Guest post by Julie Busha. Julie is an entrepreneur, marketer and branding expert despite a background outside of communications. She is a partner at Nicole Foods, the maker of Slawsa and the Founder and CEO of benchmarketing, LLC. Follow @julesbusha on Twitter
Whether or not you think that an entrepreneur earned his or her spot in the Tank, you can’t dispute that every pitch is full of business lessons that provide valuable takeaways to the viewers at home. Andrew Figgins asked if I, an entrepreneur, would be able to pick through some of these lessons to bring you aboard my journey on how I implement them in my own business.
Over the seasons, we’ve seen dozens of entrepreneurs reference that their lack of sales stems from lack of brand awareness. “If only people knew we were here.” Mark Cuban is going to nod his head in disgust when they say they need to spend part of the asked investment dollars on hiring a PR agency. Luckily for them, the publicity gained from airing on Shark Tank to millions of viewers is any entrepreneurs dream (aside from the potential to partner with a great business mind). But for those of us who don’t live on reality TV, gaining awareness through pitching media outlets can provide a huge opportunity for growth.
In season 3, episode 4, Kelly Chaney cited articles in three dog magazines that her brand, Puppy Cake, was featured. Kevin O’Leary quipped that these were magazines that only dogs read. For such a focused product, approaching industry magazines like she did, to be honest, was a pretty easy feat because her product is exactly what they are looking for. Her sales were low and she probably could have come to the tank with bigger numbers had she been more aggressive in reaching beyond those “safe” industry magazines and more into mainstream media, especially if she had an online presence to generate sales as a direct result. That media pitching effort might have also helped hone her ability to pitch to retailers and close sales, a skill that she admitted to the Sharks that she lacked.
Just like a can of paint is the cheapest way to change the look of a room, publicity might be the cheapest way to grow brand awareness…that is, if you do it yourself. I wholeheartedly agree with Cuban that startups should never hire a PR firm as marketing dollars are better invested elsewhere. I don’t want to dismiss the value of a PR agency but no one knows your product better than you, and I find all too often that some of the professionals want to write very “template-style” press releases that, while distributed to many, get read or re-posted by but a few. It is the entrepreneur that will create a passionate message to communicate his or her brand in a way that will be noticed by journalists and consumers alike. Passion is key.
Well, that sounds great, Julie…but what specifically can I do to grow my brand through media?
Obviously, the more unique your product is, the easier the road. I am very fortunate that my brand, Slawsa, is very different from anything in the grocery industry so we’ve had a lot of stellar reviews from food writers and bloggers for little more than the time to make a phone call and the cost of shipping them a sample. Why? Their interest is peaked by something that they have never tried before and luckily our flavor supports their desire to move forth with editorial content. I cannot imagine having a product like a barbecue sauce or cookie that is a dime a dozen, but even at that, find something about your brand or business that is compelling to pitch to your media. Does your product solve a problem or fill a void, has health or environmental benefits, won awards or benefit a charity? Do you have a personal backstory that is compelling? Look, members of the media are drawn to stories because that is what their readers demand.
Create a pitch that is very targeted to the media outlet you are pitching and craft your message to be inline with its demographic, energy, seasonality, etc. Don’t copy and paste the same pitch and expect everyone to pick it up. I find that most journalists are in the middle of a deadline and if you don’t catch them at the right time, they simply delete your message. One of my biggest pet peeves is that people no longer pick up the phone to develop relationships. Even if it’s a simple voicemail to precede your email pitch, media is more likely to give a response because they’ve associated a human voice and sincerity with the words in an email. Keep your pitch succinct, to the point, yet one that intrigues them to want to learn more. Also, offer to send samples, photos, an opportunity to tell them more…and ALWAYS send hand-written thank you notes post press. It’s a lost art that keeps the door open for future opportunities.