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Your company is about to launch a new product or service that will raise the achievement bar in your industry. You want to make sure that every customer for your innovative offering hears the buzz, and acts on it by buying it – in droves.

You write a press release announcing your exciting news, and fire it off to Business Wire, PR Web, several industry magazines, your local paper’s business editor, and the newsrooms of local broadcasters.

You post it, with a big headline, on your company’s website. You sit back, and wait for the world to beat a path to your door.

Some time later, you notice that your door is still on its hinges. Your hoped-for media response was underwhelming. In fact, it was non-existent. You saw the headline on the Business Wire page. You know it was near the top for several hours on PR Web.

But no industry writers called, and your press release wasn’t even run in your local paper’s business pages. Why not? Where did you go wrong?

In your business, you’ve no doubt discovered that relationships are what make customers out of prospects. The same principle is in play with media relations – it’s not what you know (or how well you write your press release), it’s who you know. And how they feel about you and your company.

When you were developing your business plan, you put an advertising budget in under marketing, didn’t you? Here’s another question: What’s the best advertising in the world?

Answer: free publicity.

I can hear you – you’re saying…”OK, Casey, but how do I get free publicity?”

You develop relationships with reporters who cover your industry, that’s how.

Look at your local daily newspaper, and local TV news. Pick up the last copy of your industry’s trade magazine.

What stories have they run in the last year about people, companies or events in your business sector? Who reported the story?

Print media needs to fill the news holes in their pages – the news hole is the part of the page that isn’t paid advertising – and television news needs to have something to report between commercials. Reporters will welcome a heads-up about news on their beats that they don’t have to go out and dig up on their own.

The approach here should NOT be to call or email the reporter and tell them all about your company. You want to be a source, not a source of annoyance. The best way to open a dialog with a reporter is to offer yourself as an expert on your business sector – for example, if the reporter’s beat is real estate and development, and you’re a Realtor with a lot of experience in commercial development, you’d be a great
source for that reporter.

Make contact with the reporter after you’ve read or watched some of her or his recent pieces. Start a conversation – email is ideal here – with some of your observations about the piece, and about where your industry is headed. Keep it short, not a dissertation.

If there’s an industry event coming up in town, ask the reporter if they’re planning on attending. If they are, make a point of seeking that reporter out and introducing yourself. Start a relationship, just as you would with a prospective customer. A caveat – be aware that journalists have ethical standards dictated by their industry and their employers. Gifts, even a free lunch, have to be reported, and in most cases refused. What you need to offer is information, good information, not bribery.

Once you’ve established a relationship with a reporter, value it. Offer them stories, not self-serving fluff – the relationship will only pay off if it’s win/win, just like every other business relationship. Is what you have newsworthy?  Is a new branch office for your company news: is it offering employment in an
economically disadvantaged area, or is it just another suite of offices in an upscale office park?

There has to be a news “hook”, something that makes your story more than just your story.

Harking back to the scenario I drew at the top of this post, if you have an fresh solution or product that you believe will have the world beating a path to your door, the way to tell the world certainly involves writing a great press release. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of that release if you send it to reporters who know you, who regard you as an expert, and who will tell your story to their readers – your market – who will then beat a path to your door.

Becoming an expert is what you did on the path to starting your business. Being recognized as an expert by the media will give you visibility worth thousands, even millions, of advertising dollars that you don’t have to spend.

Does this give you a new view of reading the morning paper, watching local news, reading a trade journal?

Are you itching to make a list of reporters who cover your industry?

Great – go do it!

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