Paul opens his favorite business magazine to find a fawning interview with Amazon's Jeff Bezos. Then he picks up the morning paper and reads a long story on a new donut chain being built in his town. Later he catches a feature piece on CNN about a guy who sells funny handmade shoes and learns accounting secrets from a CPA in Ohio.
Media hands out millions of dollars in free publicity every day. As well as advertising works, a media story about you almost always pulls better. The familiar and respected voice of a newspaper editor, magazine writer, TV reporter, or radio personality talking about you holds lots of weight with the audience.
How do all these businesses get media coverage? The secret varies depending on what your business does and HOW BIG it is.
Large in-the-news businesses like Amazon.com get coverage for practically any development. Political figures find their words in the media for almost any pronouncement. The local college football team gets press even if there is nothing much to cover.
A Different PR Strategy For Small Businesses
Your small business can have a much tougher time if you try to approach media the same way big organizations do. Media is almost entirely owned by large conglomerates and staffed by media pros who have never worked in a small business. The overall industry mindset is that big business is news and small business is--well--rarely news.
This all changes, though, if you offer good information or advice that will be helpful to the media outlet's audience. Newspapers love it when a tax expert offers tips around tax return time. Radio stations get a big kick out of anyone who can keep their audience laughing. TV likes anything that is visual and brings out emotion (hide the keys to a new car in a pool of jello, ask contestants to swim to win, and watch every TV station in town turn out).
Let's focus on you as the media savvy expert. This is without question the best strategy for consistently getting your small business in the media.
Start by taking inventory of the areas you are, or could become, an expert in. Think in terms of the kinds of information a general audience would find interesting, helpful, or moving (these days many in the media try less to explain and more to create emotion).
If you have a day care center, make a list of ten ways tired parents can keep an energetic youngster entertained and learning. Run an auto body shop? How about ways to avoid getting taken by mechanics and insurance companies after an accident.
If your area of expertise can relate to a hot topic in the news--all the better! Historians, lawyers, detectives, and political scientists get in the media several times each year by giving informed tips relating to an event or scandal in the news. You may even be able to provide a local angle for a national story.
Finding Media Who Will Cover You
I have found the best way to get covered by newspapers is to first find the reporter who handles stories like yours. Read through the paper's web site. It usually tells which reporters are assigned to particular topics (like the business editors or technology reporter). Many papers give reporters wide leeway in what stories they cover. Call the reporter and deliver a short, too-the-point message on why you have a story THEIR AUDIENCE would find interesting. Get to the juicy, memorable part first.
Follow up quickly with a press release, question and answer page, and a bio about your business history (sometimes called a backgrounder).
This same strategy works well for getting covered in magazines, industry journals, and on major web sites. Use search engines to find articles on topics that match your business. Look up the article, find the author's email address, and suggest another related story that, of course, includes your business or expert information. This often works surprisingly well to generate PR for you.
ProfNet.com has a service where journalists and writers can post topics they are trying to get information on. As a business or non-profit, you pay $50 to $100 per year to see these posts. Your multiply your chances of getting covered by ten when you respond to a reporter with good usable info.
Magazines often post a list of subjects they will be covering from one issue to the next throughout the year. This is particularly true of industry publications.
Expanding To Radio
While you have your media materials in hand, call local talk and news radio shows. Speak with the host or producer. Explain what is interesting about your information and, again, follow up with your release, Q&A, and bio.
The same strategy can work for getting you on top radio morning shows. Radio comprises well over half of all the media outlets in the US and many other countries. Don't over look it.
As you get media coverage, collect quotes from the media folks who have worked with you.
"Jean kept the phones lit up for an hour" KXXX San Diego, CA
"Interesting information every home owner should know." The Daily News Canton, OH
Build your list of stations and publications your business has been featured in. Include reprints when possible. Media folks love to cover stories and feature experts who have already been successful elsewhere.
Stay in touch with media who cover you. Send a handwritten thank you note to editors, reporters, and on-air personalities. Make sure YOU are the expert they think of when your topic comes up in the news throughout the year.