by Lori Prosio 

Getting media coverage is one of the best public relations moves you can make. It allows you to reach a broad audience with a credible source. The challenge is how to get that coverage; it takes considerable planning and strategy to make your business newsworthy.

Prior to taking any steps, it’s important to identify some key criteria.

First, who is your target audience? Your answer to this question will determine the type of media to which you direct your pitch. Clearly, 20-something singles pay attention to different media than retirees. Identify whose attention you want, and reach out to appropriate outlets accordingly.

Second, what are your goals? Knowing what you hope to accomplish must be clear prior to any efforts. Do you want to enhance your reputation? Increase sales? Repair a shaky image? These goals will determine your strategy.

How to be newsworthy

It’s up to you to make your business newsworthy. Find something about it that gets attention, piques interest and is relevant. Here are some ideas.

1. Host an event, contest, a grand opening or anniversary party. Or hold a contest to design your logo or a new slogan. Think of anything to celebrate and invite the community to participate.

2. Offer industry advice. I have specialized PR experience that I’m happy to share with Business Journal readers who benefit from the advice in this column. See how you can help others with your industry. Contact relevant local and/or regional media and ask if a guest advice article is something they’d consider.

3. Offer something for the first time. New and innovative products and services are newsworthy. If you’re the first to offer a new service or product in your area (or at all), publicize it.

4. Capitalize on current events. A snowboarding instructor might offer tips during the Winter Olympics, or a security company can provide advice after frequent break-ins. We know that these stories will be covered in the news, so get involved in it.

5. Make the most of the time of year. The beginning of summer is the perfect time for pool installers to get attention. Gyms might want to reach audiences with New Year’s resolutions in January.

6. Help the community. Having your staff participate in community service is a great way to be altruistic and obtain exposure for your company. Or, if you have a service that could be offered free of charge to the needy (dental check-ups, for example), even better.

7. Feature human interest stories. If you, one of your employees or a faithful customer have an inspiring or motivational story, it makes for a great feature. Have a decade-long customer? See if they’d be willing to offer a testimonial of why they’re so loyal.

8. Offer customer appreciation giveaways. Everyone loves a free product. Something as simple as a free scoop of ice cream will draw customers, and often, media attention.

9. Accomplish a major milestone. Recently serving your 100,000th customer, a notable anniversary or opening a new store are all newsworthy. Celebrate and announce it.

10. Differentiate yourself from the competition. Highlight anything that makes your business unique — a restaurant with natural ingredients, a retail store with locally designed fashions. These are newsworthy topics the community and media are interested in.

Getting media attention

Now that I’ve given you 10 of my top newsworthy ideas, you’ll need to get media attention. Advance planning and research are necessary to be successful.

• Write a news release. It will be your first contact with a journalist. Provide your contact information, an attention-getting headline and all relevant details. It should be concise, to-the-point and free of spelling and grammatical errors. Send it via e-mail embedded in the message rather than as an attachment which might send it to spam folders. Include your introduction and personalized pitch, with the news release below.

• Develop a media kit. Have a media kit ready to provide to journalists who request additional information. It should contain company background information, your business card and copies of past news coverage.

• Research. Before reaching out to any media outlets, research them to ensure that they’re an appropriate target. You’ll want to pitch general media outlets as well as specific ones that cater to your target audience. Don’t waste anyone’s time by contacting newspapers that are targeted to an irrelevant audience. You’ll also need to research which staff cover the type of story you are pitching; contacting the wrong person will significantly reduce your chances at earning coverage. Pay attention to reporter interests and make note of specialty areas they cover.

• Distribute at appropriate times. When you circulate your news release, make sure that it is on a day when it has a chance at being seen. If there is a major crisis, journalists will be busy covering that issue and will not have time to consider non-urgent stories. In this case, you’re better off waiting and re-evaluating on a different day. But keep it timely — there’s nothing worse than losing out on an opportunity for coverage because you waited too long to talk to the media.

• Follow up. Don’t be afraid to call a reporter after providing a news release to ask if they received it and whether they have any interest. Be direct, professional and knowledgeable about your story.

The idea of pitching your own story to the media is daunting to someone with little experience, but it’s possible and people like you do it every day. Consider incorporating these ideas into your marketing plan — it’s one of the most affordable, yet beneficial, PR tools out there.

And when in doubt or for some extra support, contact a PR professional. Sometimes this is a more cost-effective approach and can lead to better success than attempting it on your own.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May 23, 2010 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.