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When business is slow, more than ever, you need to stay visible. Public relations can come to your rescue inexpensively - and often for free. Every organisation uses PR, from the logo on your van or colour of team uniforms, to sponsoring the local football team. Even your email sign-off is working for you if it gives the right impression. Here are seven ways to grow your business using ‘easy PR’:
 

1. Make great service a top priority

 
In these days of price-sensitivity, review your service levels for a competitive edge, even to loyal customers. Look for opportunities to take service up a notch, on the phone and in person. Ask customers for their feedback and opinions and act on what they say. Answering phones promptly and professionally is a good signal that you’re serious about hearing from clients, no matter the reason for the call. Make a new policy for timely turnaround of enquiries and complaint-handling, such as “within 24 hours” – and promote it in your marketing and correspondence too.
 

2. Reward word of mouth referrals

 
When new customers come through referrals – and you must always ask where they heard about you – reward the person who passed the good word along. A free product sample, discount or even movie tickets are all good gestures, but a simple thank you letter will have them just as chuffed in these times of hurried emails and impersonal communications.
 

3. Review your messages, not your rates

 
Are you sure your market shares the eco-gloom? Check on perceptions and competitor activity before discounting prices as an automatic reaction to the slow-down. Could you better focus of your company’s messages on value, benefits, your reputation or reliability? If so, you might avoid an unnecessary cash flow cut in the process. Perhaps your “25 years as a trusted family business” or your “no-fuss returns policy” messages need to be brought to the top of current promotion.
 

4. Get quoted in the media

 
Third party credibility in the right media outlets – traditional and online - increases your business opportunities. Look at your company’s activities through a media prism. Somewhere, there’s an editor or blogger writing about your field who is looking for news items, commentary for a feature story or expert advice. Media visibility is the perfect way to stay in the minds of past clients - who may wonder if you’re still around - and reach new ones.
 

5. Get noticed in the community

 
Local sporting clubs and schools need financial help in small and large doses. Sponsorship brings you great grassroots credibility and much more than bottom line rewards. Rather than ongoing cash, an ‘in-kind’ donation such as uniforms featuring your logo and web address, or supplying the food at catered functions might be just the boost they need. An accounting firm sponsoring a soccer team has the parents, grandparents and other spectators as perfect targets for financial services. Imagine an 80-minute “advertisement” every week in winter for the cost of jerseys and trophies?
 

6. Make necessary occasions “special”

 
Opening or relocating a shop or office shouldn’t just be hard work and sweat. It should be an opportunity to celebrate. With balloons outside on opening day, sample giveaways and company literature for passers-by, your first day (or week) at a new address becomes a simple and colourful “event” - and a memorable entry to the neighbourhood or CBD. Or, are you appointing a new executive with unique experience in a certain field? He or she might be welcome to share their story at a business breakfast or local chamber of commerce event. Promote your new team member and business to a keen audience with a public introduction that gets the right people talking.
 

7. P.S. E-mail sign-off messages get attention

 
Before e-mail (if you can remember back that far), successful direct marketers swore by the “P.S.” as a crucial way to emphasise a marketing message. Your e-mail sign-off is the new “P.S.” and it can work just as well. At minimum, it should show your website address, slogan and all contact details. But also think of it as energetic advertising space to broadcast your news.

Change the copy regularly. Add messages like “Winners of Best Widget 2009” or “Visit us at The Widget Show at Stand 10” with trade show dates and a hyperlink to the show’s website. But be careful when sending people to places other than your own website, as they might browse elsewhere and forget about you or worse – stumble on a competitor.