You’re too busy to do public relations (aren’t we all?). But funds are too tight to hire a PR star. Reaching out to the press and public doesn’t have to be time intensive or expensive, says Kelli Matthews, managing director at Verve Northwest Communications in Eugene, Ore., and PR instructor at the University of Oregon. She and other experts offer these eight simple PR tactics that natural foods retailers of any size can implement.
1. Position yourself as a resource.
“You’re not just a storefront,” Matthews says. “You have a great deal of expertise and personal passion.” Through press releases on timely topics, you’re letting natural-minded journalists and bloggers know you’re willing and able to be interviewed about natural foods, healthy-lifestyle trends and nutritional supplements. You can also send off a quick email when you hear about an interesting health idea, but be selective—if you inundate writers’ inboxes, your emails may be caught by their spam filters.
Another option: Offer recipes featuring top-selling items from your store. “Comfort foods that replace no-nos with yes-yes ingredients like tempeh bacon are a good idea,” says Kezia Jauron, co-owner of Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Evolotus PR.
And don’t forget events calendars in local publications: If you have something newsworthy going on at your store, like a speaker or a class, shoot a quick email with the date, time, location and a short description of the event, along with contact info.
2. Be a good sound bite.
Sending out a press release or email tip is only part of an effective PR campaign. You also need to make sure you’re a good interviewee. Reporters are looking for experts who respond quickly to their phone calls or emails; who can explain complex issues like food safety clearly, concisely and accurately; and who provide colorful, quotable statements.
3. Target specific writers and bloggers
Local publications are more likely to use you as a source than national ones, which have a wider pool of experts to choose from. You can usually find newspaper writers’ contact information at the end of their stories; magazine writers’ email addresses are sometimes listed in the opening pages of the magazine, or you can call the information number and ask. A quick way to find local bloggers is to do an Internet search on your city + the subject you’re interested in (food, for example) + bloggers. Experts recommend you then target the blogs that get several well-considered reader responses a day.
4. Pitch yourself.
Try the free pitchengine.com to host press releases and media announcements about your store or new products, or to post videos, images and social media links. The “customized newsroom” service keeps links live for more than 30 days for $50 a month, according to Nathan Rome, PR director at M/C/C, a Dallas-based PR and advertising agency. “The only catch is that it won’t actually send out the release; however it does make a far more attractive option for reporters and journalists on your media lists,” he says.
5. Get brand-name assistance.
Contact the PR or marketing departments of a favorite nutrition bar, ice cream or other try-it item. Many brands are more than willing to use stores as venues for product promotions. “The brand handles the invites and media outreach, and then has a free space to do mini facials with skin care products, cooking demos or tastings to introduce their products,” says Michael Rogers of New York- and Los Angeles-based Michael Rogers Public Relations.
6. Taste test.
“Invite local press and bloggers in for monthly or quarterly tastings of new or trendy products,” suggests Hilary Allard of The Castle Group, a Boston-based PR firm. “Have your employees or company reps on hand to explain why these products are good or popular, and the benefits.” Foodie bloggers are a particularly prolific and opinionated bunch. Ask bloggers to be transparent about the free samples if they choose to write about the products; this gives them—and consequently you—more credibility with their readers. Check blogwithintegrity.com for details.
7. Improve your reputation
A PR person’s job duties include monitoring your reputation on Yelp, Google and other user sites. “I’d recommend setting aside 15 to 30 minutes each week and just going through and checking for new updates on your Yelp pages,” Rome says. Set up Google alerts for your store’s name, so you’ll be the first to know about new reviews and Internet gossip.
8. Be a do gooder
Choose a local charity to highlight for a month, donate a percentage of sales toward the cause and make sure the media knows about it. “The [fundraising] goal is presented at the first of the month with a big event highlighting the cause, including a tasting of selected items, live music and speakers from the cause,” says Jacqueline Wolven, owner of moxieworks.net, a small-business marketing studio in Fayetteville, Ark. “The opening and closing events are great PR opportunities.” A cool twist on this: Sponsor an athlete in a charity running race.