Getting PR and marketing advice for SMs was as easy as a trip to a cool loft office in Manhattan. Software as a Service (SaaS) small businesses often have great products – but very little way to market themselves or get press. At the Small Business Web Summit East, held yesterday, Nov. 9 in lower Manhattan, keynote speaker Andrew Dumont, VP of marketing at bitly and speaker Greg Galant, CEO of Muck Rack, offered PR and marketing advice for SMBs, peppered with their own experience to guide SaaS startups and entrepreneurs that want to generate buzz about their products.

Dumont had to build the marketing organization from the ground up at bitly. The first step was to visualize the sales funnel. “We didn’t have a clear picture of what the funnel looked like,” he said in his keynote. Instead, the company had a plethora of spreadsheets existing in silos. Dumont herded the information into Google spreadsheets and shared with the rest of the company, creating data transparency and fostering internal buy-in. bitly then took the data and tackled the top of the funnel low-hanging fruit, adding calls to action to its free product to entice users to its paid product. The company also improved its landing pages, cutting out excess form fields.

Content marketing becomes a focus

bitly was already using some content marketing to drive its leads via webinars and ebooks. To improve its sales funnel, it ramped up its investment. Dumont knew how powerful content marketing could be from his time at Moz.

Buyer personas were a part of that effort. “I’m not a huge fan of personas, but I was thinking about them from how to target our ideal customer,” he said. It served as the foundation for lead nurturing tracks and a large part of his PR and marketing advice for SMBs.

But make no mistake, Dumont didn’t do content marketing solely for lead generation. “Content marketing sucks when it’s about lead generation,” he said. It’s about educating customers, and that became the goal.

Conquering the perception problem

Like other SaaS vendors, bitly suffered from a perception problem since it was primarily known for its free URL shortening service. It took a three-pronged approach to highlight its paid product. The first may seem basic, but it was creating a clearer website, separating the free product and paid product, as well as adding more educational pieces, the second prong. The third step is to align itself with the right topics in its industry.

Successfully pitch journalists to get press

Getting press is another problem for SaaS companies, particularly smaller ones. PR is a key part of bootstrapping, allowing entrepreneurs and small businesses to raise awareness without spending a lot of money, and Muck Rack itself was able to bootstrap via PR and social media, according to Greg Galant, CEO. Muck Rack developed a repeatable way of getting press by pitching journalists at the right time and with the right pitch by surveying journalists.

The top reason for journalists to reject a pitch is a lack of personalization, according to Galant. Journalists are on Twitter as their top professional social network, and it’s a place to engage journalists ahead of time before the pitch comes down the pike. But it’s not where to pitch journalists; most still prefer email pitches – and short ones, at that. Galant advised attendees to stick to 2-3 paragraphs and send the email pitch before 11 a.m. in the journalist’s time zone. “The reason why is that when journalists wake up in the morning, they ask, what do I write about today? By afternoon, it’s how to meet the deadline,” he said. “If you interrupt with a pitch, you’re a burden.”

Finally, it’s ok to follow up once. But more than that, and you’ll likely annoy the journalist.

Overall, the PR and marketing advice for SMBs made this event a must-attend for SaaS entrepreneurs, as well as more established companies that are struggling to get noticed in a crowded marketplace.