How much is a press release worth? Try $25,000. All the beneficial talk about social media marketing might have lulled you into a false sense of security. You are, after all, tweeting, blogging, and Facebooking galore, reaching a potential global audience with all the new viral marketing techniques. But if you abandon traditional media (print, radio, TV), you may cut yourself off from potentially significant resources and businesses still loyal to established and time-honored news outlets. Here's a case in point:
For our first annual New Venture Challenge, to be held on May 13, 2011, our goal is to raise $15,000 in awards funds. We decided on a two-tier competition, one for local high school students, and the other for our college students. We felt that inviting high school students on campus to interact with college students would create an entrepreneurial pathway from high school to college, and promote youth entrepreneurship in the community – a nice hook for many potential sponsors.
We built a New Venture Challenge Web site, announced it on Facebook and tweeted and blogged about it. We needed to create momentum and raise quite a bit of funding for the awards. We also sent an early press release announcing the event; one sentence indicated that sponsorship opportunities were still available.
The release was picked up by our local online newspaper and read by a founder of a newly established local bank. The bank was looking for an opportunity to connect in the community, and promoting youth entrepreneurship and college scholarships fit squarely within their mission. We had a meeting, and I walked away with a $25,000 commitment, that is $5,000 each year for five years for the high school student awards, in the form of college scholarships.
The lesson is that embracing social media is important, but traditional marketing remains important.
In this series on Marketing on a Shoestring, we've discussed powerful but low-cost ways to market your program or center, from social media to creating events and now traditional print. What other promotional activities can help you get the word out?
- Be active in your local community.When you venture into the community, wear your marketing hat and bring promotional materials and business cards along. As director of our center, I have been invited to speak at Rotary clubs and women's groups, and have joined local entrepreneurial organizations and boards. I also attend as many entrepreneurial events in the business community as I can such as chamber events, executive roundtable events, and young entrepreneur events. In addition, high schools have career days but most do not have "entrepreneurship” on their list of topics. I have been proactive in promoting entrepreneurship as a viable career choice at both the high school level and in our own career center.
- Be active in your regional and national community.Offer to be a guest columnist for a national journal, or write entrepreneurship papers for publication to help get your program noticed. Attending conferences can be a boost to your program as there are usually excellent marketing "take-aways” and best practices. Look for events your state hosts in the area of economic development and attend one or two a year. Get to know state officials who support and promote entrepreneurship.
- Visit with your "competitors.”If your community is anything like mine, there are several organizations or colleges developing entrepreneurial centers, events and educational programs. If you view these organizations as competitors, you could end up ostracized from the entrepreneurial community and labeled as the folks who don't play nice. We prefer to work with other organizations rather than fight for territory. Our position is extremely non-competitive, open and collaborative – and it is paying off.
I visit with two-year and four-year colleges in and around our region and keep abreast of their programs. I visit with all the local organizations and sometimes table at their events. I emphasize our goal is to provide low-cost education to our target market: students. This usually brings down barriers to discussing collaboration and opens opportunities for support. And sometimes things pan out. For example, one nearby community college received a large state grant for an entrepreneurship center. After our visit, the director offered to bring the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour to our college and pay for it!
Promoting your program is no simple, one-time task. The good news is you can do a lot with a very small budget. Marketing relates to everything you do in your educational program, on campus and when you venture into the community. Remember these essentials:
(1) Create a brand and apply it to everything you do;
(2) Embrace the top forms of social media to build awareness (but not at the expense of traditional media – such as press releases);
(3) Develop a few key events to complement activities in your existing entrepreneurial community; and
(4) Wear your marketing hat wherever you go and whatever you do!