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Good Works – Great Publicity!

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Taking an active role in your community is a win-win for you as an entrepreneur or business owner. Your community benefits from your efforts — and your operation benefits from an enhanced positive profile. You don’t undertake beneficial endeavors just for the publicity, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with maximizing the benefit you receive. Fortunately, if you’re willing to expend a bit of effort, achieving this mutually beneficial result often costs far less money than you might fear.

Applying Elbow Grease

Paper Clouds Apparel, based in Phoenix, Arizona, manufactures T-shirts that sport designs created by artists with special needs. The company also hires workers with special needs to package their clothing for shipping, and donates half of all the proceeds from their sales to campaigns for social welfare related causes that change every two weeks. Despite the admirable nature of the business model for this company, initially founder and CEO Robert Thornton still had to work hard to get the word out.

“At first, it was me sitting at my laptop,” he said.

During the early days after forming his company, Thornton spent hours sending out email messages and updating social media accounts to promote causes featured in various campaigns sponsored by the company. At the same time, he maintained primary responsibility, along with his board, for choosing T-shirt designs from a selection of 10 to 12 pieces of artwork crated by their special needs clients. Choosing the right designs often involved making difficult decisions.

“Sometimes amazing artwork might not look cool on a T-shirt,” he explained.

Employing Social Media

Social media represents one of the most powerful means of generating publicity for a business. A single viral video or post can generate both news coverage and a potential increase in paying customers. The good news about social media is that establishing accounts is free. The challenge is generating enough content on a consistent basis to maintain traffic and interaction. For many small business owners and entrepreneurs already stretched for time, maintaining several social media accounts is simply not practical. A reasonable compromise is to select a single social media outlet to concentrate on, at least in the beginning.

Thornton credits much of the success of Paper Clouds Apparel to buzz generated by social media. He oversees a Twitter feed, an Instagram account, a blog associated with the company website and a Facebook page. The effort shows. The Twitter account has more than 4,200 followers; there are an additional 3,100+ followers on Instagram, while the Facebook Page boasts more than 57,000 “likes”. According to Thornton, the initial effort represented the heaviest lift.

“The main point is letting people know what you’re doing. Once people heard about us, they got it,” he said.

Old School Strategies for Getting the Word Out

Despite the power of social media, it’s not enough to sit behind a computer to solicit “likes” and post tweets. Along with social media, Thornton employs old school marketing strategies, including flyers and strategically placed posters in and around town. Paper Clouds Apparel also recently held a benefit concert – its first, in May 2015. Thornton recruited a handful of his musician friends from the area and out of state to help make it happen. Local companies also provided sponsorship support.

“Channel 3 was supposed to come out but the crew assigned to us was called away to cover breaking news,” Thornton said.

Promoting Transparency

A major element in generating positive publicity is in keeping customers and the general public apprised of the beneficial results achieved by your efforts. This is another area where the Internet and social media can be especially useful. For example, the tried-and-true photo op of posing beneficiaries with oversized checks remains one of the best visual representations of demonstrating the end result of fundraising efforts. Posting regular website or social media updates also promotes a sense of transparency that provides reassurance to the public and to potential customers that your company’s social welfare efforts are genuine.

“We’ve been doing this for two years. People would know if our money wasn’t going where we said it was going,” Thornton said.

Calling in the Experts

While much of the effort to generate publicity naturally falls on business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s impossible for any one person to do everything alone, especially once publicity efforts begin to bear fruit. Thornton began working with Duality Public Relations early in 2015. He connected with the firm through Seed Spot, an incubator in Arizona. Since he began working with Duality, Paper Clouds Apparel has gained national publicity, landing on the Today show in April 2015.

Employing the services of professionals has allowed Thornton to devote more of his time to the business of manufacturing and selling T-shirts.

“Have people work for you (in promotion) so you can concentrate your efforts on the aspects of business that need your attention. Hire a PR firm if you can afford it. Many will work pro bono or cut rate to promote social causes,” he said.

If your budget won’t allow you to employ the services of a professional, your own marketing efforts can bear lucrative fruit. Even before he began working with Duality, an amazing 65 percent of first-time customers for Paper Clouds Apparel customers purchased a second T-shirt within a year, according to Thornton.

“You have to be like the little engine that could,” Thornton said.

Audrey Henderson

Posted In: Management, Money

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