Most small businesses have very small advertising budgets. But how can people buy your product or service if they don’t know these exist? One solution is public relations, or PR. By sending stories to newspapers and magazines you can reach a wide group of people—sometimes millions—at a fraction of the cost of placing an ad.
The good news is that editors are actually eager for stories. The bad news? They get dozens of press releases a day. Here’s how to create the right PR strategy and create press materials that will actually get printed or aired.
1. Step one: study your media landscape.
Who is your market, and what publications cater to that geographic area and that market? For print, list down the newspapers (daily and weekly), magazines, business journals, community newsletters, and commerce newsletters. You can search for publications by area at JournalismNet.
2. Find out who to approach.
Nothing irritates newspaper and magazine staff more than an idiot calling up the trunkline and saying, “What’s the name of the editor?” Read the staff box. A smarter question is, “I have a press release on a new restaurant. Which editor should I send it to?” Chances are, it’s not the editor-in-chief, who’s swamped with several other duties. You will probably be directed to the associate editor or feature editor (who handles articles), a managing editor (who handles deadlines), a section editor, or a pool reporter.
3. Sell a good story.
Editors and producers want a story that is useful, relevant or interesting to their audience. When you call them up, be prepared with an interesting angle. One of the most common mistakes is for an entrepreneur to say, “Can you feature my craft business?” and leave it at that. You have to go to them with a story.
For example, do you have a timely announcement? You may have to think of events or promotions that would get media attention. “This month, I’m offering free art classes to senior citizens.” Or “I’m holding a baby photo contest and giving away $5,000 worth of baby products to the winner.”
Maybe you can offer yourself as an expert to a topic that’s related to your business or field. For example, if you operate a sports store: “I’ve made a simple list of tips on how to pick running shoes.” Or if you are opening a spa and would like to promote your pre-natal treatments, : “I’d like to pitch an article on the benefits of getting a massage when you’re pregnant.”
4. Know the publication.
Editors are happy to print press releases that are written well, and written according to their tone and format. Study the publication. What are their sections? Is the language formal or chatty? How long are their press releases? Try to adapt to their tone. And avoid fluffy adjectives and hardcore raving about your product—that will just annoy them and probably get edited out. Instead, give facts: who, what, where, when, why, how. You can include a quote from you or somebody from your company, background information on your company, and contact information. You may also want to include a fact sheet about your product or service, so your editors can add whatever info that they see fit.
5. Send it the right way.
When you talk to the editors, ask them how they prefer the press release to be sent. Do they want it emailed? Do they want a CD, with a print out of the article and the photos? You should also ask them about their deadlines, and when you need to send an article to make it to their next printing. Magazines, for example, usually have a two or three month leadtime. Even newspapers will edit and layout feature sections ahead of time.
6. Use your press release for other things.
Media receive so many press releases that you may need to wait until yours gets published. That’s okay. Just keep at it, sending interesting topics and articles. But don’t throw your old releases into the trash bin. You can upload them on your website, or send them to members of your e-group. You can print them as direct mailers, hand them out at sales calls, or compile them into a portfolio for clients.
7. Build goodwill.
It helps to have good relationships with editors and reporters. Don’t wait until you have a news story to get to know them. Talk to them, offer yourself as a resource person, send samples of your product or offer a free trial of your service. That way, when you do have a breaking news story or an irresistible story angle, your name will be on top of their minds.