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Shel Horowitz: Should you seek publicity for your green business?

Publicity uses traditional media — newspapers, magazines, newsletters, radio and television — to get the word out about your product, service and/or ideas — not by paying for advertising, but by becoming part of the content.

There are many ways to get media publicity. Examples include (among many others) an article about your product or service, or one that at least mentions you, in either the news or feature pages … a profile of your business … an announcement of an event you’re doing … an interview with you on TV or radio … a reporter covering your product-launch press conference. It brings visibility, credibility, opportunity and sales.

Publicity provides the seal of approval of a trusted outside source: a journalist. Like testimonials and awards, this third-party validation helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace. And of course, it also means that a lot more people hear about you. Not only will people see the newscast, read the publication or hear you on the radio, but in many cases you can quote from the publicity in your own marketing materials, link to it on your website and generally maximize the impact to your benefit.

Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes for a moment: If you’re trying to choose a vendor, and you visit one website that shows the product has been covered in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, the Business Times in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and The Boston Globe in the United States — but the other websites you visit don’t mention any press — which are you more likely to choose?

When you get free publicity rather than pay for advertising, you give up control over the content. The news media can write what they want, and you may have to deal with correcting inaccuracies later. But you have the added legitimacy of being chosen to represent your field.

And because news coverage at least pretends to be unbiased, it is more valuable than advertising; you get, in a sense, a testimonial — a disinterested, credible party who thinks you’re worthy of positive attention. Many people take news coverage more seriously than advertising — and may be more likely to be influenced by it than by a paid ad. This is particularly true these days, as ads not only have less credibility than they used to, but are often bypassed entirely, as new technologies allow them to be skipped.

For green businesses, publicity has many additional advantages:

• Publicity helps you introduce complex concepts to new audiences. If, for instance, you run a zero-waste factory, or build homes that don’t need a furnace or air conditioning system, a good article can make it clear that these “impossible” achievements are actually quite possible.

• News coverage educates the public about environmental issues. From climate change to recycling, the press helps citizens understand the wider issues, and how they play out locally.

• When you tell your story in the news media, you can differentiate your business from not-so-green competitors.

And sometimes, publicity leads to more contacts that advance your career: A company president sees the article and decides you’re the perfect consultant to transition that company to renewable energy and green manufacturing … a meeting planner contacts you to see whether you could speak at a conference in front of 200 of your best prospects … a different journalist sees the story and wants to cover you as well. In short, the media coverage can become a doorway to far more lucrative ventures.

Oh yes, and don’t forget that every now and then, an article or a TV or radio interview can actually motivate people to go out and buy your product then and there! Especially if you make it easy by including your website, your phone number and some kind of special offer.

Shel Horowitz, shel@greenandprofitable.com, is the primary author of “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green” (John Wiley & Sons).

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