Publicity can be elusive for the small-business owner, but nothing can be more instrumental for long-term recognition and success. One secret to attracting interest from a reporter is to position yourself as an expert. Before you say, "But I'm not an expert at anything," remember that everyone is an expert at something. If you're a lawyer, you can give legal tips or interpretations. An accountant might offer tax tips. And almost anyone who provides services is an expert in something.
For example, Doug Markham, a Los Angeles-based chiropractor and nutritionist, recently sent out a news release to dozens of radio and TV producers titled, "Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat." In it, he asserted that the "low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that has gotten so much attention does not work." He said the studies that promoted this diet were biased and contended they were financed by the food industry.
In the following week, Markham received 25 phone calls, including one from CNN, and he's been booked for five radio interviews. Why was Markham's effort so effective? His target was radio and TV stations, and he crafted the news release to fit that audience. His release touched on much of what broadcasters are looking for: health, fitness, food and, most important, controversy. Not only was he arguing that the conventional wisdom was wrong, but he asserted that the science itself-the nutrition studies underwritten by the food industry-was corrupt.
Remember Hillary Clinton's statement about a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" out to get the Clintons? That received an enormous amount of press coverage, proving provocative statements are memorable and entertaining, perfect for TV.
Since Markham wasn't sure how to approach reporters, he turned to Paul Krupin, founder of Imediafax.com , a news release advisory service in Kennewick, Washington, for help. A former attorney, Krupin started his business after winning a big case and vowed never to practice law again. He was so successful promoting his new publishing business that others began asking him for help publicizing their own businesses. He built his media-advisory practice from there, charging about $500 to write a press release. (He's also the author of Trash Proof News Releases , which he sells for $37, plus $5 shipping and handling, available by calling 800-457-8746.)
Krupin says it's critical to target the right media person, whether it be a business editor, calendar editor or book reviewer. Whoever it is, make sure to spell the name and title correctly. (Find out when the publication or program is on deadline, and don't call at that time).
"What most business owners need to do is put themselves in the position of the editor or producer," said Krupin. "You have to look at what they do. The key to being successful is to give them news that's better than anything else they have. It's that simple. Everything else is content and style."
Krupin says many business owners make the mistake of trying to sell their product or service in a press release. "The media is adverse to anything that looks like advertising," he says. "They want to educate, entertain, stimulate or provoke their audience."
Another common mistake in writing news releases, according to Krupin, is trying to tell the whole story: "People write way too much. Tell them what the story is about and why it would be good for their audience." Remember, a press release is not the first draft of an article-it is the spark designed to prompt a reporter to want to write the story or an editor to assign it.
There's also a real difference between the needs of print, radio and TV outlets. "Print media focus on facts and figures. They talk about strategies," said Krupin. "Radio and television don't lend themselves to detailed information. It's about sound bites, tone and excitement. For radio and TV producers, you want to tell them why their audience is going to love what you're going to say, or hate what you're going to say. The focus is on the emotional reaction: 'Why am I going to be entertaining?'"
Krupin said he has to tell many potential clients they are simply not ready to deal the press. "People who have business services and consumer products think they can walk in with one news release and get coverage. I have to tell them, 'It's not gonna happen.'"
For instance, he met recently with a photographer who wanted to create a news release promoting his new Web site. Krupin told him to forget it-he was never going to interest the media in a story about his Web site. Instead, Krupin asked him, "What do you know that people don't know about photography?" The photographer said, "They don't know how to hang pictures up on the wall." Working from that idea, they created a news release with tips and tricks for hanging pictures. It led to a number of print articles featuring Krupin's client, the photographer, as the expert.
If you have positioned yourself as an expert, the payoff may not be immediate, but be patient. Carl Fowler, vice president and general manager of the Rail Travel Center , a Vermont-based tour company that specializes in selling rail tours all over the world, said he got a call one day from a reporter working for a large-circulation senior-citizen newsletter (Fowler's target market). He was trying to figure out which train was the "real" Orient Express-half a dozen trains claim to be the real thing. Fowler spent time on the phone with the reporter, explaining the intricate history of trains and routes, including the fact that the "real" Orient Express stopped running 20 years ago.
Some months later, the same reporter called back, asking Fowler if he had any tours for the fall foliage season, and has since written up several Rail Center tours in the newsletter. The Rail Travel Center issues news releases about three times a year, sometimes to promote a new catalog or service. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," he said. "I don't have a clue as to why it sometimes works. All I know is when the articles come out, it produces a wonderful surge of bookings."
Next week, in part two of this series, I'll talk about how to follow up on press releases, tips for handling interviews and how to make friends with a journalist.