As a small business owner, you are often focused on delivering products and services your customers need. Unfortunately, this tends to come at the expense of promoting what a good job you are doing and how satisfied your customers are with your company. However, without investing some time to help spread the word, you risk limiting your company’s growth potential.
Spending just a few minutes each day to focus on spreading the word will help raise awareness of your business and help you reach new customers. This doesn’t mean you should rush out and spend tons of money marketing yourself, either. In fact, through media relations, you can reach your target audience without spending a dime.
Why media relations?
By appearing in the news as one of the subjects or an expert contributor, you become the destination. People who consume a specific newspaper, magazine, blog or TV newscast seek out that editorial content. Also, being quoted or included in a news story can give you implicit third-party credibility. This is unmatched by an ad or brochure that anyone can pay money to produce and place.
With media relations, you don’t pay for exposure. You do, however, need to provide quality content a reporter would find useful and informative for his/her readers and/or viewers. Follow these five tips to help you secure valuable media coverage.
1. Become a media consumer
The best article about your company in the world won’t help you one bit if your customers, potential customers, or others important to your business aren’t reading that publication or Web site. You need to understand not only who your target audience is, but what media they consume. Are they reading a specific trade journal, local weekly newspaper, or listening to the AM business report each day? If you aren’t sure, just ask them.
Once you identified the top outlets your key audiences follow, you should consume those media as well. Sign up for email delivery of newsletters or access to online subscriptions so you can naturally understand what each outlet considers important news to cover. You will also begin to understand who writes stories related to your industry or company. After a month of reading these media outlets or watching newscasts, you will have a good feel for the top-tier targets for your media relations efforts.
2. Give the media what they want
Each news outlet has its own distinct lens through which it evaluates and reports on news. Understanding what that lens looks like helps you decide what types of information will yield media coverage. In most cases, the news media value stories that are:
- Timely – nobody wants old news
- Relevant – audiences want news that matter to them
- Conflict-oriented – opposition creates drama and tension
- Prominent – cover people or issues that are well known
- Impact – the outcome of the story will affect the audience
- Unusual – a new approach on an old story, or something truly unique
- Emotional – something that appeals to an audience’s heart will draw them in
- Local – people are most concerned with the news stories that hit home
While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the most common news values. Not every story has all news values, but most will have at least three. Remember, media need an audience to consume their products, so they are looking for the best, most-interesting stories to engage their readers.
As you think about reasons to reach to a reporter, ask yourself, “What’s new in my organization?” Do you have a new product, partner or award you’ve won? Did you receive any patents or decide on a second location? Are you going to be speaking at a local Chamber of Commerce event? If you can identify some key moments in time when you are truly doing something for the first time, or in the best way, or something that is unique, then you have the makings of a potential news story, and a solid reason to reach out to the right media targets.
3. Seek out undiscovered nuggets
While having timely news helps, some reporters are more interested in unique, undiscovered stories. Instead of mining for “hard” news that has a definitive expiration date on reporter interest, think about softer story ideas that audiences may find interesting. Consider the stories you read that make you say, “I never knew that,” or those you want to share in your social network because they are funny or quirky.
To identify these potential story ideas, reflect on what makes you proud about your company. What do you differently from your competitors or even your neighbors? If you were to give someone a behind-the-scenes tour of your business, what would be some of the tour’s highlights? What were the origins of your business? How have you contributed to your local neighborhood over the past several years? Ask yourself these questions about every aspect of your business, and don’t just consider what you do, but how you do it.
4. Think big
In addition to looking hard at your own business and how it operates, consider how you tie into larger trends. For example, are you a small business affected by a new law, or benefitting from affordable health care? Do changes in oil prices affect your company in some way? Is there a seasonal element to what you do, or is your business providing services that tie into a specific holiday?
By showing how your business relates to a bigger story, you are offering reporters two good reasons to include you in media coverage. First, you are providing a new angle on a current story, and second, you are giving them a way to make it local so readers and/or viewers can better relate.
5. Produce original content and go social with it
Reporters are people, too. As such, social media is part of their lives. In fact, according to TEKGROUP’s 2014 Online Newsroom Survey Report, social media usage for reporting is up five percent over the 2011 report, and almost half of journalists would consider “receiving company news and information via a Twitter feed – nearly double the number from our 2011 report.”
As a small business owner, you can (and should!) use your own social media platforms as a vehicle to publish your own content. For example, you can take a current news story and publish a comment, question or discussion topic via Twitter. The author of that original article will enjoy seeing you respond and engage. You can also publish a blog on your Web site with some behind-the-scenes views of your business. Or your Facebook page can offer some tips for customers. However you proceed, be sure to publish unique perspectives, original content, and some untold stories. This type of approach will garner greater credibility from the media.
Remember, though, to find the best reporters for your story idea based on the news values and coverage areas for each outlet. Not all stories will be a fit for every reporter, but if you dig hard, you will find the best match for your story.
When reaching out to reporters, remember they are under massive time constraints, just like you. They may not reply to your email or phone call (and in most cases, they won’t). Refrain from reaching out more than twice for the same story idea (one time to email, one time to call). Keep your story idea brief, no more than one or two paragraphs. If they don’t return your messages, then it wasn’t the right story at that time. Move on to another target media outlet instead. If after a few rejections, go ahead and write the story yourself, using your social channels to publish it.
Securing media coverage can be fun and creative. If you match the right reporter with the best story idea, you’ll reap the benefits of earning coveted, unpaid media coverage for your business.
Amy Shanler has nearly 20 years of experience directing communications and public relations for multiple organizations and industries, including non-profit, retail, business, and healthcare. She is currently an associate professor of public relations and director of PRLab at Boston University, the nation’s oldest student-run PR agency, servicing 25 non-profit and commercial clients. Amy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.