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Promote Your Business Through New Media

I've owned a six-employee tech company for five years. We'd like to get publicity for our unique service for e-book merchants. But when I hired a PR firm recommended by my business adviser, it focused on dropping our name to reporters and bloggers and recommended that we undertake an enormous charity project to gain attention. The firm seemed all about getting our name printed, rather than defining our service and developing interest in it. Is there a better way? —R.K., Tucson The idea of dropping your company or product name, and hoping it sparks some publicity, is outdated in today's media environment. "Old-fashioned PR is still catching up with the rapid shift from mass media to the more fragmented approach of blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter, and Facebook," says Linda Hamburger, a longtime PR manager and adjunct professor of public relations at American Intercontinental University in Weston, Fla. Becoming engaged in the issues of interest to your potential customers is a better alternative, says Gordon G. Andrew, managing partner at Highlander Consulting, a marketing and public relations firm in Princeton, N.J. "If you generate bona fide thought leadership in your target market, then reporters and bloggers will find you. In a Web 2.0 world, you must actively participate and contribute; simply name-dropping often backfires," Andrew says. Stress Info, not HypeChannel your marketing efforts into communicating directly with e-book merchants. You might try publishing an industry newsletter or blogging. Your content can focus on industry best practices and include interviews with clients and prospects, Andrew suggests: "Generate and distribute market research or surveys. Focus less on promoting your company and more on providing information that will help e-book merchants to succeed. Once you've established a reputation as a company that's focused on their needs, they will want to learn more about your unique technology because you've earned their trust." New media marketing often requires a time commitment that you—and other small business owners—cannot make. If this is the case, make sure that the next publicity firm you hire has someone on staff who specializes in new media, Hamburger says: "E-marketing is expanding too fast for a layperson or busy manager to keep up with. I advise strongly against a do-it-yourself approach, unless you hire an in-house expert just for this one endeavor." Rather than a publicity firm, you might consider hiring an advertising agency and a new media marketing professional—someone who can help you develop a strong brand image and measure the results of your online promotions. And you don't have to limit your search to established firms; "new graduates are surprisingly talented and adept at using new media," Hamburger says. Additional ideas you might consider: Issuing press releases on a service such as Business Wire; attending IT-oriented local networking events; conducting teleconferences; issuing white papers and partnering with other companies that can cross-promote your e-book service. "Strategic partnerships are an excellent and inexpensive way to expand your reach," says Stefan I. Pollack, president of Pollack PR Marketing Group in Los Angeles. A Consistent Brand IdentityHe suggests you look into partnering with publishing associations such as SPAN (Small Publishers Assn.of North America) and IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Assn.), or e-publishing services such as Amazon's (AMZN) CreateSpace, or Ingram's Lightning Source. "Such strategic partnerships could revolve around discount services or ad sharing," Pollack suggests. Don't move ahead with marketing or advertising, however, if you haven't established a consistent brand identity for your company. "Branding is the most expensive aspect [of marketing], and it should be consistent and clever," Hamburger says. "It is harder today for merchants to discern truly unique offers from new startups [because of the] quickly growing use of Internet media tools."
Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

Your Small Business Questions, Answered

Send us your questions on challenges you face in your business. Journalist Karen E. Klein will interview experts and distill their insights into answers.

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