Editor’s note: Shawn Ramsey is the president and founder of Crossroads Public Relations (formerly SRK Communications), a Raleigh-based provider of strategic public relations counsel and services. She will also serve as a speaker at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s (CED) upcoming Engage Sales & Marketing (www.cednc.org/programs/engage/marketing/2005.agenda/ ) set for Dec. 13. This is the latest in a series of Entrepreneurial Spirit columns published in partnership with LTW.
________________________________________________________________________________________If you have a small marketing budget, don’t fret. Marketing success doesn’t have to break the bank. With a little resourcefulness and creativity, you can develop industry awareness, establish credibility and generate sales leads for your organization.

Here are some ideas, recommendations and examples that can help you make the most of your limited marketing funds.

Leverage Public Relations

For those of you familiar with my company, Crossroads Public Relations, this recommendation will not come as a surprise. Of course, I won’t be the only one to tell you that public relations can be a cost-effective and powerful marketing tool. While a full blown public relations program includes a comprehensive strategy, for the purposes of this article I will focus on the importance of media and analyst relations. Think of it as your opportunity to “influence the influencers.”

To build strong media relations, take the time to research target publications and appropriate editorial contacts. Pursue existing opportunities identified in published editorial calendars; respond to published articles by offering a fresh or contrarian perspective, proposing a follow-on article (the rest of the story), etc.; offer yourself as a resource for future articles and/or contribute articles; and leverage news announcements, customer successes and more to continue building those relationships.

If you can’t afford to become a client of target analyst firms, pursue vendor briefings to introduce yourself. If you have a strong unique story to tell and fall into a covered category, analysts may follow your company’s progress and may even include you in upcoming research reports, all without having to subscribe to their services.

Build Customer Relationships

Convince your customers to serve as references or even evangelists for your company. Customer testimonials and success stories are amazing sources of powerful third party credibility. Let them speak on your behalf to the media, analysts and other customers.

Your customer base can also serve as a great source of story ideas. Customer surveys can help identify industry trends, customer pain points or other angles that can be developed into press releases, white papers, or other thought leadership pieces. Customer contests, giveaways and other promotions can create avenues for your customers to share their experiences and/or feedback. Customer newsletters are another great way to connect with and leverage customers.

Create Marketing Partnerships

Make your marketing dollars stretch even further by combining them with another organization’s. If you have strategic partners, technology partners or channel partners, work with them to jointly host events, place ads or create marketing campaigns.

Establish Thought Leadership

Position your company and individual team members as industry thought leaders or expert resources through the creation of value-add white papers, articles and other materials that serve as guides or resources for your customers and others in the industry. These materials should address customer pain points, industry hot topics, or other issues that have wide appeal throughout the industry. Materials should not be company- and/or product-centric, but should focus on a specific industry trend. As you make these materials available, others will begin to view you and your company as industry experts. These thought leadership pieces can also help you secure speaking engagements at industry events — creating even more cost-effective visibility with your target audiences.

Re-purpose, Re-use and Recycle

Create marketing materials that can be used over and over again or can be tweaked for other purposes. For example, a great customer success story captured in a case study can be used again as part of an advertising campaign or marketing campaign. A white paper can serve as fodder for contributed articles, speaking abstracts and more. If you are included in an article, consider requesting (or purchasing) reprint rights to post online, distribute as a PDF or distribute as hard copies. More importantly, these types of materials carry the clout of an unbiased 3rd party source.

These are just a few ideas, recommendations and examples of how you can make the most of a limited marketing budget.

CED: www.cednc.org