Long before the advent of mass media and the Internet, P.T. Barnum understood the power of the press. The consummate self-promoter, Barnum has been called “the father of public relations.”
Here are just a few of Barnum’s great quotes on the subject of public relations:
- “I am indebted to the press of the United States for almost every dollar which I possess.”
- “Without promotion something terrible happens… Nothing!”
Barnum’s words have never rung more true.
In today’s highly competitive economy, businesses look for every possible edge on the competition. Positive press can provide a huge boost to any business. It can turn an unknown start-up into an overnight sensation. It can build credibility. It can get the attention of a huge untapped market.
Unlike Barnum’s time, when the media was limited to newspapers and magazines, today there are thousands of media platforms available to businesses looking for publicity. There are hundreds of television and radio stations and thousands (if not millions) of web sites and bloggers looking for stories.
The good news is that you don’t have to be Apple or Google or Sony to get the attention of the press. All you need is an understanding of how the press (and online media) works and how best to get on their radar.
What Do I Have to Offer?
Most people who own a business or provide services have a certain level of expertise in their given field of endeavor. Still, to get the attention of the press, you have to find a way to distinguish yourself from others with similar expertise. While this may sound obvious, to get into the news, you must be able to provide something “newsworthy.”
For “product” driven businesses:
- Do you have a product that is unique, fun, groundbreaking?
- Does your product improve on an existing product in the marketplace?
- Is your product tied to something currently in the news? (i.e. a terrorism survival kit?)
For “service” businesses:
- Do you offer a unique service?
- Are you a leading expert in your field?
- Have you had newsworthy results from your services?
- Have you published a book/article in your area of expertise?
Do Your Homework
To get media coverage, you must take the time to find out who is writing about subjects relating to your business.
Every major newspaper and online media outlet has a business editor. Most also have a small business editor. Some have an editor/writer whose sole “beat” is online business. Also, if your business serves a certain niche (children, women, health, etc.) then find the reporters/editors covering those beats.
A simple Google search should help you find the journalists and bloggers covering your area or expertise. To kick start your search, I have compiled a few lists that should be of immediate help:
Make Your Pitch
Once you’ve targeted a journalist or blogger, then you need to convince them why they should be featuring you or quoting you.
I have been fortunate enough to have been on both sides of the public relations game. In my dozen years as a print journalist, I must have received thousands of press releases and inquiries. While most were either ignored or briefly scanned, there were a number that caught my attention.
What did the successful pitches have that the unsuccessful ones lacked?
- Great Headlines or Subject Lines: You need to distinguish yourself from the other pitches. Be concise, be creative, and be smart!
- Flattery: When you contact a reporter, make sure you are familiar with that reporter’s work. Talk about a specific article or subject matter that reporter has written about. Tell the reporter how your insights or your business would fit in well with the kind of stories he/she has already written.
- Prove You’re an Expert: Tell the reporter about your specific expertise. When applicable, provide links to other articles written about your or your business or provide links to articles you’ve written yourself.
- Put in on a Silver Platter: Write the story you’d like the reporter to be writing. Tell the story of your business or your services. Provide informative and entertaining quotes. Believe me, reporters appreciate it.
- Follow the News: Remember that “news” means “news.” Keep up with the latest trends. See what people are writing about. If you have expertise in those areas, then tell the reporter exactly how you can contribute.
While it is great to have a major media outlet do an in-depth feature about you and your business, those kinds of opportunities are few and far between.
There are tremendous opportunities, though, in participating in stories that focus on issues related to running a business. Especially these days, with a troubled economy, reporters are writing about hiring trends, personnel issues, employee compensation, workplace perks; and number of topics a small to medium business owner can readily comment upon.
Holidays also present great opportunities for press coverage. There are stories about holiday parties, Christmas bonuses, and end of year bonuses. Also, virtually every newspaper and website has features like “10 trends for 2012,” “what are your business resolutions for the new year,” or “the smartest thing my business did in 2012.”
A Few Tools of the Trade
While it is always important to seek out reporters, reporters are also seeking out sources.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a tremendous resource for sources looking to contribute to articles. Three times a day (on weekdays) HARO emails a list of queries from reporters looking for immediate help with stories they are currently working on.
If you believe that you have information that would really help the reporter out, then you should provide a detailed answer to the query. If accepted, the reporter will either use your written quote or contact you for a more detailed interview.
Do not answer a reporter’s query unless you REALLY believe you can be of help. Unresponsive answers are off-putting and would jeopardize any further chances of working with the reporter or the publication.
Muck Rack monitors the Twitter feeds from journalists across the globe. Reporters are organized by the subject matters they cover as well as the media outlets they represent. Often, reporters will seek out sources through their Tweets.
By following the journalists’ Tweets, you can see exactly what’s on their mind at any single moment. By responding immediately to the Tweets (with useful information) you can get the journalist’s attention in real time.