Silver Bullet: Free Marketing

By: Scott Harris
Posted: 01/11/2012

A friend of mine is a personal trainer. Through a combination of a modified diet and an exercise regime, she helps people improve their health. Not surprisingly, with the start of a new year, she has received quite a few phone calls and visits from people who want to shed some "holiday pounds" and get in shape.


Also not surprisingly, because it happens every year, a few of the requests are variations on the "I don't like to diet and I have very little time to work out, so, what can you do for me?" She responds with, "Oh, you want the magic pill?" She says that every time, and there is a momentary gleam in the visitors' eyes as they hope against hope that what they know isn't true, is. That somehow, this little-known personal trainer has the secret to getting in shape without doing the things we all know are required. Of course, she tells them there are no secret methods or easy ways to get in shape. It's a simple combination: eat less and exercise more.


I have also been receiving quite a few "New Year's Resolution" calls from people who are thinking about marketing. I'm sure it's due in part to the improving economy. People who have not thought about marketing for a while are waking up as if from hibernation and looking to do the things they know help create a successful business.


And, like my friend the personal trainer, a handful of those calls are from people who want to take advantage of "free advertising." While any businessperson knows there is no such thing as "free," they still seem to hope that there is and that maybe I, or one of my peers, has the secret answer. Sadly, I break it to them that any successful marketing campaign requires an investment of time and/or money. That even the things that some consider "free," such as social marketing and public relations, require effort.


Let's take a quick look at public relations (which many still refer to as "free advertising") and social marketing and I'll explain why they are not "free."

Managed public relations is different than news. If your business burns to the ground or you're accused of a crime, you can plan on receiving plenty of "free advertising." However, the odds are it won't really help your business. On the other hand, if you want publications (print or electronic) to publish stories or news releases about you and your business, it takes effort and commitment.


Legitimate news outlets are not in the business of running material simply to promote your business. They share information that they believe their readers want to know about. This means you need to have a well-written piece (again, press release, article, column or op-ed) that informs, entertains and does more than toot your own horn. You'll either have to invest the time in learning about the different news outlets (who needs what, when, how long, which tone, etc.) and then writing a piece that matches those requirements, or invest the money into hiring an individual or company that will do that work for you.


The same can be said for social marketing. While it's true that anyone can start a Facebook page or blog, connect on LinkedIn or fire up a Twitter account, what's the next step after that?


Content. In social marketing, content is king. Either you provide material that someone wants to read, or you have no readers. Again, you have to invest the time in understanding the intricacies of social marketing and commit to content development, or hire someone to do it for you.


Either way, this form of "free marketing" requires an investment of time, money or both.


So while I do not want to discourage you from working out or marketing, I need to remind you that neither happens without effort. The formulas are simple. If you want to get in shape: eat less and exercise more. If you want to market your product or service, invest in developing a message and delivering it to your prospects.


It's not always easy, it's never free, but admit it -- you knew that before you asked.


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