Guest Post by Kristine Meldrum Denholm
When writing an article for a family-friendly magazine a couple years ago, I offered a small store the chance to tell me about their business: what was their top seller? Easy, right?
Wrong. They did not return my call. Worse, they followed up with an email demanding to know just what I was doing, and why did I want to know about them? When I responded how I liked their store on a recent visit with my daughter– and was working on a story about the best places in the area for kids (hint-positive story here)– they refused to follow-up.
I wanted to say: this is free publicity for you! Your name gets mentioned! But now your suspicion makes me suspicious! Are you a front? Do I need to write a different article here?
Once in a while as a freelance journalist, I encounter this. It only happens about once every 50 times I call (the bigger companies have PR departments, and many SBO’s are extremely PR savvy), but when it happens, it leaves me stunned. Yes, I have a journalism degree and spent over a decade in media relations prior to my writing career, but it still surprises me when owners ignore fundamental PR. How could a SBO pass up an opportunity to be branded as an expert?
Answer: they do not know basics of PR. They think of media as 60 Minutes with a camera. They don’t realize most writers and reporters are informative, not investigative; they’re doing useful stories such as how-to pieces. So today I thought I’d offer a little free media advice to the small business owner who does not have a PR person, on how to be more media savvy, bringing you more attention for your brand.
Here are 5 quick tips:
It’s all about the audience. Think of your target customers and their needs, not your needs. How can you reach them? What might they read or listen to? Make your media list first. Research names, editors, email addresses. Yes there’s major media like network affiliates, but don’t forget bloggers, online publications, magazines in your niche, trades, community newspapers, parenting magazines, city cable channels, custom publications designed for a specific company (for instance, your hospital’s magazine), non-profit newsletters. Whatever your target customers are consuming should be on your list. (And btw, please do not make the mistake of cutting your advertising budget.)
Introduce yourself to the media. Email an idea they might want to cover, or let them know you can be a source should they be doing any stories on xyz. Also, Chamber of Commerce in some cities holds media days when you can meet several reporters. Spend time on a good press release or email, but make sure it’s well-written, concise. Or, hire a public relations professional to do your press release. Either way, don’t waste media’s time: newspapers, websites, media are short-staffed & stretched thin. The key is, begin to build trust and rapport.
Build it, and they will come.Focus on genuine building of relationships first with media (do not forget social media, an important element of any communications plan.) Engage. If you’re going to set up a LinkedIn account and company page, check your LinkedIn email! I’ve approached sources on there and did not receive an answer until a week later—by then I had moved on and found someone else to speak. I still see companies and individuals throw something up on social media and then not interact with their audiences at all. Think of your own personal page: your FB friends know it’s a two way street, you respond to their comments because it’s a conversation. You don’t talk at them, you talk with them. Make it the same way with your public page. How can you be of service?
A picture is worth a thousand words. Have a special event; invite your media list. Or stage a free workshop for the community, offering your expertise, and invite local media and bloggers. You want a buzz. Pictures of pets, kids (with permission of parents) are good for community papers and sites. Our homeowners association recently had a poster-making party for kids when an issue threatened our neighborhood’s health, safety and environment. We had the kids hold up their homemade posters. I took a couple pictures, wrote a blurb and sent it into the local papers, which covered it, and one used it on the front page. Those kids became the face of the issue.
Be the expert that you are (only if you are). Sign up as a possible source at HARO (HelpAReporter.com) (and then check it.) There, media post requests for sources, and if one fits your expertise, you send the reporter a note as to your qualifications as a source. Warning: I’ve used it several times as a writer for a story and have gotten emails from sources who don’t have the expertise. (I don’t use them then.) I have also found outstanding sources this way. Many reporters say they get inundated here though. If you say you are an expert, please be one. So instead of saying, “I am the finest chocolate seller around,” tell them about when you were awarded the Best Chocolate in competition at the county fair, and your last customer drove 100 miles for your quadruple chocolate fudge, and you get up at 3 am to make it, and photos are available. #
Kristine Meldrum Denholm is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in USA Today Sports, Sports Weekly, Balanced Living Magazine, Police Magazine, parenting magazines, and dozens of other magazines, newspapers, publications, and sites, as well as an author in Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Dog’s Life. She is also a writer for websites and a writing coach based in northern Virginia. Say hi at www.KristineMeldrumDenholm.com or www.facebook.com/KristineMeldrumDenholm.