I’ve been in the public and media relations world my entire adult life. I have also been a magazine editor and managed a web and multimedia team for more than a decade.
I am here to tell you that almost everybody does public relations poorly. That boutique PR firm that sends you tweets about their successes – they probable do it poorly. That nice man who has been trying to get you to buy his services – he’s likely not as effective as he says he is. And that huge company with a big brand name and a handsome website – they may be expensive, but you might not be getting what you’re paying for.
But whether they are effective or not, is irrelevant. Because the best part of the story is that you – the small business owner – can do it as well or better than them, for FREE!
Does it take time? Yes, although perhaps not as much as you may think. But, I assure you, there is no better time spent.
The payout of a great public relations strategy is free media coverage in newspapers, on television, radio and online. It means attention from bloggers and your company name appearing on local websites. Despite what you may have heard, social media has not killed mainstream media. In fact, with people looking to share everything they come across, mainstream stories are often the benefactors of social media to spread the word.
So, here are seven secrets to getting FREE media coverage for your business
1. Writers and editors are desperate for stories – There are so many magazines, websites, newsletters, niche publications, radio and television programs out there, and EVERYBODY is searching for interesting content. Writers will wake up in the middle of the night imagining blank pages.
There is nothing they like more than when a great story falls in their lap. This applies to writers of everything from hard news to style, entertainment, local news, business stories and business to business ideas. Their desperation is a gift to you. Don’t waste it.
2. They’re NOT interested in that story. They ARE interested in the other story – Understand this – The angle they want to hear is NOT that you have a consignment clothing store. It’s not that you sell ice cream or Italian food. And it’s not that you make a great cup of coffee. There are 1,000 coffee shops in town that make a great cup of coffee and none of them deserve coverage for that fact alone.
You have a story they are interested in because the story you are sharing is compelling. It makes an editor weep because it’s such a beautiful thing to hear. Your story is your 85 year old father who still works in the kitchen. It’s the fact that your coffee beans are shipped in from a small village in Uganda. It’s that your employees bring their babies to work or you have a very unique personal philosophy or story of challenge and homegrown success.
Don’t think you have a story? You are wrong. Know the backgrounds of your employees, research the location and history of your shop, and know the real origin of your products. Think about who you are and how you got to where you are.
Got anything yet? Still no???
Then create your story. Ask customers to put jelly beans into jars to vote for different issues every month, like which mayoral candidate they like, or streetcars vs. buses. Sell something that has never been sold before. Serve the world’s largest burger or hottest chicken wing. Anything to stand out.
Now you have a story they are interested in. Now go tell thrm about it.
3. Everybody wants something different – Match your story with your media –Know your stories (yes, you need to sit down and develop more than one) and target them for the right audiences. Got a cool fashion angle? Go after fashion websites, blogs, fashion magazines and morning television shows. Got an angle about supporting the community? Take it to community papers, blogs and websites.
I once had a story on some owners of a unique business that I wanted to pitch. One of the co-owners owned car dealerships. I found the top car ownership publications in North America and got his story published more than once. One of the owners worked in the steel business. For him, it was construction publications, magazines and websites that found the story most appealing. They found it interesting because someone in steel was doing something beyond that world and it’s naturally compelling to share those unique connections with an audience.
Every unique angle has legs. A few Google searches and you should find them.
Remember, bigger is not always better. A half page story in your local community newspaper might serve you better than a piece in the New York Times – and might be easier to sell.
Find the specific writers that will pick up on the story, and contact them. Also send queries to the editors.
4. They need experts. You are one – As a journalist, you are always looking for go to people and experts. If you are the dietician, the fashionista, the “fried food” woman or the “funny slogan” guy, you serve a purpose and they need you.
Talk to media people, send personal emails to journalists and editors, write them tweets offering your experiences in subjects they will be writing on. I worked with one business that catered to moms. After establishing themselves as experts with one producer on a major national television news broadcast, they received numerous follow up requests from the producer. Every time a new study came out about parenting, kids toys, mothers and fathers, this producer would call asking to bring a camera crew out to talk with the store owner, staff and customers.
Morning shows and daily shows are always looking for experts. You are that expert. Share your knowledge.
5. This is not online dating. Persistence wins – When you decide you want to date someone from an online website, you write them a nice note and hope to hear back. If you don’t get a response, and you’re brave, perhaps a second email is in order. At that point, you stop. He/she is probably not interested and there are other profiles to scour.
“Dear X, I’m writing you with a really unique story that I believe will be of great interest to your readers.” Provide a few sentences on the angle and why it’s unique. If the story has never been published anywhere else, share that as well. Don’t be shy about pushing hard, sending unique photos and offering your availability to be interviewed for the story.
Now follow up. And follow up. And follow up. Even offer to write the piece yourself.
If you don’t hear back, move to different editors, other columnists and writers. And follow up some more. Sometimes I’ll hear people say, “If you’re too persistent, you’ll turn them off.” They are wrong. If you don’t hear back, they’re not likely thinking about you and chances are you’ll never hear from them again. You have nothing to lose. Don’t be afraid to move around with your stories, offering your expertise and your best angles, and give them a few ideas as to why your business deserves a story.
6. The phone is now a secret weapon – It used to be that editors would say that their phones are ringing off the hook. Today, they don’t ring all that much. What was once a standard practice is now a secret weapon. Wait until your email gets opened (many email services will provide a notification receipt), and call the person you sent the pitch to. Yes, use a phone!
Make sure they got the story and tell them why it’s unique. A 20 second voice mail, while not ideal, will also serve a purpose. The idea that some PR firms have time to send out thousands of tweets and hundreds of press releases, but no time to pick up the phone, is absurd.
As an editor, I don’t really want to answer your call. But your call works. So pick up the phone.
7. Don’t be intimidated – Today’s editor doesn’t look or sound much like J Jonah Jameson from the Daily Bugle in Spiderman or Perry White at The Daily Planet in Superman.
Cigars don’t dangle from their mouths, and they don’t yell cool sounding obscenities every few seconds… at least most don’t.
In this age of varied media, these people on the other end of that computer screen are just looking for cool stuff to share. And if you get told to stop calling, or “No, I’m not interested,” simply brush it off and move to the next target. Then, after a little break, try again with a cool new angle.
In a real sense, PR is sales. But, the great thing about it is that great stories provide as much real benefit to you as they do to the buyer. And no money ever changes hands. You are selling a great idea completely FREE of charge. What could be better than that?