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Given the dismal state of the economy, it's no surprise that budgets are shrinking and big-ticket items like a splashy ad on a local TV station is a memory.
But operating on a budget doesn't mean you have to halt all publicity efforts. Getting your company spotlighted can be as easy and inexpensive as putting together a press kit. Here are 10 things you need to do to whet the appetite of the media or a potential client:
Short and sweet
Journalists are always facing deadlines. Don't waste their time with long sentences and a winding setup. Get to the point as cleverly as you can. Keep in mind, says media consultant Alex Carroll, that print journalists "are in the story business and broadcast journalists are in showbiz." When pitching to broadcast reporters and producers, think and write in bullet points. Draft sample questions to showcase how you would answer them.
For a sales pitch, the press kit needs a different tone and focus. Each piece has to play a part in convincing potential customers that you are an investment, not an expense, says Annie Jennings, CEO of Annie Jennings PR. "So you want a high-quality presentation," she says. "No cutting corners with the quality of the paper and design. Color-coordinate so it's pleasing to the eye. You want to be as professional as possible."
Whoever your target, make sure your kit has essentials like the bio, fact sheet on the business, list of services, how you will deliver results and what you can do for them. Most important, try to limit yourself to one page each.
With the deadline monster always looming, media are constantly looking for experts to tap for insight. Read the headlines and think about what you can offer to the story or show. But tread carefully when trying to use a tragedy as a jumping off point.
Sometimes, courting controversy can be worth its weight in ink. In the press kit for his book "Beat the Cops," Carroll has a page of cartoons where he's facing off with a police officer. "Broadcast media, especially radio, love to start fights," he explains. "It makes for great media. People won't change the channel."
Say it like you mean it
Nothing ticks off the reader more than receiving a pitch and press kit that has little to do with what their company or publication is about. Do your research. And if you're reaching out to the media, call first and find out if they'd be interested in your story and press kit.
Talk yourself up
A press kit isn't complete without a bio. If you've written a book, mention it. If you have 20 years of experience, talk it up. If you have a compelling personal story, bare it. Highlight whatever makes you interesting. Then attach a recent photo. All the key players in the company should do the same.
Jennings, who specializes in booking top-level media outlets, recommends using the first paragraph to cover your education, industry awards and other credentials. The second paragraph should touch on all the media appearances you've made.
Pad that package
If you've been featured -- even in the local weekly -- include the tear sheet. Get a letter of recommendation from a current or past client. This tells your audience that you can deliver what they need.
Purple's your color
Break out of the crowd by trying on a different color. Rather than sending your kit in the usual white manila folder, send it in purple, green, blue -- any color, really. Not only is it eye-catching, it gives the impression that you and your business are different.
Put the entire press kit on your Web site, recommends Leonard Saffir, a former executive vice president of public relations and marketing firm, Porter Novelli International, and author of "PR on a Budget: Free, Cheap and Worth the Money Strategies for Getting Started" (Kaplan Business). That way, you save on postage. And the media can easily look up information or download the product picture.
Jennings advises putting your contact information on each and every page of the press kit. At a meeting, press kits get taken apart, disorganized, even lost. Also enclose multiple business cards. You want to convey, adds Jennings, that you'll be easy to work with.