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Publicity Tips for Retailers
By Sandra Beckwith

As big-box stores crowd out smaller, independent retailers with their massive advertising budgets, retailers have to be much more creative about how they attract and keep shoppers. Excellent customer service makes a huge difference. So does superior product knowledge. Generous use of publicity tools and tactics, too, can snag the free media exposure that has much more credibility than any paid-for Sunday circular - and leads to a loyal customer base and good word-of-mouth.

Here are five publicity-generating ideas designed to help retailers get - and keep - their store names in the news:

Write and distribute to the news media a "tip sheet" offering tips and advice on topics you know best. Own a pet store? Offer tips on how to keep pooch from freezing during winter walks. Is yours a bridal salon? Offer tips on how to clean and preserve a wedding gown. What if you have a greenhouse? Share your advice on the easiest flowers (or vegetables) to grow for people who lack a green thumb. Send one a month and watch how you start to get - and stay - in the news. (Learn how to write a tip sheet here.

Sponsor a fun, unique contest. Make it highly visual and you're sure to get local TV coverage. A gift shop can conduct a "worst gift I ever received" contest, a toy store can sponsor a competition among children to create the toy of their dreams, a furniture store can host a contest to find (and replace!) the ugliest sofa in town.

Host an unusual educational event. Brainstorm some fun, but useful, workshop topics with your staff. Add a fun twist that will make your idea newsworthy. A jeweler could present a session on "how to select an engagement ring that will guarantee a 'Yes!' response," a tuxedo shop might offer an etiquette workshop on "how to act like a gentleman while wearing our apparel," and a hardware store might present a series of "ladies night out" events teaching women how to use certain tools or tackle specific projects.

Pitch stories that are connected to holidays or seasons that dovetail with your business. Most retailers have busy periods linked to specific holidays or seasonal activities - an office supply store might see a blip in pencils, paper, and binder sales during "back to school" days while a candy shop enjoys a brisk business around Valentine's Day and Easter. The office supply store can encourage the local newspaper to write an article about how businesses like his try to help minimize the cost of school supplies for families. The candy store looking to generate more business around Halloween can pitch a story about how to keep little trick or treaters safe on October 31. A pet store can propose a TV segment on why it's not a good idea to give a pet as a Christmas gift.

Do good . . . and talk about. One of the best ways to develop a loyal customer base is to give back to the community. Partner with a charity that means something to both you and your customers - and let the media know what you're doing. Whether you're a consignment shop hosting a fashion show benefiting a battered women's shelter or a fabric store donating a percentage of the day's proceeds to a disaster relief cause, tell the press about it. Let them collaborate with you to draw more attention to your work, which will generate more proceeds for the charity you're trying to help.

Finally, remember to tell the media what you're doing. If you keep your news in front of reporters, producers and editors, they will be more likely to think of you when working on a story that you can contribute to. That, in return, will lead to the priceless publicity that will remind your customers and prospects what makes your store better than any other.

Sandra Beckwith, the author of Streetwise Complete Publicity Plans: How to Create Publicity That Will Spark Media Exposure and Excitement, teaches entrepreneurs, consultants, professionals, executives and others “How to Become an Expert.” Learn more at