For many small business owners, getting media coverage for their business seems like an unaffordable luxury. If this is you, the likelihood is that PR doesn’t feature at all in your budget, and you can’t justify the cost of hiring an agency when there are so many other expenses to consider. But media coverage is essential if you want to grow your business and reach more customers, and the good news is that it is much more achievable than you may think, as long as you are prepared to do the work yourself.
Dealing with the media can seem daunting to the uninitiated, but journalists are looking for stories like yours and can help you get the coverage you are looking for. PR is about building relationships with the media rather than hard sell, and you don’t need to write a long press release or story pitch to get a journalist’s attention. A bit of research and a few conversations will go a long way towards getting your business its first piece of media coverage.
First, find out who your local journalists are – your local publication should have a small team of journalists covering your patch, as well as a business reporter. If you’re targeting national publications, trade magazines or broadcast media, find out which journalists cover your field and research the types of stories they usually cover.
The next step is to get in touch with the journalists. Introduce yourself, explain a bit about what your company does and briefly mention any projects you are currently working on. They may even find something there and then that they want to write a story on. The key is to build a relationship so that they will at least read what you send them, even if they decide not to cover it.
Once you have established a relationship, you can contact the journalist directly with stories you think they would like to cover. This doesn’t mean calling them every day to tell them how business is going – that will soon get you added to their block list. Instead, identify a story of interest and send a short summary in an email, starting with the most important points and adding more detail further down the email. The types of stories that journalists normally look for include: topical and seasonal subjects; subjects relevant to their geographical area or field of expertise; human interest stories and good news stories. Think about the types of things you would want to read about and apply this when identifying a potential story.
Social and online media are great for engaging with potential clients, but they are often overlooked as a way of getting coverage for a story. Blogs, vlogs, online magazines and social media can help you reach a larger potential audience than traditional media, and you don’t need much technical knowledge to get your story published online. As with traditional media, the key is identifying the right person or people to run your story. Do your research. There are blogs, vlogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and websites for every subject imaginable, and many have a huge global following. Look at the types of things covered in a blog or vlog and ask yourself whether your story would fit well with the existing content.
When you have identified a potential outlet for your story, contact them through their website or on social media. Twitter restricts the number of characters you can use to 140 but this is a great way to keep your pitch concise and to the point – you can send them the minute details once you have piqued their interest. Again, the information you give them has to be newsworthy. If your company produces a physical product, consider sending samples for review. A positive product review from a respected blogger is far more likely to lead to a sale than an obvious marketing pitch on your company’s website.
Another way of using online media channels to your advantage is through existing customers. Word-of-mouth marketing is just as relevant today as it was before the internet era, but now people can reach a global audience with their opinion of your product. This can work both ways – an unhappy customer with 10,000 twitter followers could lead to a disaster, but there’s a great opportunity if that same person raves about you. To make the most of customer reviews, always include a call to action in your communications. If a customer is happy with your product, ask them to tell their social media followers. Another way to do this is to add a button on your website to allow readers to share your web content on social media.
You may already be doing this without realizing it. If you have a blog, website, newsletter, social media account or email distribution list, you can get your message to hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers, without having to rely on other people. By telling the story in your own words, you don’t have to worry about it being re-written or important points being cut out. If you are unsure about your writing talents, run it past someone else before you publish it. Customers are more likely to take the story seriously if it comes from the business owner rather than a PR agency, even if the grammar isn’t perfect. You can also use video or audio to tell your story.
Getting media coverage for your business is hard work at first, but it becomes far easier once you have done the initial research, built relationships with journalists and bloggers, and grown in confidence. As your business expands, you will find there are more potential media opportunities, and therefore more work to do. At this point, you may want to consider taking on a PR professional or hiring an agency. Until then, there is so much you can do yourself without spending any money.