A lot of folks think of me as the business plan guy.
And if I'm the business plan guy, when I started my company Growthink, you would think I would have spent a lot of time writing my business plan.
You would think I would have done market research to confirm I was pursuing a solid opportunity. You would think I would have developed a comprehensive marketing plan. And you would think I would have created a financial model showing my growth potential and financing needs.
But in reality, I didn't do any of this.
Here's what really happened.
It was a sunny day in August 1999 (I remember that because I was living in Santa Monica, CA at the time and every day was sunny). And I was sitting at my kitchen table working on my juice company.
Ok...not to go off on too big a tangent, but I guess I should explain my juice venture. When I first moved to California from New York in 1996 I saw the success of juice bars. I loved the concept and wanted to start a business in that field. I even worked at minimum wage at two juice bars for a summer to learn the business inside and out.
My concept was to create a frozen smoothie product. You see, a 16 ounce smoothie has 8 ounces of water and 8 ounces of "stuff" (mostly fruit puree, fruit juice, and frozen yogurt). So, I packaged the "stuff" such that you could buy it in a supermarket, put it in your home blender, add 8 ounces of water, and create a smoothie just as good as the smoothies served in the juice bars.
So, I was running my juice venture, and I was burning cash. I was pre-revenue and was spending money working with companies to formulate my product, for product packaging, etc.
Ok...so back to August 1999. I'm sitting at my kitchen table working and my wife walks in. "Dave," she says, "I have to tell you something."
"What," I reply.
"I'm pregnant," she said.
Now clearly I was thrilled. But the conversation that ensued was a bit sobering. You see, at the time, my wife was working in Public Relations at a hotel. And all the employees had to park underneath the hotel. And in California, many underground parking garages (including the one she parked in) have big signs saying "Warning: This Area Contains Chemicals Known To The State of California To Cause Cancer and Birth Defects Or Other Reproductive Harm."
Well, as you can imagine, once she learned she was pregnant, my wife wasn't going to park in that garage again. And as a result, she wasn't going to work for that hotel anymore. And she didn't want to start a new job.
So, our primary (actually only) breadwinner (my wife) was about to quit her job.
Which meant I had to bring in money, and quickly, if I wanted to continue to pursue my juice venture.
So I started thinking, "How can I quickly generate some money?"
And it quickly hit me -- business planning. You see, creating business plans was something I was really good at. I had taken a business planning course in my MBA program. I had entered a business plan competition and won. And I had already written business plans for a few friends and colleagues, and for a couple of clients in a past job.
That's it, I decided...I'll make some money writing business plans. That will pay the bills and allow me to pursue my juice venture.
But, then, the next question hit me, "how am I going to get clients?" Particularly without any marketing budget this was challenging. And with the internet in its infancy there was no social media marketing I could do, nor job board-type sites that I could post on.
And then it hit me. As I mentioned, my wife had been working in PR, and her efforts were getting her hotel in lots of magazines. Which resulted in lots of new business.
Which led me to realize that I should also get PR. And use that to get new clients.
But I also realized that I needed a story to pitch the media. The media wasn't going to care or write about the fact that my wife was pregnant and so I was writing business plans to pay the bills. This wasn't exciting.
So what would be exciting? Well, here's what I came up with. It was August 1999. And the MBA students from UCLA's Anderson School had just graduated, and many of them were starting their own ventures. Because most of these ventures didn't yet have funding, the graduating students were offering low-cost business plan development services to other entrepreneurs in order to sustain their ventures.
Now that was exciting. That was unique.
I only had to make 2 calls and send 2 emails. One set of emails/phone calls was to Entrepreneur Magazine. And the second set was to the Los Angeles Times.
Within 24 hours, the Los Angeles Times had gotten back to me. They loved the story. One of their reporters called and interviewed me, and two days later, a big article was written about me and my "company" in the Small Business section.
That day, I received nearly 100 phone calls and 100 emails.
I generated enough business for 4 months (during which I worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week).
After those 4 months, I realized I had identified a real business opportunity: writing business plans for other entrepreneurs. And over the past 12 years, I have been fortunate enough to build that into a thriving business (while encountering lots of bumps in the road along the way as all entrepreneurs do).
The reason I wanted to tell you this story today is to show you the enormous power of PR.
Let me give you some more facts and insights regarding my mention in the Los Angeles Times:
1. Customers: as mentioned, the press generated tons of new customers for me.
2. Credibility: Press from legitimate sources like the Los Angeles Times gives you instant credibility. I did not have a long track record of success at the time (e.g., no customer testimonials, no case studies, etc.), but no one asked to see them since I was "approved" by the Los Angeles Times.
3. Investors: As a result of the article, I also received several emails and calls from investors. They wanted to learn more about what I was doing and I received a funding offer from it (which I didn't take for other reasons).
More customers, credibility and investors...I'd say that's certainly worthwhile. (I also received qualified employee resumes from it too).
Importantly, here are some of the PR lessons I learned from this and other experiences since then:
1. You need a good hook. As I mentioned above, the media wouldn't have cared if I was opening up a business plan business. But the story about multiple graduating MBA students who were also entrepreneurs writing reasonably priced business plans on the side was exciting. (Note that I did actually recruit some of my MBA colleagues to do the work; but I probably did 90% of the work myself). In finding a good hook, read and watch the media you want to appear in. What do their readers/viewers want to learn? What are their exciting headlines? Use that to figure out a headline (for a story promoting your company) that their readers/viewers would love to hear.
2. Multi-Channel Marketing & Perseverance. I got lucky. I only contacted 2 media sources in order to get my story written. Typically you need to contact many more media sources. You also need to use multiple channels (e.g., not just send emails, but make telephone calls too), and you need to be perseverant (up to a point; at some point you cross the stalker line).
3. Understand the Media. There's a reason why the Los Angeles Times quickly responded to my pitch and Entrepreneur magazine did not. Why? Because the Los Angeles Times is much more prone to feature a Los Angeles-based business. Rather than targeting Entrepreneur magazine, I should have focused on more Los Angeles focused publications.
4. Understand the Media's Timeline. Here I got a little lucky again. If Entrepreneur magazine would have picked up my story, it would have probably taken a month or two for it to have been published. Since monthly magazines have longer lead time. Conversely daily newspapers and blogs can publish your story within days. So, if you need press quickly, or to cover a timely event, seek out daily or weekly media sources.
5. Constantly Follow-up with the Media. After my article was published, I sent a thank you note to the journalist. But I never kept in touch with her thereafter. That was a big mistake. Why? Because, as a result, that journalist never interviewed me again. On the other hand, a journalist for another magazine interviewed me a couple years later. I DID follow-up and keep in touch with her. The result, she called me and included me in 4 articles in the following years.
You've probably heard the term, "there's no such thing as bad press." I may not go so far as to agree with that. But I can assure you that "good press" is attainable, and when you get it, you get lots of benefits from it (customers, credibility, investors, etc.). So, follow my 5 tips above and get PR for your business!
Suggested Resource: PR maven Joy Schoffler and I will be conducting a free, live PR webinar this Wednesday, October 19. We'll be discussing how publicity can help grow your business, how to get media coverage, and much more. Click here to register.