Small Catalogs Forum: Beating the Publicity Drum

You don’t have to spend a fortune on an outside PR firm to promote your company

You may think you don’t have the time or the money to launch a public relations campaign. But if you don’t do PR, you’re missing out on a prime business opportunity.

With a background in public relations, Paula Pennypacker, founder of the Sedona, AZ-based Just for Redheads catalog, is well aware of the importance of promoting one’s company, particularly when it sells a niche product such as cosmetics for red-haired women. With annual sales of less than $5 million, the cataloger uses an outside agency to help get word out. As CEO Duane Abbajay puts it, “It’s better to have multiple sets of eyes watching for opportunities.”

Early on, Just for Redheads had a press release picked up by People magazine; the exposure spiked sales and boosted its house file. In addition to receiving product mentions in magazines such as Allure and Glamour, Just for Redheads recently struck an exclusive deal with haircare company Clairol to create an eyebrow pencil to match Clairol’s new Ginger Red hair color. The two items will be packaged together, with the brow stick touted as a “free gift with purchase,” and sold through online marketer Drugstore.com. As for television exposure, the cataloger’s dual PR attack has yielded a profile of Pennypacker on the Lifetime Channel’s New Attitudes program.

Another small marketer, New York-based women’s apparel cataloger/retailer Olive and Bette’s, has used a PR firm since its 1998 inception, says co-owner Karen Greenberg. And Boonton-NJ-based postcard-decorated products cataloger Greetwear Express enlisted the help of a PR firm — even though the cataloger generates only $150,000 in annual sales, says co-owner Regan Caton. “After interviewing many local agencies,” Caton says, “we chose a local firm, Creative Force, that was within our price limits but was also large enough that we could grow with them without worrying that they would stifle our creativity.”

Going it alone

Plenty of small catalogers get exposure by handling PR on their own. Fayette-ville, AR-based Ozark Mountain Family, a mailer of smoked foods with annual sales of less than $10 million, relies on strategic deals to help promote its name, says president Frank Sharp. In one deal, with chicken producer Tyson, Ozark smokes and then packages — with the Ozark logo prominently displayed — Tyson chickens that are distributed to Tyson employees as holiday gifts. Though not a textbook PR strategy, it nonetheless increased awareness of the Ozark brand.

In another deal, home shopping cable network QVC agreed to feature the cataloger’s bacon sampler in an eight-minute spot focusing on regional foods. QVC bought the samplers wholesale and sold them on the air at retail price, with Ozark handling the order fulfillment. Sharp says QVC sold 1,500 bacon samplers during the segment. Moreover, a local columnist who saw the QVC segment mentioned Ozark in the newspaper, which lit up the phones at its call center, Sharp says.

Getting involved with local charities and events is another way to drum up PR. Great Companions, a cataloger of pet supplies with sales of less than $5 million, provides raffle prizes to help raise funds for local bird clubs. Owner Jason Mischel says the Warren, MN-based company also donates to the Humane Society. Although Mischel does not measure the results from the local exposure, he believes it encourages some people to order.

Expert advice

Tony Cox of Richardson, TX-based consultancy Catalog Solutions offers a few more suggestions for generating media attention:

  • Make a list of contacts who should receive your press releases. Include names at local and national magazines and newspapers, industry newsletters, and trade groups.

  • Send those contacts at least one catalog a season, with a letter or news release enclosed.

  • Send press releases any time you have news, such as a new product, a new service, or a special offer.

  • Send product samples to the press list.

And finally, Cox notes, don’t be afraid to spend a little. One of his clients spent about $1,000 to send out a news release: “A national magazine ended up running a piece based on the release,” Cox says, “and the response to the article generated $9,000 in sales and 125 new customers for the cataloger’s house file.”

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