I was lucky to attend yesterday’s 5th Annual Small Business Day that was put together by smAlbany , a networking group for small business owners living in the Capital District. The whole day was spent chatting with other SMB owners and learning from experts. While I had the chance to sit in on a number of great sessions, one that particularly stuck out was the Tools for Small Business panel. Surprising to me was that the “tool” being discussed wasn’t Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. It was all about getting press coverage from media outlets, specifically newspapers.
Yes, newspapers! I know what you’re saying – newspapers are dying! They’re extinct! But the truth is, they’re not. Getting local press coverage can help you build exposure, establish expertise and allow you to grow your business. Also, all the advice shared for getting local newspaper coverage can easily be tweaked to help you get coverage from online media, as well. So, it’s a win/win!
As a small business owner, how do you get your SMB in the news? Here are some tips from the people who know.
Know your news outlets: Before you pitch a story idea or send an editor an e-mail, do your research. Whether you’re looking to pitch a blog, a newspaper or a mix of the two, you want to be familiar with the outlet you’re going after. You should know the types of stories they cover, what sections you can get your business to appear in and what the audience of that paper responds to. This will show you whether or not you’re a good fit for inclusion and if your audience is even reading this publication. If they’re not, then it’s not going to do you much good to get coverage there. Doing your research also allows you to bring something to the table when it’s time to pitch.
Understand the mind of a reporter: Many SMBs are afraid to pitch stories to local media. They think that they’ll be bothering someone, that the reporter has another story in mind or that the person on the other end won’t find it useful. If you have something worthwhile to pitch, don’t let fear stop you. Understand that reporters are busy. They’re busy just like you are. That means they can’t be aware of all the news that’s going on. They rely on relevant tips/pitches/scoops to help fill their space. If you know something about your business and you want to see a story about it, pick up the phone or drop an editor an email to let them know. The fact that they’re busy is why you need to pick up the phone, not a reason to avoid it.
Value freshness: Always be on the lookout for ways to insert your business into timely issues. If your local paper ran a story about how to improve your plumbing last month, they probably won’t be running another one this month. So don’t pitch that idea. Look for another angle or a way to tie your company into things that are happening in the region or the news. The companies that get the most news coverage are the ones that know how to create stories. That means either creating a press opportunity or finding ways to tie your business into current events. If you’re what’s hot, newspapers will have no choice but to cover you.
Speak their language: Sometimes getting coverage is a matter of speaking the same language as the editor whose eye you’re hoping to catch. This is, again, a reason to familiarize yourself with the outlet as much as you possibly can to get an understanding of what they do and what they like. Know what part of the paper you want to be in, what types of stories they cover and how they’re written. How can you build the best presence?
Find reporters on Facebook and Twitter: This is a super important point that I think many SMBs miss out on. It doesn’t matter if the outlet itself is offline or online, the people who write for it are on the Web interacting in social media. Look for them, follow them, friend them and then start talking to them. Often newspapers, TV outlets and magazines will use their Twitter handle on air/in print/on their Web site. Make note of it and seek them out. If they don’t list it, do a Twitter or Facebook search to find it. Use a site like Listorious  to track down Twitter Lists filled with local or niche media outlets. Building relationships with reporters of news outlets you want coverage from makes it easier to pass stories back and forth.
Know when to get in touch: The right time to approach reporters is when you have a story that will benefit their audience. Pick and choose when to make contact to get maximum coverage, as the same outlet can only give you so much coverage. When should you get in touch?
- When you have an idea for an interesting partnership or joint venture
- When you’re hosting or part of a unique event
- When you can tie your business in with current events
- When your business is doing something to help the community
And think ahead. If you know you have an event coming up or want something in Sunday’s printed calendar, get it in at least three weeks before the printed publication. You can’t call a newspaper on Thursday about an event taking place that weekend. You also want to know who you should be contacting. Check the news outlet’s masthead or Web site for the names of the reporters that cover your area or beat. Don’t e-mail the Editor In Chief when you should really be e-mailing a hungry beat reporter.
As a small business owner, you always want to be on the lookout for ways to make your business relevant and worthy of local press attention. The tips above should help give you a solid foundation on how to reach out, when to do it and what to say when you open that door.