Media publicity can often grow your business faster than advertising or marketing. But how do you get started on a small business budget? There are several options you can consider, depending on your needs, budget and interest.

Getting mentioned in newspapers, magazines and television is an excellent way to draw attention to your business and increase sales. But to get the attention of journalists, editors and reporters, you need relationships with them. This can be a daunting task, especially if you are occupied managing your businesses. What’s the best way to connect with the media on a small business budget?

There are actually a few options to consider for your public relations efforts. You can take the task of building relationships with media types on your own, hire someone, or retain the services of a PR firm.

1. Going DIY

Working with the media isn’t an impossible task if you have the time to devote. Start locally, and note who is writing or covering your industry, or small businesses in general. Read their work so you have a feel for what they’re interested in.

If they are on Twitter, write a blog or are using other social media channels, pay attention to them all. Leave comments on their posts and engage in dialogue on Twitter. Don’t force your agenda just yet.

Next, send them a quick email. Introduce yourself briefly and tell them about your business. Keep it short. Let them know you would be happy to be a resource for your industry, should they ever need an expert quote that you could provide. You might not hear back from the reporter at this point. Don’t worry.

Then, when you have something truly noteworthy, such as a charity event or an award your company won, reach out again and pitch them on why this news is important to their readers. If you don’t hear back, follow up with a call or another email a week later. Whether they decide to cover you or not will depend on their editorial calendar and their interest.

2. Hire a PR Pro

Hiring someone to manage your PR efforts doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be full-time. You can even hire an intern if you don’t mind a little inexperience (some interns are quick learners, and you can mold them into future employees without paying top dollar). Look to your local colleges to connect with their intern placement programs.

Otherwise, hire someone with PR experience, either full time or part time. The new hire might not even need to work in your physical office, as much of the work can be done virtually. Set up expectations and tasks, which might include:

  • Writing press releases and distributing them online
  • Connecting with local and/or national media

3. Retain a PR Firm

If you have the budget, working with a PR firm is most likely to net you the best results in terms of getting media coverage, simply because they have relationships with many types of media. Look for a firm that is already working with clients in your industry so they can use existing relationships on your behalf.

Interview several firms to determine which has the best experience to help you. Ask about their history of media placement, and ask to speak to some of their clients for referrals. Clarify how they charge: is it a monthly retainer, or is it based on coverage they get for you? Get a clear-cut plan up front so all expectations from both parties are well-defined.

And keep in mind that if you choose one option (maybe to do it yourself initially while your budget is small), you can always shift as things change. As your budget grows, you may bring someone in-house or work with a professional firm.

Keep close tabs on results. If you’re working with an intern or firm, are they bringing you the results you want? Are the places you’re getting coverage truly driving traffic to your site, or are they “fluff” sites designed to show you’re out there on the web, even though people don’t really visit these sites? You might not make it to the cover of New York Times, but you should be able to connect to industry publications and blogs.

What Results to Expect

It’s important to understand what you can expect, with any PR efforts. Press releases distributed through sites like PRWeb are great for boosting SEO. The more places your company link is found, the better search engines like it.

Working with bloggers can be a great way to boost web traffic, so don’t overlook them in your PR play. Look for bloggers who talk about your industry and have a close knit following. A good blogger has readers who will listen to what she says and buy what she recommends. These are great bloggers to build relationships with.

As your results evolve, you can decide how much of your annual budget you want to devote to public relations (versus social media, advertising, et cetera). Build it into your budget and stick to the costs you set for yourself.