Having your business featured in the local media can feel like getting lucky at the roulette table. The wheel spins round and round and you just pray that tiny ball lands on your number so your story is one of the chosen few to receive coverage that day. It is seen as a big bonus because you're basically getting free advertising, and the people absorbing that content are active viewers, listeners and readers.
So how do you get your local newspapers, TV and radio stations to take notice of your company? You've been sending out press releases when you launch a new product or have an event, you've been calling to follow up, but nothing seems to work.
Let's take a look at some simple suggestions for getting your story in the local news.
1. Know Your Current Events
This is first on the list for a reason. You may have heard it before because it truly is the most important factor. Connecting your small business to a current event is the easiest way to get some media attention.
When you're looking for stories to pitch, think about local, state, national and even international news. Most local media outlets include national and international news in their broadcasts or publications. They are always looking for ways to connect the local community to "the big story."
Remember...most news is not good news. That means you're going to have to be willing to participate in stories that may not give you the glowing coverage you'd hoped for.
In most cases, the saying "any publicity is good publicity" is right on. You just have to find a way to be positive about what could be viewed as negative circumstances.
For instance - what is your restaurant doing about that huge recall on lettuce? Is your ski shop still making sales despite the warm winter weather? Will you be hiring fewer seasonal employees this summer because of the slow economy?
Staying up to date on the news means you'll be ready when an opportunity to attach your small business to a big story arises. If you get a request for an interview without asking for it, make sure you brush up on the topic beforehand. That way you'll look smart!
2. Look for Unique Stories to Tell
Chances to connect your business to a news story won't come around every day, but media outlets are always on the look-out for human interest stories, sometimes called "fluff pieces" in the industry.
These are the feel-good stories that everyone loves to watch. If you can get the media to bite on a story like this, it's like striking oil! You may not make the front page or get coverage at the top of a newscast, but you can bet they'll tease the pants off it so that people stick around.
Is your company sending anything - or better yet - anyone to help with the latest disaster relief? Are you doing anything to help families in need over the holidays? If someone who works for you is a member of the military and has been deployed, let the media know about send-off parties and how you plan to support the employee.
It may sound like tooting your own horn (and you are), but that's the way it works. By the way, if you can pitch a story relating your business to puppies, kittens or babies - you're in for sure. I'm not joking!
3. Appear as Professional as Possible
When a newsroom gets a press release that's full of typos and blatant errors, it not only gets eye rolls it also means you lose credibility. When possible, have more than one person proofread your news release before it's sent out.
A stylish looking press release can go a long way. You may want to consider putting together an entire media packet inside of custom presentation folders. That way you can include extra background information on your company, DVDs, business cards and more along with your release. You can order presentation folders online and personalize them with your company's logo and marketing message.
Pitching your story inside an attractive marketing folder means you're going to get a closer look than a plain press release that gets spit out of the fax machine. Plus, showing up in person to hand over your material could lead to valuable connections inside the local media.
It's also important to write a headline and sub-header for your press release that is attention-getting and makes the reader want to learn more. This makes it obvious to the people in the media how attractive your story could be to an audience.
4. Understand the Newsroom Hierarchy and Make Relationships
Any working relationship you have in the media can prove to be valuable. Most newsrooms have all sorts of employees suggesting story ideas at editorial meetings, which are usually held a couple of times a day. Many times reporters and producers are looking for a story to recommend, and if you give them an idea, you're actually being helpful.
However, not every position in the newsroom carries the same amount of weight.
You may think that if you have an "in" with the news director or chief/managing editor your story will be on the top of the list. That's not always the case. News directors are busy people, and some are more hands on than others. You should realize that if you're only e-mailing your story idea to the news director or editor in chief - you could be getting overlooked.
Reporters, producers and the editors of particular sections of a newspaper or magazine are good connections because they're pitching stories on a regular basis. How much influence they have in a newsroom will vary depending on the individual.
Reporters are obviously the people putting together featured packages for the news. Their stories are the centerpieces of newspapers and newscasts. Developing relationships with reporters could mean you're the first person they think of when it's time to cover something related to your industry.
Producers and editors are the ones making a majority of the content decisions. They'll likely decide where your story appears in the paper or airs in a broadcast. Many of them are also writing copy, and oversee photography choices or video editing.
One of the more influential positions in a TV newsroom is the assignment desk - sometimes called assignment editor or assignment manager. This is the person who organizes all the scheduled events, keeps a close ear on the scanner for breaking news, answers a lot of phone calls for news tips, sets up interviews and much more. The assignment desk is sort of like the central nervous system of the newsroom. Getting your story idea to whoever is sitting at that desk should be your No. 1 goal.
5. Give the Media Monster What it Wants
The Media Monster is hungry. It's also a picky eater. You need to feed it some delicious treats.
Words are powerful, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Having opportunities for good video or photographs is extremely important. If the story you pitch has a good visuals for video, the rest of your bases should be covered. Good video means eye-catching still pictures and usually interesting audio as well.
If your company is holding an Easter egg hunt for kids, don't invite the media for interviews during the ice cream social afterwards.
If you're holding an event with a special speaker, the least you can do is make sure there's interesting stuff to shoot inside the room. That might mean you have to make some signage with logos, photos, charts and graphs. Then you can set up some displays for the camera guy (or girl) to shoot. Don't feel guilty about manufacturing photo and video opportunities for the media. Politicians have been doing it for decades.
It's a smart idea to indicate on your release a time and location where media representatives can find the best photo/video opportunities. When the Media Monster's belly is full of tasty video, scrumptious pictures, and delectable audio he'll be happy and will come back for more.
6. Buy Advertising
This sounds a little shady, but it really is the way things happen. Becoming a regular advertiser in the local media usually means they'll turn to you when there's a story relating to the products or service your business provides.
Of course, buying ads or becoming a sponsor doesn't guarantee you'll get coverage. You're not actually paying for that. Buying advertising won't necessarily make you a favorite among the folks in the newsroom, but if a sales rep hears the newsroom is planning a story on the scorching heat, he may suggest the reporter contacts your air conditioning repair business.
If there is a story in the works about how road construction is affecting local businesses, your shoe store could be the first place that comes to mind because your full-page ad has been running in the paper. Some newsrooms even have lists of local businesses that are also sponsors so reporters call them first when covering certain topics.
7. Be Flexible and Respectful
You may think your schedule is jam-packed, but the people who work in television, radio and print have extremely tight deadlines to meet. In most cases, they've got one work day to turn around their story. But you have until next week to finish your little Power Point presentation.
Trying to reschedule an interview for a later date can be a big hassle. Usually these interviews only take around 15 minutes, so find the time in your day to talk to reporters if they request an interview. If you can't do it yourself, find someone else in your company who can.
It is also important to have some manners when dealing with the media. Working in news can be a stressful job. Would you want to call the mother whose son was just murdered for an interview? Would want to shoot video of deadly car crashes day after day?
Sometimes people get annoyed with those pesky reporters and photographers. Just remember that newsrooms are very social places. If you act like a jerk to the photographer, everyone at your local paper or TV station is going to hear about it, and so could many other people at other stations and publications.
When you come up with a strategic plan for how to deal with the media, develop working relationships with people in the industry, and understand how things work inside that world, you'll find it's much easier to get a little love in the local news.
Kasey Steinbrinck spent seven years working in the media as a TV news producer, radio producer and newspaper reporter. He now creates web content for a number of companies including Check Advantage, an online retailer of personal checks and business checks.
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