Q: My competitor, the owner of a gourmet catering service, has had four stories written about her in the past year in various sections of our local metropolitan newspaper. What should I do to get the same kind of coverage she's getting? Or should I assume the newspaper isn't interested in me since they haven't called?
A: It sounds as if your competitor has mastered the fine art of tooting her own horn. From where you're sitting, it probably looks as if the newspaper is playing favorites. But I'll bet your competitor is busy cooking up story ideas about her business, keeping in touch with the food editor, and piggybacking her ideas off holidays and seasonal events.
It's time for you to create your own recipe for publicity success. The most important thing you can do is place the media's needs first. Help them do their jobs by giving them timely, compelling story ideas or photo opportunities. Don't assume they aren't interested if they haven't called. Reporters don't like to keep writing about the same people or quoting the same sources.
Here are nine strategies you and other small-business owners can adopt to claim your share of news space:
1. Introduce yourself. Call the reporter who covers your industry and invite him or her for coffee or to tour your business. In your case, that would be the food editor, a food columnist or reporter, or the small-business reporter. Let this person know the areas in which you're an expert. Encourage him or her to call on you for background, commentary or story ideas about the food industry and catering.
2. Get to know local freelancers who write about food and small business. If you're not sure who they are, call the publication you want to get into and ask.
3. Ask what information your media contacts need and then provide it, whether it's a source for another story or a suggestion for Web sites where reporters can find statistics about your industry. Position yourself as such a valuable source so that the next time the reporter is looking for a story, your name will come to mind.
4. Tell the reporter about a trend you're seeing. Are more customers calling on caterers to prepare and serve family dinners during the week because of hectic lifestyles? Are people hiring you for their children's birthday parties?
5. Suggest yourself as the local angle to a national story. If the price of fresh tuna has skyrocketed, for example, and you've created recipes that help make tuna go farther, let the media know. Be sure to share the recipes.
6. Piggyback on a holiday. Are people hiring you to serve mom breakfast in bed on Mother's Day? If the newspaper doesn't want the story, they still might want a photo.
7. Talk about your business problems and how you solve them. For example, if you use clever recruiting strategies to find employees during a labor shortage, share them.
8. Discuss your mistakes and what you've learned. Reporters crave sources willing to share free advice that will help their readers avoid the same mistakes.
9. Write letters to the editor and opinion columns. When I worked as a newspaper editor, I often assigned reporters to cover stories that were brought to my attention through a letter to the editor.
Now get going. Somewhere out there is a reporter who's just waiting for your call. -Joan Stewart