Making Headlines

A step-by-step guide to getting your message heard.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the November 1998 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Have all your attempts to grab the media's attention produced less-than-stellar results? The problem could be the messenger. Despite your best efforts, if you don't know the right way to approach the media, your pitches may be falling on deaf ears. And getting it right is important. After all, publicity can play an important supporting role in your advertising efforts and bring in business you wouldn't have otherwise had.

Here are a few key ways to grab--and keep--media attention:

1. Understand what news is. More than anything else, learning what information makes a great news story will determine your success in generating media coverage.

News stories typically must adhere to the following guidelines: be timely; have a relationship to the target audience; have significance or a consequence associated with it; feature a prominent person or entity; involve an element of conflict, action or drama; or have a distinct human interest angle.

2. Identify your newsworthy activity or message. Understanding the elements that catch media attention means examining all parts of your business. Newsworthy items include new products or services; a new location or building; staff members, clients or accounts new to your business; special events you're hosting; employee volunteer achievements; a company anniversary; a free informational seminar; or a human-interest feature that highlights an employee or customer. Whatever you decide to identify should somehow relate to and support your overall marketing plan.

3. Develop a plan. Outline the steps you expect to take to attract media coverage. Use a calendar and plot out the times of the year that have the most opportunities for you to capitalize on media exposure. For instance, if you own a landscaping and pruning service, focus on months in the spring. Also consult the editorial calendars of the press sources you'll be using. Some have lead times as long as six months so you'll need to pitch your article ideas early.

4. Come up with a media list. Once your press release is written, you need to know who you should send it to. Start with local papers, publications and magazines. Spend some time researching the publications' different sections or departments. Which ones seem best suited to your business? If your pitches are directed at the wrong magazine or newspaper, they'll go nowhere fast.

Don't overlook radio and television when doing your homework. Know the special news segments for each local newscast, and get familiar with local radio stations' formats.

Finally, make sure your contact list is up to date and accurate. Confirm the names, addresses, phone numbers and titles of the reporters you're contacting.

5. Get started, and then follow up. It's easier to start locally and work your way nationally. Begin with local club newsletters, community newspapers, and radio and television news departments. The learning curve is more forgiving when you make your mistakes on a local level rather than with The New York Times.

Regardless of the media organization, however, always follow up. Reporters are more likely to cover a story if they've had personal contact with the source. Start this follow-up process three to four days after you send the press release, and pay attention to which reporters and which releases generate a response. Keep in contact with your targeted journalists and reporters because you never know when they'll need you as a resource or as the subject of a feature article.

Leann Anderson is the owner of Anderson Business Resources, a Greeley, Colorado, company specializing in customer service, marketing and business etiquette. E-mail her at

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