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21 killer ideas to get free publicity for your small business

Free publicity is a great way to spread the word about your business. If you can get your business featured regularly in the newspapers, magazines and websites your target audience reads, it brings your business to the attention of potential customers, and at no cost.

Another advantage of being featured in articles written about your business is that editorial coverage gives you a huge amount of credibility. It’s an independent trusted person talking about your business – the total opposite of an advert, where you are delivering your message.

The good news is that getting media coverage for your small business isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing.

All you need to do is decide what you want to achieve (more brand awareness; website visits; maybe more sales leads), think up some story ideas, and then submit them to the relevant magazines, newspapers and online as press releases.

If you would like to generate some free publicity for your business, here are 21 killer ideas you can use to generate interesting stories that journalists will want to write about;

1. Be the first, the newest, the oldest, the biggest, the smallest

Different is great. Journalists get sent a constant stream of “average” all day long – so make sure you stand out.

2. Introduce something new or improved

Journalists are always keen to write about something new, so it’s a great opportunity for you capitalise on. If you don’t have something completely new, an improvement or enhancement to what you offer can be pitched as new. Make it clear what’s better and why, and what problem it solves.

3. Mark the passage of time

Has it been a year, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, or even 100 years since something significant happened? You will usually read an article somewhere in the press marking the latest anniversary of the invention of the world wide web.

4. Win an award

Coverage of awards is an ever-popular press staple. Almost every newspaper or magazine you pick up will have a story in it about a recent award. The coverage is almost always accompanied by a photo of the prize-winner who is sporting the obligatory cheesy smile while collecting their award.

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If you do win an award, don’t just rely on the publicity sent out by the award organisers, send out your own.

5. Win a big contract

Don’t be afraid to boast – big contracts attract other big contracts. If you will need to employ new staff to help you fulfil the big contract, make sure you highlight this. Journalists on local papers will want to write about a firm creating new job opportunities.

As an added bonus, you might also get some enterprising, potential employees contacting you which would save you time and money on recruitment costs.

6. React to a current story

Give your opinion on something in the news (national or local) that’s relevant to you. Try and add some value to the original story.

7. Announce other publicity you’ve had

If you’ve been featured in your trade magazine, tell your local paper. And vice-versa.

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8. Re-launch your website

Tell journalists what’s good about your new site, and why. Highlight any unique points, or special offers around the relaunch.

9. Offer free information

Free reports can be incredibly valuable to readers. The years of experience you have in your industry makes you an expert and journalists and readers appreciate an expert’s opinion.

10. Give something free to readers

Reader offers are another extremely popular way to get free publicity. If you have an actual product, give that away. You can use it to drive traffic from the news piece (online or offline) to your website. Consider an exclusive deal with one newspaper to get more coverage.

11. Offer a series of articles

Share your expertise and help a newspaper fill column inches, or online channels with interesting new content. Offering your expertise can be a great way to build trust with potential customers. Don’t worry too much about your writing skills, newspapers employ sub-editors to worry about that.

12. Survey your customers

Find out what people think about specific issues (related to your business). Ask enough of their target audience, and the newspapers won’t be able to resist publishing the results of your survey.

13. Get involved with a charity

Don’t just give cash, that’s dull (plus cheque presentation photos are stuck in the 80s). Instead give your time, product, or better still use your staff and resources to do something exciting and different that will also raise cash or help an exciting charity. It’s even better if the charity is relevant to your business.

14. Solve a problem

What’s everyone talking about? What can you do to fix it? During the school holidays, every parent is looking for ways to keep the children entertained. So if your business can help solve that issue, make sure you get that message out.

15. Create a problem

Can you make things better by rocking the boat?

16. Do something in a different way

Particularly if it’s “always been done this way”. Turning the status quo on its head can be a clever way to get those column inches. That’s what the Dragons’ Den characters have done very successfully over the years.

17. Announce a new member of your team

It doesn’t have to be anyone senior, even junior staff can sometimes make the business pages. Pinpoint the thing that made them the right person for the job and publicise that.

18. Spot a trend and comment on it

Turn yourself into a commentator on a specific problem or industry.

19. Be anti-corporate

Journalists can get a constant stream of boring, predictable corporate press releases. Be anti-corporate. Don’t be afraid to stand out. Michael O’Leary has used this technique to get hundreds of interviews and thousands of articles written on Ryanair!

20. Be refreshingly honest

If you expose the hidden secrets of your industry, will you get the credit for that? Will you lead the change or follow it?

21. Attempt to set or beat a record

A publicity classic, and for a very good reason. Everyone loves a record attempt. And there are plenty of records to go for. Ensure your record attempt is in some way relevant to your business.

And finally, if you can combine several of these ideas into one story, you will put yourself in an even better position.

The owner of a small tattoo parlour in a sleepy Hampshire town got pages and pages of free publicity when he attempted to break the world record for the number of tattoos completed in 24 hours, and simultaneously raising money for the Help for Heroes charity.