By: Francis Moran
on Thursday, November 22, 2012
In addition to my role with Francis Moran and Associates
, I have also worked as the editor of a regional business journal
and currently serve as the editor of quarterly magazine published by a local chamber of commerce.
This diversity of experience has allowed me to be on both ends of the public relations process wherein local businesses attempt to garner coverage from the media outlets dominant in their communities. These include local television and news talk radio stations, daily newspapers with city and business sections, weekly community papers, business journals, and publications put out by local chambers, often because there is no other dedicated business publication serving their communities.
Regardless of the media outlet in question, the circumstances are often the same: the business either lacks the internal expertise to craft a story and pitch it to the media, or lacks the budget to hire the external experts who can. And depending on the size of the local media market, the cost of retaining such services may simply not be justified by the number of potential coverage opportunities.
So what is a cash-strapped small-to-medium sized business to do to earn coverage in its local media?
If your business is one that sells outside of the local market, nationally or even internationally, one consideration may be to piggyback a local media launch on the back of a larger national one. If, for example, you are a software developer active in the enterprise space, there are dozens of technology and industry trade press with national and even international reach that could have an interest in your story. Developing a PR campaign to reach these medias is a significant undertaking, but it also carries a much higher potential return that will more than justify the investment.
But the types of local businesses which I am referring to in the context of this article typically are not aiming to be the next Microsoft or Oracle. They are instead professional service firms, commercial real estate brokerages, healthcare professionals, retailers, auto dealerships, even martial art studios and hair salons.
These businesses often provide the bulk of the advertising revenue which keeps local media afloat. But too often, this status as loyal advertiser often breeds an expectation that having ponied up advertising dollars has earned them a story. Few respected publications, however, fall into this “pay and play” category.
If you want the editorial department of your local business journal or news talk radio station to cover your business, you must provide them with a compelling story that stands on its own regardless of your advertising spend. Bear in mind that the editorial team’s priority is on those stories which are deemed to be timely and relevant and provide value to their viewers and readers. They are seldom interested in plugging a particular business’s products or services.
Nonetheless, there are a number of ways to earn the attention of editors and journalists, even if it is only with a modest news brief of a couple of hundred words or a nugget in a “For the Record” section. Here is a list I often send to new chamber members or new advertisers who contact me to say they “want to get covered” but haven’t defined a story with news value.
- The business is brand new, particularly if it is unique or provides a fresh twist on an old standard. This could be anything from the first local appearance of a national franchise to a home improvement store that stocks only reclaimed and recycled building materials.
- A major anniversary that speaks to a business’s staying power and success. I am talking decades here, not a handful of years.
- The hire of a new C-level executive.
- A change of ownership, particularly if it is a family-owned business that has been a mainstay of a community for a generation or more.
- Initiatives that speak to positive growth momentum, such as a expansion with a new location, overseas expansion, or a hiring drive that will substantially increase the workforce.
- A major industry award.
- A large contract award. Even if the nature of your business precludes you from disclosing a dollar value, you can still frame it in terms of the workforce expansion it will require, the percentage revenue growth it will yield or how many units of a product it will include.
- Publication of a book. This usually speaks to the individual, such as a company founder, rather than the business as a whole. Also bear in mind that self-publishing or print-on-demand lack the punch of being picked up by a traditional publisher – unless you’ve already become a runaway bestseller.
- Notable national or international media coverage, or a television appearance, such as being on Shark Tank.
- Lastly, having a story to tell about being a business owner, rather than a story about your business. Local media are always looking for local residents and businesses to comment on the news of the day. It may be indirect, but it is still coverage that brings attention to you and your business. This could be anything from commenting on increases in local property taxes, to how energy costs are impacting your bottom line and what you are doing to draw more foot traffic to your door while your street is being ripped up for sewer work.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should provide you with a basis from which to start a productive conversation with the media outlets in your community. The most important consideration to bear in mind is that, while earned coverage often has more impact with readers and viewers than paid advertising, you can’t expect to call all the shots about how your story gets told. What stories get told, and how, is ultimately at the discretion of a media outlet’s editorial team.Leo and inmedia Public Relations, a Francis Moran and Associates affiliated PR agency, had a bit of a mutual admiration society going for a number of years while he was the editor of the Ottawa Business Journal, regularly interacting with inmedia consultants. When he decided it was time for a career change, when the lure of what journalists refer to as the “dark side” (AKA PR) became too strong to ignore, his excellent reporting skills and talents as a writer made him a natural fit for inmedia.
But wild horses can’t be broken, as they say, and so Leo – rather than devote himself exclusively to full time flackery – is a renaissance man, providing top-notch PR when he’s needed, but also holding a variety of consulting, writing and reporting positions. He’s the managing editor of this site and his sharp editorial style will keep readers coming back.