Thomas Babington Macaulay, a 19th century British historian and politician, once said, “Nothing except the Mint can make money without advertising.” I guess that includes us.
In the antique business, advertising is as compulsory as paying rent. But local, unproven print-only advertising can be expensive. How can we leverage our advertising dollars so that we may get more bang-for-the-buck?
The answer is to use public relations (PR) methods to build our brand. PR is strictly for building name recognition, though; if you want to make the cash register ring tomorrow, you still have to advertise.
How can we effectively employ public relations techniques to increase our brand awareness and bottom line? I’ll list some tried-and-true methods below, but first let’s review a few public relations basics:
• Know what you want to say and who you want to say it to, and then find publications that appeal to your target demographic. There’s no point spending money to develop a PR campaign if media outlets won’t run your feature, and they won’t run your feature if it won’t appeal to their readers.
• Know how you’re going to deliver your message. Sometimes a press release may be all you need, but why take the chance? Use multiple channels such as articles or advertorials with still photos attached, plus videos, podcasts and social media.
• Make it newsworthy. To qualify as news, your campaign must be, well, new. Don’t try to capitalize on an event that happened last month. No media outlet will fall for it, and your future solicitations will end up in their trash bin.
Here are a few PR tactics that, if done right, bring results:
1. First, the “piggy-back”: Lend your support to another organization’s event that will attract your desired customers. For example, when a local museum, art gallery, historical society, designer showcase or charity opens a new event, offer to sponsor a pre-show wine and cheese (or similar type of) reception. The key to getting this tactic to work is to know ahead of time what the sponsor’s promotional plan is, what public relations methods will be used, how many people are expected to attend and what portion of the publicity you will share in. Only when you have all of those details can you evaluate whether the benefits exceed the expense.
2. Or, you could sponsor a unique event. Unique and timely promotions are almost always newsworthy. I recently read a press release issued by the “99 Cents Only Store” that I thought was very clever: a Valentine’s Day hugging challenge to win a shopping spree at one of their stores [http://prn.to/1Ljjk0w].
Of course, a shopping spree would be out of the question for an antique dealer; it would be a good way to go broke. But the “hugging challenge” is a unique idea that garnered a lot of press attention. The key to making this work would be to make the prize affordable to you and appealing to the contestants.
Public relations tactics, if done right, bring results.
For example, you could cross-promote with a local restaurant and/or hotel to offer a romantic local getaway for two that would include dinner and a room for the night, or dinner and a movie, or some such combination. Events can be created around traditional holidays, or odd fun-type celebrations such as Record Store Day (April 16), Sewing Machine Day (June 13), Handbag Day (October 10) or other of the few hundred such wacky celebrations listed on timeanddate.com [http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/fun/].
3. Capitalize on press releases: A well-written press release distributed to the right media outlet can be a powerful tool for your business. Antique dealers often acquire unusual items that make for good news stories. Antique Trader uses such submissions from time to time, and regularly features businesses in their “Knowing Your Business” section. Another excellent resource from Antique Trader is their Events Calendar. Auction houses and show promoters can have their shows listed for free in the calendar, and if the promoter overlooks the calendar, dealers who are displaying at a particular show can send in the event details. Antique Trader often shares dealer news stories on social media and in their email newsletters, which reach tens of thousands of readers.
A well-written press release can’t be a “fluff” piece about your business, though; it has to contain actual news or something that will interest readers. A good story should have a “hook,” to draw the reader in, and cover the “who, what, when, where, why” of your story. Press releases are usually re-written and crafted to a reporter’s needs so they don’t have to be long; a couple of paragraphs will do. If a reporter has questions, he or she will call, so be sure to include your contact information.
4. Use advertorials. An advertorial is essentially an article that is a cross between an editorial and an advertisement; I’m sure you see these regularly. If the advertorial content is informative and its photos are compelling it will draw readers, whereas a display ad of the same size might be ignored.
It’s helpful, too, if the advertorial is written by a credible third-party expert. Good advertorial topics include “how-to” articles (restoration, repair, antique shopping, etc.) or points of connoisseurship for various collectibles.
Advertorials can be found both online and in print. Online articles have more longevity than print articles, so make advertorials “evergreen” (not time-constrained). Periodicals charge to run advertorials, and will mark them (in small print) with “Paid Advertisement” or some such disclaimer. Many local and web periodicals run advertorials. For example, the publication “Antiques and Art Around Florida” sells advertorial space regularly [http://aarf.com/body6.htm].
5. Get quoted. When the media positions you as an expert, your credibility escalates. Today’s reporters are an overworked and underpaid lot; the Internet has severely diminished traditional media jobs. Reporters have become desk-bound, and have neither the time nor the budget to run around town doing interviews. You can help them out by getting to know them and becoming a reliable source. Send them press releases, and follow up on those releases. Don’t overwhelm them (or expect them to respond to everything you send).
Over time, you will develop “top of the mind awareness” with them, and when they write an article on a topic in which you have established expertise, they will call you for input. Don’t overlook writers and reporters for trade journals, either. Industry journalists must churn out quality content on a regular basis and are always in need of good ideas and new topics.
Another avenue for being quoted is to hook up with HARO, or “Help A Reporter Out” [http://helpareporter.com]. HARO is a subscription service that connects expert sources to reporters. Journalists in need of quotes or advice place their requests with HARO, and HARO sends email alerts to sources.
Don’t let your expertise go unnoticed … maximize your media exposure by incorporating public relations techniques into your promotional budget.