While a good public relations person can do wonders for any business, some smaller companies just don't have the budget, especially at early stages when every cent counts.
But even someone with no public relations experience can utilize a few simple, and most importantly, free, tricks to make their company's news and assets more easily accessible to reporters.
We're not talking about marketing strategy here, just some easy pieces you can put in place today that might well mean it will help someone get your exciting news out -- more easily -- tomorrow.
1. Make Press Releases Available Online
Sending out a press release via a paid distribution service is all well and good, but what you also need is a permanent online press area where all releases are posted -- preferably at the same time as the release is distributed.
Ideally this press area will be on your Web site and offer a simple link from the homepage as well as a logical URL, i.e., yourcompanyname.com/press.
By setting up an online press area, you are ensuring that reporters have a place to go to find the news on your site as soon as they hear any kind of rumor or murmur, as well as offering an online archive of data about your company that can easily be referenced. All you need to do is list the press releases in date order with a click through option to see the entire release. If you send out a lot of press releases then archiving older ones in month-based folders is the logical approach.
After all, it's much better a reporter gets relevant data via your site, rather than get it wrong because they were short on time and relied on Wikipedia.
It's also important to offer a distinct method of contact for reporters for two reasons. The first is a bit of an ego trip for your company, making you look big enough to need such a channel (which no doubt one day you will, even if you're not quite there yet), and the second is so that email inquiries from journalists don't get lost in the noise and can be easily identified for a prompt response, even if they do just go into the general inbox.
2. Keep a Company Blog
For smaller announcements that don't quite merit a press release, but will still be of interest, a company blog fills the gap nicely as well as gives your company the chance to offer reporters (and of course, the wider public) a more informal or personal voice. This is best hosted on your main site, but if this is not possible there are some rather tidy free solutions out there.
Just two among many are Tumblr, which offers tons of really nice template designs for super quick set up, while rival Posterous works along the same lines.
Both offer the ability to email content to your blog, a wealth of options to connect with social networking sites, iPhone apps offering varying functionality and boast URLs that are personalized to a certain degree.
An example of a company using Posterous to good effect is TweetDeck, the social media desktop client that posts company and other relevant news via its Posterous-powered blog, while, Tumblr offers an entire "startups" directory category so you can see how others are using the blogging platform for inspiration and ideas. Aviary.com and Foursquare are just two examples of companies currently using the Tumblr platform.
3. Distribute News to Your Social Network
When you have news you want to get out, don't overlook your existing followers. Sure, your first thought might be to get the release distributed to the big boys, but remember to also distribute the news to those who have been watching your company from the start. If you are using a press release distribution agency then make sure to also push the news out through your own channels.
Stick the release up in your online press area, write a short blog post about it with a link to the release, create a Facebook wall post with a link to the news, and send out a tweet stating there's an announcement, pointing to where the info can be found.
4. Give Background Information
If you're not exactly a household name, then it's important to provide some extra information for the press -- don't be afraid to mention your competitors or give background info, either in a press release (the "notes to editors", or "about" area are suitable places) or on the about page of your Web site/blog.
The reason for this is twofold. One, you're not pretending there isn't an elephant in the room if your company model/product is not unique, and two, it might mean more coverage for you if you put yourself in a wider industry context -- reporters quite often have to pitch, or sell in, stories to editors, so by providing background you are giving them the ammunition they need to get an editor's attention.
For example, pitching a story about "a new Web site selling handmade objects" might well be dismissed for sounding like an Etsy-wannabe, but "a Pennsylvanian start-up that works along similar lines as Etsy" takes the "sounds-like-Etsy" argument right out of the equation by addressing the similarity right off the bat.
5. Provide Easy Access to Imagery
Although some public relations and marketing folk have traditionally offered imagery on request (said to be so they can gauge interest and help towards monitoring coverage), today this is an old-fashioned and impractical approach.
Making relevant imagery easily available to reporters anytime and anywhere makes sense on so many levels -- it certainly makes it convenient for the journalist on a dramatically different time zone or the out-of-hours, part-time blogger to source images.
It saves time in getting the news article live by doing away with the to-ing and fro-ing of image requests (as well as your time in dealing with them) and, most importantly, even if the imagery is just a logo or screengrabs (rather than product shots) at least by offering these it's more likely your company's assets will appear as you want them to, rather than risking a dodgy logo crop or unsightly screengrab.
Achieving this is super simple. If you can't set it up within the press area of your Web site, then simply get a free account from the likes of Flickr, or even Picasa or Photobucket.
Try and get the account name as close to your company's own as possible, tag the images (if relevant to the service) and organize them in a logical way, preferably by folders if there's a lot and add the link in to the press release.
And back to that argument from the old school PRs about monitoring coverage? Just set up a Google keyword "Alert" that will email you when your company's name is mentioned anywhere on the web.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Devonyu