by Lori Prosio 

When was the last time you asked your neighboring businesses to help you promote your services? Asked your customers or clients to share a few kind words about your business with their friends? Partnered with a similar organization to extend a message and benefit both of your marketing goals?

When the economic climate gets tough, every dollar counts – but you can’t afford to stop promoting your services. Cost-effective tools are key — namely, tools other than traditional advertising, which can often cost more than you have in the budget.

By applying the following concepts to your business, you can achieve large-scale credibility, name recognition and added value, not to mention top-of-mind awareness of your services or products — all on a small-business budget.

Establish partnerships

Partnerships extend your reach by using another organization to share your message.

You should select an organization that shares a mutual interest, targets a similar audience and/or has comparable goals. Partners will often graciously share your information (a flyer, a coupon, a brochure).

What’s in it for the partner? When audiences think of your message, they’ll also think of where they heard your message — from the partnering organization. In turn, partners know they can count on you to return the favor if and when they need your help promoting their brand.

This cooperative effort builds community, promotes positive messages, and ultimately increases your presence without spending additional funds on advertising.

Media opportunities

Never underestimate the power of media exposure.

With a little help from a public relations consultant, you can get publicity in print and broadcast media and online. This is one of the best ways to gain recognition and add credibility to your business. More importantly, it’s free.

A PR consultant can add value to your efforts through basic media relations. One well-placed feature article about your business can reach every local media outlet and an entire community of potential customers, and is significantly cheaper than running an ad in those same papers.

With the help of your consultant, identify your audience and learn what media they use to get their information. Then your consultant can develop media pitches and stories about your business, product or organization. PR consultants know media — and they’ll know what the media wants to see and what they find interesting for their readers or viewers.

While many PR consultants can offer you their services on a task by task basis, or even for a minimal retainer fee, if your budget simply doesn’t allow for you to hire one, you should still know the ins and outs of working with the media and how to use them to best suit your marketing needs.

Familiarize yourself with the local media. Always remember the story they do about you is only as good as the information you provide them. Your news release should be interesting, newsworthy, have a solid hook and be beneficial in some way to their readers or viewers.

Be sure to follow up, too. And by follow up I don’t mean stalk them — that’s a bad way to generate good press; unless, of course, you are a PR consultant — then it’s expected.

Presence in the media adds an element of credibility to your business. When people see your business in the media, they are more likely to stop, take notice, remember and think of you the next time they need something.

Co-Op Branding

Identify organizations and other businesses with which you can share marketing resources — similar to your partnership efforts.

Whereas partnerships are more quid-pro-quo and generally don’t involve an exchange of money, co-op branding helps you use paid marketing efforts in a cost-effective way.

Collaborate with the organization on an ad, work together to put on an event, or share a promotion. Want to promote a new fashion line? Collaborate with a high-end dry cleaning facility or makeup line and put out a catchy ad with a mutual message. Launching a boat business? Get in touch with a board shop and promote your products together with a grand opening party.