PLEASANT HILL -- A pilot marketing program aims to help small retailers in Pleasant Hill make a name for themselves.
Last year, the City Council set aside $130,000 for economic development projects, including efforts to support small businesses and shore up the city's tax base.
The retail marketing incentive program will provide a total of $37,500 in grants for small businesses that generate sales tax revenue, such as restaurants, jewelers and clothing stores. Grants will also be available to neighborhood shopping centers such as Oak Park or Hillcrest.
Marketing and advertising become more important during a sluggish economy, but small business owners often curtail those efforts to save money, said Kelly Calhoun, economic development manager for Pleasant Hill.
"The primary purpose of this program is to boost retail sales and to increase customer awareness of those retail centers, restaurants and retail locations," Calhoun said.
Pleasant Hill is paying Concord-based Hogan Marketing and Media $10,000 to develop tailored marketing strategies for the program participants.
Business owners can receive a $2,500 grant to implement the marketing plan as long as they agree to spend $625 of their own money. Groups of owners in a neighborhood shopping center may qualify for a $5,000 grant with a $2,500 match.
Grants funds may be used for direct advertising costs as well as for a range of services, including graphic design work, printing and distribution of materials.
Participants must include the website address www.shoppleasanthill.org on their advertising materials. The website is an interactive guide to shopping, dining and entertainment.
To evaluate the program, the city will track sales tax data for the participating businesses and shopping centers, Calhoun said.
Small businesses are behind the times when it comes to using Twitter, Facebook Pinterest and other social media, said Joe Alfieri, social media consultant with Hogan Marketing and Media.
"Our experience is that all businesses have websites, but a website is little more than an online catalog," Alfieri said.
Alfieri said entrepreneurs should frequently update their Facebook pages and use Twitter to spread the word about specials and to communicate with customers. Traditional websites also should accept comments so business owners can get feedback on their products, Alfieri added.
He acknowledged that the grant funds won't buy much traditional media such as radio spots or newspaper ads, but the $2,500 is a good start.
Tammie Parnell is interested in applying for the marketing program, but she's already ahead of the game.
Parnell, who owns Sinful Bliss Cupcakes in downtown Pleasant Hill, has a website and uses Facebook and Twitter. On her Facebook page, which has nearly 600 "likes" (she gives a coupon for a free mini cupcake to people who like her page), Parnell lists new flavors and specials and posts photos of custom cupcake designs the bakery created for children's birthday parties, weddings and other special occasions.
"I look at advertising as a chance to create fans. Fans are die-hard followers; they are invested and feel a part of you," Parnell said in an email.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011.