by Lori Prosio
Have you ever seen a business featured on the local news and thought, “What a great opportunity. How did they manage that?” They probably have some media relations savvy and know what it takes to get coverage.
The benefits of incorporating media relations into your marketing plan are plentiful, but it’s important to distinguish the difference between earned media and paid media.
When consumers see an ad, they know that it’s paid for and might distrust the message. However, a news story is often seen as objective and trustworthy, because the information is offered by a credible third party. Also, earned media, unlike paid advertising, is free — helping you maintain exposure on a limited budget, an important characteristic during a recession when marketing budgets are tight.
In order to properly use local media and get coverage, it’s imperative that you’re familiar with all formats and individual outlets.
Research the media outlets in your area — television, radio, newspapers, blogs, magazines, trade publications, websites, and each of those organizations’ social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.
Research the reporters who work for those outlets. Know who writes about what topics — they have their own beats and when you want to contact one for your story, you need to make sure you’ve got the right person. Know who you need to reach out to, be it the lifestyle, transportation or sports reporter. Review websites for reporters’ beats, and be familiar with articles written by reporters who typically cover your industry.
Getting media attention
Once you know who to reach out to, make sure you do it creatively. When you think of media relations, don’t limit yourself with only sending news releases about who you are and what you do. Those will rarely succeed in getting coverage.
There are a wide variety of tactics you can use to get attention for your story.
• Think outside the box. If you have a fun topic, you don’t have to send only a news release — how about a complimentary sample? That’s sure to get attention! Make sure it’s relevant to your business and story.
• Incorporate current events. If you notice something in the news that you’re an expert on, why not contact local media and offer your knowledge as a contributor? This exposure can propel your reputation to the front of audiences’ minds when thinking of your industry.
• Incorporate the time of year. A personal chef might want to offer advice for cooking a Thanksgiving meal or hosting a summer cookout.
• Consider op-ed pieces. This type of article is submitted by a citizen and published opposite the opinion page (hence the name). It typically has to do with an issue that affects the community and expresses the writer’s opinion. You might want to submit an op-ed if there’s a public issue that relates to your business or if you think a publication’s audience would find the topic interesting or helpful.
Pitching takes practice, and you’ll surely be nervous on your first attempt. There are some key points to remember to help make the process run as smoothly as possible.
• Know how to write effectively. Accurate and error-free writing is an absolute must. Journalists are professional writers, and they know grammar like the back of their hands. They won’t take you seriously if there is even one grammatical or spelling error in your news release, pitch or media kit. Proofread and re-proofread (and have your colleagues do the same) before submitting any written materials. Ensure that all names and numbers are correct or your credibility will suffer.
• Have a unique and helpful media kit. Typical enclosures include past news releases, contact information, organization background, brochures and copies of past news coverage. But also take your unique situation into consideration and include anything that might help someone share you with their audience. Are you an artist? Images of your work are a must. A restaurant? Perhaps a menu would be helpful.
• E-mail your news release and pitch. Fax and snail mail news releases are nearly obsolete in today’s electronic communication world. Almost all media prefer to receive information via e-mail. The beginning of the message should include a personalized greeting and pitch — a concise summary of your subject and why people will care about it. Provide the text of the news release in the e-mail — not as an attachment that could cause your message to be marked as spam or that might not be compatible with the recipient’s computing platform.
• Follow up. You’ll need to call after you send your news release. Messages are easily overlooked with the volume reporters receive each day, so a phone call can make the difference in being noticed. Be prepared with what we call an “elevator pitch” — a 30-second summary of your story. Be aggressive and confident in your delivery, but always polite.
• Say thank you. Everyone appreciates a personal thank-you note. Sending a card or even just an e-mail after a reporter has helped you is a simple gesture that facilitates a relationship and future coverage.
A public relations professional can be hired to do research, writing, media kit assembly, distribution and follow up if these suggestions seem intimidating. For a reasonable fee, thousands of audience impressions can be gained for your company, enhancing its reputation in a trustworthy and cost-effective way.
This article originally appeared in the July 18, 2010 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.