Contact: Karl Long, marketing consultant and owner of LocalZing
Location: Pompano Beach, Florida
Industry: Online Advertising, Small Business
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 1
A competing online marketing company's unorthodox approach to self-promotion got consultant Karl Long thinking about ways he could use his personal blog as a public relations tool to help his company, Local Zing.
As a tiny Florida player in the field of advertising for small businesses, Long knew he should consider unconventional ways to promote his company. Taking his cue from the competitor, he launched a campaign that increased traffic on his blog more than 500%, raised his Google profile, and led to new business.
His strategy offers lessons for small firms and independent consultancies trying to compete with much larger competitors with bigger budgets.
The Challenge and Campaign:
A little more than a year ago, Florida consultant Karl Long watched admiringly as a competing online marketing company leveraged a newsworthy event—Howard Stern's move to Sirius Satellite Radio—into a press release for its services.
"They (must have) asked themselves how can we ride on the coattails of that event?" recalls Long. The answer was to write a press release offering a lesson of what businesses could learn from the Howard Stern, King of All Media: Be individual and speak your mind.
The release worked; several publications picked it up as media hype grew surrounding Stern's move to Sirius. Long noted how quickly the firm jumped on the news and used it to subtly sell the message that it was a smart marketer, at very little cost.
"I realized that if you attach some business advice to a broader event or context, you can generate a lot of interest for yourself," he says.
Long decided to try the concept after seeing an advertisement for Pontiac that concluded with an unusual twist. "It was a typical car commercial that said at the end, 'Don't just take our word for it—Google Pontiac and discover for yourself,'" he recalls.
At the time, Long's marketing blog was new and had very little traffic. He quickly wrote a blog post about the unusual commercial, capturing a screenshot of the Google segment and including the picture in his post. Then he took a few steps to draw attention to the post.
Long decided it would be most efficient to send notes to the editors of well-trafficked auto blogs who might be interested in his comments. With some quick research, he was able to find about 10 relevant and fairly popular blogs.
They included some key industry names, such as autoblog.com, autoextremeist.com, and General Motors' own blog, fastlane.gmblogs.com. He also contacted blogs that focused on search marketing and search engines, and posted notes about his blog at various auto-related message boards.
Nearly half of the sites that Long contacted picked up the post. The first—autoblog.com—put it on its front page. This led to secondary links from blogs he hadn't initially targeted, and conversations with a writer working on a story about the commercial.
Eventually, about 50 sites linked to his blog, giving him invaluable free publicity. Before this, other sites were charging him at least $25 to link to his blog, but his campaign garnered him 50 links for free. He also fielded a half dozen phone calls—some of which led to new business.
Of course there were some rejections. The online automotive juggernaut Edmunds.com deleted Long's posts on message boards, citing a policy against self-promotion.
According to Long, traffic at his site increased steadily after his Pontiac post, from a few dozen visits each day to a peak of 1,500 unique visitors on January 26, 2006. Unique visitors for the month totaled 4,500.
"These numbers were not huge, but as a small service business (aiming for) 40 or 50 clients, these were great numbers for me," Long says. The volume of Internet activity also served to raise his site's Google profile.
- Connect to something bigger than your own domain. "PR doesn't have to be about you or your company. Ideally, it should be about something people are interested in, which probably isn't you," Long says.
- Don't send mass e-mails to bloggers, and when you do contact them, give them a headline they can use. Long sent a personal straightforward email to about 15 bloggers. "There wasn't any, 'I love your blog.' Instead, I said, 'This is something I wrote which might interest you."
- Keep track of people and sites linking to you, and don't be afraid to ask that they use the correct link text. If someone picks up on the story but doesn't provide a link, contact the person and offer more context—they'll likely link to you.
- Keep employing similar tactics to keep your site in the limelight—don't treat it as a one-shot deal. "I've done it a couple of times fairly successfully," says Long. "The time and effort can pay off 100 times over."
Indeed, the Pontiac campaign paid off for Long in more ways than one: His raised profile probably helped him get a marketing-related job for a Fortune 500 company, which he joined late last year. He now runs LocalZing on the side.