New inventors need old media

A common problem when you’re trying to market an invention – or rather the product made from an invention idea – is how to publicise it without breaking the bank. All the wisdom now is that you have to use social media to get your message across, and if you don’t make heavy use of Facebook and Twitter, and to some extent LinkedIn, you’re doomed.

But how useful are social media for generating business?

First off, social media accounts are free, so there’s no point in not using them to promote your invention or product. Nor is there any shortage of social media gurus handing out free advice. (Try Renée Quinn. Her blog posts are more informative than most.)

But what matters to businesses is not attention but profit. Does all the effort you put into social media pay off? We talk to lots of mainly small businesses and most are sceptical. The prevailing view of the people who count the pennies in and out is that Facebook and Twitter may help with visibility but don’t produce much actual business. The term ‘emperor’s new clothes’ crops up with some frequency.

(Google Adwords also tends to be sniffed at. Better SEO, rising per-click costs and a browsing public that increasingly skips ‘paid for’ search results are all reducing its importance.)

So what does work for skint inventors with a new product to promote? The answer is: good old news releases and contact with journalists. Nearly every inventor we know who has tried it has been amazed by the results. (The most recent was just a few days ago, which prompted us to write this piece.)

What you don’t do is write a press release and blitz every paper and magazine in the land. Results from that are usually dismal, as you just go on to every journalist’s slush pile.

Instead, start small. What you need is contact with a local or regional business journal, newsletter or supplement – typically, the sort of never-heard-of-it-before publication you find strewn around the reception area of a large company or organisation. Their editors are always on the look-out for relevant stories, and often they don’t carry many of them, so your chances of standing out are high.

At this modest level you may have more going for you than you think. You’re an inventor bravely starting a new business based on your invention – that’s newsworthy. You’ve turned a quirky invention into a great new product – that’s newsworthy, especially if there’s a ‘wow’ or feelgood factor. You’re based locally, using local people and resources – that’s newsworthy. Always acknowledge any help you’ve had from local companies, enterprise agencies, universities etc. If they can use your story to publicise their own activities, you may get several bites at the same cherry.

The readership of that first publication may be small, but no matter. Other journalists will read it. If you’ve got something genuinely interesting to show or say, they will pick up on you. That first mention in Potato Peeler Monthly or Small Business Igniter can generate interest from bigger and better-known titles, even nationals, and often radio and TV too. And it’s those widening ripples that start bringing in the calls from businesses interested in talking to you about selling your product, or investors interested in helping you to grow.

Be aware though that it won’t last. The ‘15 minutes of fame’ dictum applies, so you won’t be newsworthy for long. Maybe ten days and it’ll all be over. But while it lasts, expect to be busy fielding phone calls – so be fully prepared to make the most of it.


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