate the value in having their messages conveyed in editorial coverage across many different forms of media. Here are my top five PR campaigns for small business clients.
Our brief from online handbag retailer Bagnificent.co.uk was a simple one, "Can you get us into the fashion pages of the national newspapers?" It's a request we hear a lot.
The snag in this case was the budget, which was tiny. In advertising terms it wouldn't have covered more than a couple of column inches in one of the red-tops, at best. But we liked the site and we loved the concept of Bagnificent's Loved range of pre-owned handbags. The site's founder Gerry Campbell was lovely and promised that if the initial campaign worked and resulted in sales then she would have money to roll out a bigger campaign at our usual rates. We couldn't resist the challenge.
We took a dual approach to the campaign, telling the story of how Bagnificent allowed fashionista's to "bag" themselves a bargain - pre-owned designer bags could be picked up at a snip. At the same time we told Gerry's story, the Glasgow housewife taking on London's fashion elite with her exciting new retail concept.
Coverage came thick and fast. The Daily Mirror, The Sun, Metro, and The Sunday Times all ran articles, many with valuable web links to Gerry's site. Sales went through the roof and the success of that initial campaign allowed Gerry to push on with her PR and we put together a strategy which saw us achieve coverage in magazines including Elle and Cosmopolitan (who called the site, 'One of our shopping faves'). Visit Bagnificent's press page to see more of the coverage we won during the campaign.
Many of the entrepreneurs we work with are young people who amaze me with their drive and self-belief. None more so than Suleman Sacranie who dropped out of university to launch his own online retailing business 99pShopper.com. When we first met the site had just gone live and was already picking up orders, notably from British ex-pats in Spain and other European nations who, it seemed, were desperate to pick up their favourite British groceries online.
Again the budget was tiny. But we liked Suleman immediately and we really wanted to help him make his site a success. I was struck by his personal story, he had grown up above a corner shop in Leicester and was now bringing that grassroots business into the digital age. We agreed to take the project on.
I knew Suleman's personal story was the key to breaking this story. We focused on that from day one and instructed Suleman on the photos we would need. He got a friend to take the shots to keep his costs down.
Within two weeks we were making headlines. Suleman was the lead on Metro's business page. The Mail on Sunday ran a piece with a photo and Eastern Eye ran the story on their front page and as their business lead. We persuaded the Daily Mirror to lead on the site on their shopping page Cash Queens. The BBC picked up the story and sent a film crew to Suleman's home for their regional news programme East Midlands Today. He was also featured on the BBC's online business pages. Other coverage came from such diverse media as the FT and Woman's Own magazine! As I'd grasped at the outset, there was a huge appetite for Suleman's story.
The coverage we generated was worth well over £100,000 in ad value equivalent. Suleman reported a huge spike in sales which converted to many repeat customers. He was also approached by several potential business investors. We are now working on a 12 month plan for continued PR support throughout 2011. To see more of the coverage achieved please click here.
Mind magicians are big business. David Blaine was a huge star a couple of years back but the man of the moment in the UK has to be Derren Brown. But when we were approached by the little known Darren Stanton I must admit to having my reservations. Darren described himself as a paranormal entertainer, with hypnosis and past-life regression being amongst his many skills.
As a cynical former tabloid hack I've never really gone in for the "unexplained" but Darren asked me to come and see him perform with a view to creating a media profile for him so, more than a little intrigued, I went along with a few friends. It turned out to be an evening to remember. I was very impressed particularly when he managed to put one of my friends into a deep trance with a simple snap of the fingers.
Back in the office we agreed to take the project on. But I was concerned that we couldn't possibly compete with the huge media profile of Derren Brown. Both men were doing similar work and their first names were almost the same. We needed to differentiate our client from Mr Brown.
We did this by focusing on his corporate work. Darren acted as a consultant for several large organisations who used his body language reading skills to support their human resources department with interviews of new and existing personnel. I came up with the term, "the human lie detector" and the campaign began.
Right from the start there was huge interest from the press. It was the time of the general election and the Daily Telegraph, ITN and The Sun used Darren to analyse the body language of the three party leaders during their televised debate. Next we offered out his top tips for spotting a liar. Our timing was perfect for the tabloids coming as it did on the same day Cheryl Cole gave her errant husband his marching orders. It made a page seven lead in The Sun and the online article delivered 360,000 unique visitors to our client's website via a hyperlink.
A piece in the Daily Mail the next day brought in another 150,000 visitors - which brought the total number of unique visitors into the site into more than half a million over a 48 hour period.
The coverage didn't stop there. Many of the glossy women's magazines were interested in the human lie detector angle with Marie Claire devoting a full page to Darren. Pieces in the Evening Standard, City AM and Examiner.com all followed.
From a tiny budget we had managed to deliver publicity worth six figures in advertising value equivalent. You can read more about this campaign on Darren Stanton's website by clicking here.
Everyone in our office enjoys a good cuppa so we were delighted when the makers of Tava Tea asked us to handle their PR. Tava is a special kind of tea: it has numerous health benefits, including weight loss.
It's a blend of several green teas and was developed by medical graduate Tim Thurlings. Our first move was to research the ingredients of the tea. A quick Google search revealed that many of the teas inside Tava were already popular with celebs such as Oprah Winfrey, Victoria Beckham and Courtney Cox. Our launch press release announced how the world's favourite green teas, beloved by the rich and famous, had been put together for the first time.
The piece was picked up by the Sunday Express who ran it on the front page under the headline "Super Slimming Tea Causes a Stir". The piece was read by more than a million people, some of whom then visited TavaTea.com to place an order. Further coverage followed in the Daily Star, OK magazine and on numerous health websites including Diet.co.uk.
Next Tava Tea director Dr Tim Thurlings agreed to our idea to present himself to the media as Dr Tea - a medic who decided to specialise in finding the perfect cup of tea rather than medicine. It was a true story and we were able to present it in a way the media couldn't resist. A raft of media interviews followed including several with the BBC.
Recruitment can be a difficult industry to win national media coverage but our work with Recart proves that great stories, and opportunities for media coverage, are there in any business if you scratch the surface.
The company was launched by entrepreneur Lee Bown, a great guy who was happy to put himself in the story. We created a series of media articles which detailed how Lee had gone from factory worker to start-up and told of the ups and downs he faced building his businesses to a multi-million pound turnover. We won two page leads in the Daily Telegraph's business pages and another in The Sunday Times. The FT also picked the story up as did the regional press.
All of these campaigns have achieved results worth many times our fee in advertising value equivalent. They show why businesses are turning away from advertising and instead choosing PR to bring their messages to the public.
It's possible to win national media attention for any business. The skill is in giving journalists real stories. PR doesn't mean free advertising so if your press releases read like adverts they won't be used. But give the media a genuine story and they'll help you reach millions of potential new clients.