It's true - media coverage is just about the best exposure your business can get. High impact for low cost. An article about your business generates greater readership and credibility than an ad or brochure or other sales tool. Period.
I urge you to incorporate the media into your overall marketing strategy. It's a no-lose proposition. That said, I know that cracking the crusty exterior of the media can feel rather daunting for the uninitiated. I come from the media side of the fence - a degree in journalism and career history of working for publishing companies - so my perspective includes what I know firsthand of what goes on behind the scenes.
As an editor, I was always thrilled to receive a solid story idea. Thanks for helping me do my job! But for every solid pitch there were plenty of misfired press releases that, frankly, hit the trashcan quickly. So I've identified some of the most commonly held myths about getting media coverage as well as five "musts" that will help you hit the mark for your media blitz.
I refer to the media and publications here, which can include local or national newspapers and magazines, trade journals and other printed media. But don't exclude broadcast media - there are opportunities there, especially with the growing number of Internet radio stations.
Myth 1. Sending a press release is your ticket to automatic coverage. Editors and reporters get stacks of press releases every day. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of blanketing every media outlet in the phone book with press releases, and then they are disappointed (and sometimes arrogantly put out!) that no one picked up the story. The media doesn't owe you anything - your best approach is to earn your way into their awareness through persistence, building credibility, deepening your understanding of their readership and being a resource. Treat your targeted media outlets just as you would your best clients. that means being courteous, respectful, responsive, service minded and relationship oriented. It's not a one-shot deal.
Myth 2. Buying an ad increases your chances of getting an article placed. Perhaps you're thinking you can get into a publication's good graces by purchasing advertising space. Put your credit card away. A reputable publication keeps the editorial department separate from the advertising department - and one does not influence the other. In fact, it is an insult to journalists with integrity to assume that you can buy your way into the news pages. In truth, there are media outlets that let themselves become influenced by advertiser dollars. and are those the kinds of media you want to affiliate with? Not me!
Myth 3. If you are interviewed, you will have an opportunity to review the article before it is printed. It is extremely rare for an editor to allow interview sources to review an article they've been quoted in. Whether the publication is a daily, weekly or monthly, you are battling against very tight deadlines. No time for reviews and, frankly, if you have tweaks and changes you create more work for the editorial staff and invite schedule delays. Occasionally, a reporter will ask for clarification or a name spelling, and if this happens - respond swiftly. Ultimately, you have absolutely no control over what gets printed. If you are clear in your interviews, you'll cut down the incidence of misquotes.
Myth 4. An announcement of your newest service offering is juicy news. Okay, here is where you need to step outside yourself and detach from how fabulous you are - which I'm certain you truly are! But you want to write a delete-proof press release. Scour your business for something that is newsworthy to your target media outlet's readers. Announcing your newest service may be news for some publications and not for others. Dig deep to really understand the story that is most interesting to the target readers. What is your angle? How does your service make life easier? Increase revenue? Revolutionize an old process? Impact the local community? Stir controversy? Talk to some of your best clients and ask them what they see as newsworthy about your business.
Myth 5. You can make copies of your printed article and distribute them any way you like. If you submit a bylined article, be sure to understand the rights you have to the story. Go to the U.S. Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov) for a crash course on copyrights. Get a written agreement with the publication spelling out your rights as the author. If the publication retains the rights, you then have no legal right to copy and distribute the article. Don't assume anything. If you have been quoted in an article, you likely have zero rights to it. You may make a copy for your mother. or to put in your scrapbook. but not much more than that. You'll need to contact the publisher and speak with someone in their Reprints Department to learn the proper way to redistribute copies. Don't be surprised if there is a cost for reprints. In most cases, it is well worth it. Remember, your quote or byline holds great value.
Now that we have busted up some of the biggest media coverage myths, here are five questions you MUST ask yourself as you design your media strategy:
1. Who is my audience? What do they read? Don't guess - ask them! Make a list and learn as much as you can about each publication. Based on what you learn, select three that you can fully focus on building a relationship with. This is your primary media target list. You can certainly send press releases and contact other media outlets, but you want to put most of your attention on your primary targets.
2. What is newsworthy? Grab a pad of paper and start listing all of the press release topics you can think of that relate to your business. Announcements, events, something controversial or cutting-edge, surveys, statistics, a link to current events or seasons, human interest - how you have succeeded, obstacles you overcame, how your vision will change the world. Study your target media with the filter of: How does my business fit in here? How will the publication's readers benefit from my story? One tough question to ask yourself is: "Who Cares?"
3. How committed am I? This is where you pitch your story idea either through a press release or a query to the editor. You are now a sales person - selling your story. Where most entrepreneurs fail is lack of follow-up. They send one press release and are disappointed they weren't published. Be prepared to make a follow-up phone call a day or so after you send your release. Also, your first press release may not catch the editor's attention. Sending a steady stream of releases and communications over time will increase the chances that you'll catch the editor's eye. This takes commitment on your behalf. Are you up to it?
4. What are my sound bites? When a reporter calls you for an interview (Congratulations! Your press release grabbed them!), be prepared to speak quotably. Even though your task is to answer the reporter's questions, there are ways you can incorporate your core business message. One tip is to create three short bullet-point statements that convey what you want people to know about your business. have them handy and find ways to work those catchy statements in.
5. How will I leverage my coverage? So, you were quoted or you had a full-length bylined article placed in one of your target publications. Well done! You will get great exposure with those readers. But why not take it further? A few ideas: Ask the publication for article reprints. Mail reprints to your hot prospects, along with a letter pitching your services. Include a reprint with your proposals. Create a bibliography or "in the news" section of your website, citing the articles you appear in. If you have the publisher's permission, post the full article on your website.
Go forth and harness the power of the media - gain visibility and credibility that will help you build your business.
Martha Carnahan is president of MC3 Strategies, an Atlanta-based company that champions entrepreneurs having a prosperous business AND a fabulous life. Learn more about Martha Carnahan and MC3 Strategies by visiting www.mc3strategies.com.