Doing Great PR on a Shoestring Budget

There are some activities that shouldn't ever be attempted unless they're adequately funded. Advertising is a good example. Unless a campaign can be adequately sustained, putting a few ads online or in print probably isn't going to buy you much. One email barrage probably won't either.

Rule No. 22 in marketing gurus Al Reis and Jack Trout's book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing , is: “Without adequate funding an idea won't get off the ground.” That says it all. Meanwhile, many tech companies' marketing budgets get cut or are essentially non-existent. So what can a tech company do without a real marketing budget? In fact, there's quite a bit.

First, make sure you have a marketing and communications strategy. Earlier posts on this site have discussed this in some detail. (See: Creating Effective Tech PR Strategies and Developing Messaging for Tech Marketers.) Not having a strategy and “just doing some” tactics are sure ways of wasting money. So study your competition, clearly differentiate your brand, and create two or three key messages that effectively and interestingly support your differentiated claim. Then your brand at least has a fighting chance of being recognized as valuable by prospects.

In technical marketing sectors, demonstrating your brand's special expertise can be a powerful way of creating content that's valuable and interesting to customers. Another of my earlier posts discusses how engineers can be an intimate part of the public relations effort. (See: Engineers Can Do Public Relations, Too.)

Call it “content marketing” or publicity, getting the technology creators talking or writing about how or why to use your technology is typically quite effective. The associated cost is time, not money. Technologists can write for publication in traditional media, blog on their own, or post ideas and information to appropriate blog sites followed by your customer base.

You've likely noticed EBN has a substantial cast of people doing exactly this. Writing for publication in existing outlets is more effective than self-publishing because of the typically far greater reach and credibility they offer versus your company's own Website. Link-backs from the article and re-use permissions provide even greater mileage. This kind of publicity generates search optimization results. It's a case of PR driving search and search creating benefits to PR.

Whitepapers are OK as long as whatever you develop is informative and not merely revised product literature. Whitepapers are supposed to be a brand-neutral discussion of a topic of general interest to your customer base. It can include your company's perspective on this topic but not a veiled sales pitch. Merchandising whitepapers is another article. They can be used to help create Web search results and as a way of driving and capturing customer responses — if their content is perceived as valuable.

Plan consistent contact by building relationships with market analysts, journalists, and consultants who write about the market or affect purchase decisions. Seems logical, right? Your competition may already be doing it. If they're not, you'll have an advantage. Just make it a consistent habit. Talk to these people; don't just shoot occasional news releases at them. Have something interesting to say. Have a point of view on the business you're in. Talk as well as write about it.

Part of market engagement also involves connecting at key industry tradeshows. While exhibiting can be a heavy investment, coming to the show — walking the floor, seeing who's there and what they're saying, meeting people, and attending some of the presentations — typically is not. Great partnerships have resulted from planned or even chance meetings. Good things can happen on and off the show floor. Don't miss the opportunities.

Who markets alongside of you to the same prospects? What can you do together to increase awareness and build mutual value among your existing and prospective customers. Can you create something people will notice? I once had two clients who had little to say individually, but jointly they addressed a key technology problem that people were interested in. Initial joint PR efforts developed into cooperative sales and customer training programs that significantly benefitted all. Who can you dance with successfully?

These are a few of the potential ways of making limited marketing dollars work extra hard for your brand.

10 comments on “Doing Great PR on a Shoestring Budget

  1. Cryptoman
    March 1, 2012

    This is a very interesting and informative article Ford. Thank you for sharing.

    You have touched on some key tools/methods on using online resources for improving the effectiveness of marketing and I totally agree. Especially, creating backlinks and generating as many references as possible to a product is a key method to enhance the exposure in the virtual world.

    I would also recommend using Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to improve the effectiveness of online marketing. Knowing what search engines look for and how they provide search result rankings is a great way to get ahead of the game. SEO is all about doing things systematically rather than randomly to achieve tangible results on marketing.

    March 2, 2012

    One only needs to look at what is happening in the music industry to witness the power of grassroots low budget PR.  Many artists are using the internet and social media to promote their music and that does not cost a lot in dollar terms.

  3. Eldredge
    March 2, 2012

    Your points regarding white papers are right on – when I read them, I am looking for helpful technical information to either learn about the topic, or solve a problem. Of course, it is helpful for the company providing the paper if it highlights the technical benefits of their product, but the presentation has to be accurate. From a marketing persprective, white papers certainly take a supporting role, but are probably not the front line of marketing tools.


  4. Ford Kanzler
    March 2, 2012

    Scott – Suggest considering the difference between consumer and tech business purchasing decisions when discussing what's viable using social media. There's typically a vast difference between the two in what needs to occur to trigger sales. Number of touches, decision periods, budget availability and other factors all come into play in a B2B purchase. It can get even more complex with a technology purchase. For a B2B tech brand creating a social media community following, it must develop and push interesting content very cosistently to maintain community interest. Its kind of like maintaining a Web site on steroids. It can certainly be done but at what cost? On way of keeping costs lower is reusing content. However, the content must still be relevant to the audience and the purchasing stage a person may be in. Are they considering a category or already focused on your brand (engaged and considered prospect)? What I'm suggesting is that selling into the EOM sector is really nothing like selling records to teens or 20-somethings. 

    Futher still on the use of social media, which is currently considered so cool, I wonder about the investments in social media marketing made by some large B2B brands like Cisco and whether they have ways of tracking sales of products costing tens of thousands of dollars back to their social media activity. That promotional investment appears similar to the spending that used to occur on corporate (pure brand) print advertising. Such promotion may aid in raising broader awareness but is there any direct correlation to customer behavior? In either case this certainly isn't low budget marketing. Big brands spend lots on social media. My point is social media community building and maintenance is not necessarily cheap. It can quickly become a full-time job for one or more people within a company and take away time from other perhaps far more effective promotional activities. Social media's always-on nature and expectation of nearly instant responses by a brand to its community's behavior can be daunting and expensive, as well as potentially valuable and also fraught with hazards. However, I'm NOT suggesting that companies ignor how their brand is being discussed online. Blogging and commenting on relevant sites is not costly and is an area where nearly any brand, regardless of its size or budget, can play effectively.

  5. elctrnx_lyf
    March 4, 2012

    Marketing is a very critical part for any companies. These days with the growing online advertising and very attractive ads on social networking sites are also critical for business growth.

  6. tioluwa
    March 5, 2012

    This has been really simple but very informative indeed.


    Social media however is still a tricky business. I really can't place my finger on any tech company effectively using social media for publicity nad marketting.

    If you know of any i would sure like to know.

    A great article, thanks for sharing.

  7. Ford Kanzler
    March 5, 2012

    All – Thanks for your comments. This item  – relates to ONE of the objectives of social media involvement/engagement…the positive referral by a customer/user of your brand to another person traditionally known as word-of-mouth (WOM). I believe this is what many marketers are hoping will occur in addition to just helping maintain some degree of brand awareness and positive regard. What's unfortunately missing from this recent research is a breakdown of the level of B2C vs. B2B social media brand advocacy. The points that (consumer) technology products are most referred and that email is still most used as the online WOM medium, I believe are most interesting.

    To Tioluwa – MANY B2C tech brand are heavy social media users. The gaming companies are perhaps most notable among them. Both B2C hardware and software brands heavily apply a social media component to their marketing efforts. Sony's recent “challenges” with hacked access Playstation customer account is but one of the potential downsides to social media. The upsides of surveying and maintain close, consistent contact wtih your customer base, including discovering use case info, cannot be ignorred. 

    As with nearly any marketing tactic, its value depends on the brand's market situation and the competitive environment. Social media, and the degree of its application to your marketing, sales, customer service and perhaps investor relations are situationally-dependent. I'd suggest ALL B2B brands ought to be tracking and periodically commenting on relevant blogs in their market, just as they would be regularly reading trade journals like EBN and EETimes, which obviously also have active blogging components. That's a great staring point for staying in touch with your market. You can build on that if it makes sense.

  8. bolaji ojo
    March 5, 2012

    Ford, One of the best examples I have of effective PR is also a testimony to how a single individual can make a huge difference in how a company is perceived, warts and all. I have for years worked with a corporate PR guy with a top 10 chipmaker who has always been forthright in dealing with me and candid in answering every question I have had about his employer.

    He is still at the job. He doesn't try to snow me under each time I had a question about the company. He tries hard to make executives available and when this is not possible, he does his best with background and sometimes on-record information. Before you ask, no, not all the PR folks at the company operate at the same level. In fact, his boss drives me crazy with blatant corporate promotion that's not anchored in truth. I avoid her.

    Yet, the company gets “good” press from me and when negative news break about it (which sometimes happen) I am able to be as objective as possible knowing my contact at the company would try to provide no-BS perspective (He's told me before on a particular subject that the company “dropped the ball”) and when possible, get a senior executive to explain the company's position. I consider this one of the fundamentals of great PR.

  9. Ford Kanzler
    March 5, 2012

    Bolaji – Doing media relations well, as you describe below, is certainly an important part of marketing on a shoestring. Staying well connected with media people who help form perceptions in your market, in this case the editor of EBN, is part of the mix of actions that can carry great weight while not costing a lot. You'll certainly get my vote for no-BS, straight-shooting public relations as the cornerstone for strategically powerful, cost-effective tech business communications. It doesn't have to be costly or difficult but it does take the right kind of talent to consistently execute it.

  10. JADEN
    March 7, 2012

    Marketing is important in building customer relationships as well as creating product awareness.  Without an effective marketing strategy you stand to not gain customers or lose customers which equates to revenue loss and growth.  For a company to grow, marketing is the vehicle.

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