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Marketing: Promoting your company  
by Gwen Watkins

The promotion of a company can be divided into two parts ‚ advertising and public relations. Advertising is any form of promotional material that has to be paid for ie adverts in print, broadcast or electronic media; flyers; banners; give-aways etc.

Public relations includes the use of press releases to promote a business and, though the writing may be professionally commissioned, it is inserted into the relevant media free of charge.

How is this possible?

The print and broadcast media in South Africa need to have new stories all the time and there is a limit as to what reporters can cover. Therefore they also rely on companies to inform them of exciting, innovative or controversial items of news. Major companies employ public relations companies to do this writing for them, usually on a retainer basis. This option is not necessarily possible for emerging and entrepreneurial businesses but this does not mean that these businesses cannot get free publicity.

How do I start?

The first step is to analyse precisely what business you are in and then find out what media serves it. Even within newspapers, there are specific areas of interest covered by different reporters. Think broadly, when defining your business. For instance, a company starting up with a new way to market to spaza shops must not see itself solely trading in the black market and so concentrate only on media aimed at this market. This kind of idea is also of interest to marketing, financial and new business media.

Where do I get the media lists?

For R400, you can buy the latest copy of the Media Manager Directory from Ibis Media. This lists every publication in South Africa, by category, including general and community broadcast media. The list states what the editorial policy is and all the contact details needed.

What do I do next?

The next thing is to decide what you want to say about your company. The golden rule of journalism is that every story should answer the five basic questions ‚ who, what, when, where and why. The order in which you write these is dictated by the actual story. If you are launching something and you want the press to come to it to see what it is ‚ start with when. If you are launching something and someone important is doing the launch ‚ start with who. If you are launching a product that is new ‚ start with what. If you are doing something innovative ‚ start with why.

How do I capture their attention

You have very little time in which to capture the attention of any journalist who probably receives hundreds of news items a week. So the first rule is have a catchy headline. Even if they change it and they probably will, at least you have caught their eye. Keep the opening paragraph short and punchy and put the main point first. Answer the five questions and end with something to catch their attention. People tend to read and remember only the first and last lines of material when they are in a hurry.

How do I write well, when I have no experience?

First of all, write with passion. If you don't sound enthusiastic about your idea, product or dream ‚ no one else will be. Secondly, keep it simple and avoid your own industry jargon and acronyms ‚ they only annoy journalists who cannot be expected to keep track of every society, product and technical term. A good test is to give it to someone who knows nothing about your business. If they go "Wow, that's interesting," you've probably got it right. If they go "Uh, okay," write it again. Lastly, go for plain English words and sentences. Don't say "It is anticipated that the company will be on track for its first trial in the late part of the third quarter." Say, "The company will run its first trial in September." If you can't be that sure, then you shouldn't be sending out a press statement anyway.

What about photos?

If you have a photo ‚ say so. It really is worth a thousand words. First rule is to send a print and caption it well but not by writing on the back of the photo as these are scanned and black ink shows through. Carefully attach the caption with sticky tape to the photo, do not use a paper clip. These get parted at newspapers and then no one has a clue whose photo is whose. Send one of yourself if it is relevant but not if it looks like Police File. Invest in decent photos and, if you can, get them digitally scanned as high-resolution JPEG files. These can then be sent electronically as you will never get original photos or negatives back. If it is something complicated ‚ indicate which way is up and if there is more than one person in the photo caption it by stating Left to Right and listing the names. Media get very irritated if they get names wrong and have to apologise.

How do I finish off?

When you have ended the story, count the words (most software programmes do that for you) and then type Ends ‚ 240 words. This is useful if a journalist wants a short story because they know then how much you have given them. Underneath that put your name, designation, company name and contact details. (Who knows they may want to come and interview you if you get it right). Don't e-mail it as an attachment but incorporate it into the text ‚ some media are very worried about viruses and block attachments coming in.

Finally don't give up. Professional PR companies warn clients that it can take up to three months to establish good media connections, so be persistent and keep on writing about your company. Remember the world no longer beats a path to the best mousetrap ‚ it beats a path to the mousetrap with the sign "The world's best mousetrap."

About the author

Gwen Watkins has run a public relations and media consultancy since September 1988 and, as a business owner, understands the needs of entrepreneurs. She has helped emerging companies with their marketing and media needs, such as Hope Madikane-Otto & Associates, which won the 1997 Lebone Award for small enterprises and G O Secretarial Services, one of the EnterPrize 2000 finalists. She is currently coaching a new team for the EbterPrize 2001 competition.

Tel (011) 802-2066