The Simple Stuff – Seven Sustainable Ways to Improve Your Small Business PR

Mon, Mar 9, 2009

c. Earn More Revenue

On his blog, “How to Change the World: A Practical Blog for Impractical People,” (May 24, 2007), Guy Kawasaki asked Margie Zabel Fisher, President of Zabel Fisher Public Relations and www.thepresite.com to provide her Top Ten reasons why PR doesn’t work.

Number one?

“The client doesn’t understand the publicity process,” she said.

This statement boils down to the fact that a lot of small businesses and nonprofit organizations are under pressure to retain a certain number of new clients per week, pull off an annual giving campaign that tops the last, and are scrambling to grab more than one minute of media attention. What Fisher says clients do not understand is that to BE front page news is possible, but, “the process…may first include a series of smaller placements.”

My own experience as a nonprofit manager exemplifies Fisher’s generalization. Most avoid the simple stuff in favor of focusing on big grants, inter-state projects and entertaining the public with gimmicks. In addition, they share lofty expectations and impossible ideas, and would have a person believe that professional they are seeking to boost their PR has to be super-human, when, just slowing down and going green could help them save time, money and forest in the long-term.

PR opportunities unique to a green business, though, can be double-edged, as Jennifer Duckworth, Environmental Consultant and Chair of the Millburn, New Jersey Environmental Commission (EC) explained to me after an EC monthly meeting.

“I think the difference between a green business and other businesses is that a lot of times people think because it’s a green business, things should be FREE,” she said. “I think this is because a green business has a role and responsibility that most often is and has been in the past, occupied by government.”

Duckworth further explained, by referring to Garrett Hardin’s, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” (Science, 1968), “When there are things that are good for everybody – not like consumerism where one party benefits over another – it’s more difficult because people, as this paper says, end up wanting it to be for their own good. The problem with green businesses, then, is their intrinsic mission. Being a green business owner, people expect me to give my services away for free because, as they see it, it’s for the good of the people, so why would I withhold information?”

Thus, in the spirit of promoting sustainable business practices AND healthy societal relationships, here are seven ways to improve PR that do not involve projects which waste tons of money and produce equal tons of un-noticed material. Plus, all steps can be accomplished by just about anyone.

1. Start on the Net

Do a Google search for your business. Does it show up on free listing sites, such as www.ecobusinesslinks.com or www.bizhwy.com? If so, be certain your listing is up-to-date, contains accurate contact information, and specific location details so clients, or donors, can find you. In addition, make sure there are no missing links. If you find that your phone number is on one site, but your website does not appear on the same, contact the webmaster. For any new sites you find, look for a link at the end of the page offering the option to submit a listing. This usually involves filling out a simple form. Most options are free, but a few sites, like www.ecobusinesslinks.com, also offer listings across multiple categories as long as your website offers a reasonable amount of products or services to fit. Three listings run $90.00 for the first year. Lastly, don’t be shy about responding to blogs or posting a comment to an article written about your service community. The person reading your comment just might do a Google search on you!

2. Learn to Leverage

Participate in teleconferences designed for your business or eco-field. Professionals on these lines are happy to answer questions, and do provide contact information if you seek follow-up. Some seminars require a fee, or take a limited number of callers, while others can be taken at any time. Most all are formatted to accommodate different learning styles and budget constraints, plus, can be taken at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. If your state offers a green community certification program, go to your Chamber of Commerce, or a town Council meeting open to the public and encourage its members to apply green concepts to capital projects and municipal contracts. Duckworth says your Chamber is the BEST channel to promote a green business. Or, she added, “people could come to EC meetings and speak up as a member of the public and say, “I have this green business I just want you to know about it.”

3. Post a Want Ad

If your business or nonprofit is looking for recycled technology, post a Craigslist ad in your state, within reasonable delivery distance, to see what’s out there before paying per word for a print Classified. This should also be your first step before EBay. If you operate a nonprofit, TechSoup (www.techsoup.org) is there to help. Duckworth says, “I think it’s a misconception of President Obama talking about a “green economy,” that a lot of times it falls to 501c3 organizations to do this work while being funded by grants to implement it, and that’s difficult.” This site features discounts, discussions, articles and recommendations. Once your organization has a Member Profile, you will be able to post and reply to forums and can become an “authorized buyer,” of donated projects, to include computers, monitors or scanners. The Freecycle Network should also top your list of places to check for resources. Browse groups for your county – it-s match-making for unwanted stuff!

4. Plan Before You Plaster

Before you paper the town, call public spots and ask about the rules pertaining to posting bills. Then, abide by them! For example, public libraries will only post advertizing for nonprofit groups, not local businesses. Certainly, it is not wise to put your business or yourself at risk of targeting by law enforcement. There are legal, and safe places to put a poster, so look around next time you enter your grocery store, coffee house, or gym. If there is a bulletin board, ask a manger about their policy, and next time, bring thumbtacks! Note: This method requires paper, but by scanning your neighborhood ahead of time, you can cut down on waste. If you include tear strips on your poster, check back at each location in a few weeks to see if any have been taken. If not, relocate! If you live in a tourist town, ask neighboring merchants if they would be willing to carry your business card on their counter, if you do not sell competing products. This way, everyone, and the town, succeeds.

5. Show Your Services

Get a booth or offer complimentary services at health fairs, church bazaars, or retail stores. First, make a calendar that includes upcoming events by searching your Chamber of Commerce website. Then, pick up the phone and call the organizers to find out if there are registration fees, whether you have to bring your own table, and the run time of the event. Another option is to have your staff volunteer to paint kids’ faces at a street fair. Making your business visible, while having fun, can pay for itself. “Going to events, setting up a table, or just having my card out at a green event. That’s how I get most of my business,” said Duckworth.

6. Code Your Responses

In other words, track what’s working and you will be able to pinpoint where to expend more energy. If your business takes reservations for camps or volunteer days, when a person calls, ask them where they heard about your organization. You can get creative, using a spreadsheet, as follows:

  • Grocery Store Poster: Pink Font
  • Online Listing: Green Font
  • Craft Fair: Yellow Font, and so on.

The final step is to count your responses from different areas, and if necessary, adjust or enhance your tactics.

7. Volunteer to Speak

If you are considered an expert in your field, or have an expert on your Board of Directors, join a Speakers Bureau. Also, anyone can create a profile on www.idealist.org, and become part of it’s over 6,500 searchable speakers. Other ways to get out there are by contacting your local Rotary, or Kiwanis clubs and making a presentation at a lunch. And, by all means, if you win an award, take your elevator speech to the podium! Sometimes, when it comes to PR, thinking about HOW can prevent you from being ready to take advantage of the right timing.

In conclusion, Duckworth reminds, “Someone said that when you get sick of hearing your own message, that’s when people start to really hear it. In communications, “green” goes in and out of being sexy. Now, the economy is way more important, but last year, green was the hot topic.”

Nevertheless, she says, “I think the public really hungers for good information and wants to do the right thing so I’m not sure if there’s any such thing as green overexposure. There’s always something to learn. People might get sick of the word “green,” however, the message I don’t think loses its resonance. There are so many things that if you are a green minded person that you take for granted because its just in your psyche. I think it will take a couple of decades before people really understand, even little things like using a reusable lunchbox. It’s just one person at a time, one message at a time, one idea at a time. People who are environmentally minded have a great deal of passion for it and I think it comes through in their communication. It’s not the words that I’m using, its just I do care.”

Bottom line:

To go green, that time is now! And, if you do hire out, heed Miracle Max’s line from The Princess Bride (1987): “You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”

By Jennifer A. Sheffield

Jennifer A. Sheffield is a freelance reporter for www.thealternativepress.com. She can be reached at: jennifershef@gmail.com. To learn more about Jennifer Duckworth, visit: www.jenniferduckworth.com.

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