While the benefits of good publicity are obvious, for many busy small-business owners, generating press coverage can be a challenge. What many entrepreneurs don't realize is there are valuable news stories hidden in a business's day-to-day operations, and that packaging and distributing these to the media can be achieved using simple tips and tools.
1. Leverage your news. Think about the things that have happened recently in your company. If your business has hired new staff, taken on a new contract, conducted research or surveys, manufactured a new product or is offering a new service, you have the basis for news. Think about "stories" in terms of what's of value or interest to your customers, business partners or investors. The likelihood is that these stories will be of interest to the publications that cater to these audiences.
Try to identify these stories well in advance, as the "business of doing business" can take precedence over generating publicity. When you're putting together a project plan or even an annual plan, factor in the anticipated happenings and projects that may be of interest to a wider audience. Prepare in advance so you're able to send out the news when it's of interest to the media; e.g., as it happens or at a trade show when the media's anticipating news from exhibitors.
2. Identify your targets. In order to ensure you hit the right media outlet(s), think about your target audience. For instance, if you provide IT services and have just hired a new senior executive, customers, partners and even competitors will be interested in the appointment. The key to reaching these individuals is reaching the publications they read on a regular basis. For instance, your IT customers may regularly read the top industry trade publications and websites, while members of the local business community rely upon the business section of their daily newspaper. Potential business partners, on the other hand, may get their information from business journals and magazines.
In each case, a small business can improve its chances of generating meaningful press if it's familiar with the outlets that are important to its target markets. Most businesses will likely have an understanding of some of their top media targets. However, to get the most impact from your media outreach, consider either print or online media databases that allow you to access information on publications and reporter contacts. These services will allow you to build your own media lists, which can be customized for specific events or PR campaigns.
3. The news release. The news release should contextualize your news, story or event in a manner that gives reporters an appreciation for the significance of the news without being overly promotional. A good rule of thumb for writing a release is to structure it like an article. Start with a strong headline that clearly and crisply communicates the event. Follow that with a lead paragraph that explains, in simple terms, what's happening, who's involved, where, why and how. Then, include a few paragraphs that offer details about what's being announced and quotes from your company's top executives. If your announcement is visually appealing, it's also advisable to include digital photographs or multimedia videos within the release.
Above all, the intent of a news release is to be a resource for reporters. If you structure your release with this in mind, it'll increase the likelihood that your company's news will be reported.
4. Timing is key. Equally important to a well-crafted release is knowing when to make the announcement public. There are many variables that impact when news is ready to be announced. However, once a date is determined, there are a few timing issues that should be considered.
For small businesses, it's wise to avoid the hour prior to the opening of the stock markets (8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., ET). There is usually a large flood of releases issued during this time, and your release could get lost in the wave. It's also advisable to avoid issuing a release during the afternoon on Friday or the day before a national holiday. Traditionally, companies use this time to "bury" bad news because reporters are presumably less likely to pay attention. Even though this technique rarely works, issuing news at this time will decrease the likelihood of coverage.
It's also important to be cognizant of reporting deadlines. If you're looking to reach daily newspapers, send the release in the morning to give reporters enough time to file an article for the next day's paper. For weekly outlets, try to time the release on a Monday or Tuesday, if possible. This will enable the reporter to prepare a story ahead of the Thursday or Friday deadline.
Being aware of certain timing issues can have a significant impact on the volume and depth of coverage your company receives. If you use a newswire service to disseminate your release, it's wise to discuss the timing of the announcement with your service representative. He or she will be able to advise on the best strategy for your news.
5. Getting the word out. Like a tree falling in the woods, if your news doesn't get to the appropriate media contacts, it won't make a sound. The best way to ensure your news is received is to utilize a newswire service. Newswires hold databases of tens of thousands of media contacts, have contractual arrangements with thousands of news organizations and websites, and can help to determine which of these should receive your release based on relevance, geography and industry.
While it's possible to manage your own distribution, doing so will limit you to the contacts in your internal database. Using a newswire will open your news and your company to a host of reporters, consumers, investors and B2B audiences who may not be known to you, but who may have interest in companies like yours.
Additionally, a release issued by a newswire is viewed by reporters as being more credible. Reporters receive hundreds of news releases a day. It's impossible for them to read every announcement. One of the measures that reporters often use to separate the "wheat from the chaff" is whether the release came through a newswire. That tells them the source (you) is legitimate and worth consideration.
6. Experts. News isn't the only resource a small business has for securing coverage. There are other techniques that can generate similarly significant publicity for your company.
Within any given company there are individuals, often the company executives, who are ideal for promoting as experts in their field. Reporters crave access to these sources, and even if your spokesperson does not mention your company in the interview, by being associated with a topic related to your industry or market, you'll generate positive "thought leadership"--their expertise reflects on your company's brand.
For a small business, the biggest hurdle in positioning industry experts is getting the initial interview with the reporter. A good way to get that foot in the door is to keep abreast of trends in the media that relate to your experts' area of knowledge, and then pounce on any opportunities. Once a rapport is established between the reporter and your company's spokesperson, the reporter may seek his or her input directly. This is the ideal scenario.
Direct reporter contact is the most common path for offering expert spokespeople. However, there are also web-based systems that enable you to list your experts and make them available to reporters who may be working on a story.
7. Anticipate trends and create story opportunities. Keeping abreast of news on your company, competitors and the industry as a whole not only allows you to be aware of what's being reported, it can also allow you anticipate trends and suggest angles for future stories. The ability to be proactive, instead of reactive, is extremely beneficial when trying to secure coverage.
The conventional method for staying on top of the news is to read the papers, trade journals and business press. However, most people don't have the time to sift through the dozens of publications that are important to their business, not to mention the hundreds of outlets that could serve as potential media resources.
There are services available that can make the process significantly more efficient. Search engines, including Google, Yahoo! and MSN, have functions that allow you to track news related to specific keywords or company names. These systems offer a good first line of defense. However, to gain greater intelligence about what's being reported and by whom, it's advisable to use an online news monitoring service. These services enable you to monitor thousands of print and web-based publications, and create coverage and trend reports on articles about your company, competing businesses and topics of importance to your industry.
8. Be a good resource. Quick access to information is essential for a reporter. By arranging your company's news releases in one distinct part of the website, along with background information on the company, management bios and high-resolution photos, you'll be an immediate asset to reporters. Consider web-based tools that allow you to create online media rooms, and update information immediately in real time.
Above all else, key to ensuring coverage and building your company's reputation with the media is to be available and attentive. There's nothing that'll destroy your company's chances for coverage more than if a release is issued and nobody's available to field calls from the press. Be sure to have contact information listed in all news releases and on your company's website. Further, if your company issues news, it's imperative that the company spokesperson is willing and able to participate in interviews.
While all of these tips may not be applicable to every business, each has the ability to increase your company's media coverage. What's more, the services mentioned above can actually improve the efficiency of your marketing efforts, and potentially lead to greater sales and overall growth. However, for a small business, the introduction of new procedures will always lead to the question of expense and whether budgets can support the initiative. The good news is that the cost to implement many of these techniques is minimal, and for some, the pricing can be altered depending on the extent to which the service is used.
The bottom line is that if exposure in the media is important to your business, there are simple, cost-effective solutions that can be employed today that have been proven to yield immediate results.
Mark Nowlan is senior vice president of marketing & communications at PR Newswire. Nowlan is a frequent lecturer on media relations, strategic communications and crisis communications at industry conferences around the country. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.