Quitter to Winner

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

INTERVIEW: Small biz PR whiz Michael Kusek

Since 1992, Michael Kusek has provided marketing/public relations, strategic planning, branding and event management consulting to a portfolio of national and regional organizations and businesses. He spoke with Quitter to Winner about how start-ups can maximize the PR efforts to boost their profile and bottom line.

PR is a great way for a new small business/entrepreneur to get the word out. Why do so few take advantage of it?

If you’re just starting out, PR can be a very cost effective way to let your local market know who you are, what you provide and what differentiates you from the competition. Unfortunately, many people have a narrow view of public relations. They only think in terms of getting picked up by the big three: TV, radio, and daily newspapers.

Of course if you think your story would interest these producers/editors, by all means, pitch away. But small businesses should also add social media into the mix. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging are all more accessible than mainstream media. They also allow businesses to craft messages directly to their audience on a regular basis. That’s not always easy to accomplish if you’re only navigating the big three.

Say an entrepreneur just opened shop. What kinds of PR opportunities would you consider “low-hanging fruit”?

1. Reporters are looking for positive business stories. In a bad economy, there’s a glut of downer stories. Reporters are hungry for an “inspirational” or feel good business story.

2. Reach out to your local weekly or monthly publications. Start building long-term relationships with editors and writers from these outlets. They’ll be more likely to cover your future stories about the opening of your second store, the hiring of your 50th employee, or a big new contract.

3. Network. Go to local special events or seminars. Nail down your elevator pitch and carry plenty of business cards. Also, you might run into a local reporter. Introduce yourself. They may not be interested in talking to you for the story they’re covering, but they might want to talk to you for a piece down the road.

Give us an example of a PR campaign you put together for a small business.

Infinity Music Hall & Bistro were opening their doors in a very small Connecticut town in a formerly abandoned building. Not what one would call a recipe for a happening place. But they had a great story to tell from several different angles. We looked at all the elements of the story and thought, how can we make the story resonate with different types of writers in a variety of media outlets? We reached out to arts writers, business writers, and travel bloggers. We pitched stories to the small town papers, the regional daily media, radio, TV. We created a buzz about a place people would want to check out, but a business that the community would root for and support. The space is doing great. Their calendar is packed.

How have you used social media in your PR campaigns?

I use social media as a good extension of word-of-mouth advertising. I also funnel any publicity into the stream, or trumpet good news about the business. Some might argue that it can be more of a PR tool, but to me it’s about friends talking to friends.

In your opinion, what local business maximizes their PR opportunities?

Jackson & Connor is a modern clothing boutique for men in Northampton. I helped them develop and manage their PR campaign when they opened a little over two years ago. Since then, Tara and Candace have taken the PR bull by the horns. They’ve been very creative about telling their story from every angle. They were profiled as a woman-owned business, for their charitable work, and unique promotions. They’ve also been very smart with how they use social media. As a result of their efforts, they’ve gained a loyal following, and are considered the final word on fashion for men in the Valley. I’ve seen some new businesses open shop, get an announcement in the paper, then…crickets. That’s not the case for these ladies.

What are some common PR do’s and don’ts for new small businesses?


1. Become a good news source for journalists. They’ll be more likely to run your future stories, or cite you as an expert in your field.

2. Provide enough information. The more fleshed out the story the better. Think like a big business. Create a press kit with photos and relevant background material.

3. Write a history/background for your business. An “about your company” paragraph at the bottom of a press release is often very helpful to writers.

4. Take quality, professional photos of yourself and the business. Photos on your phone don’t count. Make sure you have them ready to send electronically to the reporter.

5. Keep files of news stories, preferably on your website. This offers journalists a point of reference of what’s been said – or not said – about your business.


1. Don’t make things difficult for reporters. That includes not returning calls and emails, or not providing enough detail or contact information.

2. Don’t send out press releases willy-nilly. No one likes too many emails, especially reporters. Only pitch a compelling, relevant story. Think strategically before you hit send.

3. Don’t hound reporters. It’s ok to be persistent, but aggressive follow-ups aren’t a wise move. You have to keep in mind that not every story is a winner. Plus all newsrooms have dramatically cut staff. They may have received your release but are too busy to respond right away.

4. Don’t hem and haw with bad publicity. Deal with it head on. Look how BP and Toyota handled their scandals. The story will go away faster if you come clean from the get go. Explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how you’re going to resolve the issue.

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