Making Your Biz Media Savvy

Interesting article from Porfolio.com – by Romy Ribitzky

Making Your Biz Media Savvy

The Tastee Sup Shop didn’t mount a full-scale PR campaign advocating itself as the quintessential presidential stump stop before President Obama visited Wednesday to talk about small businesses. The Edison, New Jersey, restaurant doesn’t have a fancy website. And it gets by without a Twitter account.

But the amount of media attention the shop got because of the presidential visit—not to mention the future folklore allure it stands to gain—show that small businesses don’t necessarily need to have big pockets to get the media’s attention. A news hook, a celebrity visit, or a killer product launch can all help to get buzz swirling among sometimes fickle and jaded reporters.

So what’s the best course for a small business that’s trying to get out a branding message or news of a product launch so its customer base knows what’s going on?

Trying to hold a media event involves multiple moving parts, and making sure that they come together properly can be tricky, says Marsha Friedman, CEO of EMSI Public Relations, a national PR firm based in Clearwater, Florida.

“Getting a television crew to your event requires some finesse, and the format of the pitch is different than that of a press release,” she says. “A media alert is the appropriate tool which gives a TV producer or assignment-desk editor all the information they need to decide on whether the event you’re holding is of interest to them.”

When it comes to the pitch, concise and to the point is the way to go, media experts say. Since the media tends to ask the same major questions, structure the pitch to answer the following: Who, what, why, when, where, and visuals, Friedman recommends.

But even before writing a single word, do your homework. A quick Internet search can help businesses identify local (and national) reporters who cover their beat, product type, branding element, or business interest. Knowing who to send alerts to takes the pitch from a blind send to a targeted campaign that is more likely to yield results since you’re connecting reporters, editors, and producers—who have to find fresh material every day—with subject matter already of inherent interest to them.

Once you’ve identified the initial core audience, focus on the basics:

  • Who: This may sound like a no-brainer, but make sure to include your company’s name as well as the names and titles of any people who’ll be in attendance.
  • What and Why: Make sure to let editors and producers know why you’re holding a presser and what the announcement is.
  • When and Where: The worst thing about putting time and effort into creating a media opportunity is doing all that work and having no one show up. Let outlets know exactly what date and time—as well as the address—of your event. Include your expected duration, a set of directions to the venue, and a link to Google Maps, Mapquest, or mapping site of your choice.
  • Visuals: If television is your medium, make sure the crew has something exciting to shoot. Demos, graphs and charts trump talking heads any day and have a higher chance of catching the media’s attention.

Have the basics covered? Now it’s time to follow up. Editors and producers can get hundreds of emails in a given day. After you send the email, find an artful way to touch base with them that’s assertive but not overly invasive, experts say. There’s a fine line between being informative and being annoying.

If the team’s interest is piqued, find out who to keep in touch with and keep them informed of any last-minute changes and confirmations up until—and following—the event. Don’t forget to call or email on the actual day of your happening, just to make sure nothing else has come up in the meanwhile.

If holding a media circus—big or small—is not in the budget, fear not. Other avenues, such as radio or being booked as a guest commentator, analyst, or expert either on a local or national show, can go a long way toward gaining the public’s trust.

Working with a PR team can help focus your message and take the responsibility of following the news minute to minute to identify opportunities out of your already-overloaded hands. But if hiring a public relations firm is too expensive, consider doing it yourself. After all, no one knows a brand better than the person heading the company. And these days, thanks to social media, reaching out to a target audience is easier than ever, and often all it costs is time.

“With access tools like HARO [Help a Reporter Out], that bring the media opportunities to you, being reactive is easy and cheap,” says Margo Schneider, vice president at Ketchum, a full-service global public relations firm based in New York.

The same search and pitch tips still apply here. Find out where your audience is communicating, drop in and listen to the conversation, and jump in where it makes sense, social-media and PR experts say. It’s important not to bombard your Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media platforms just with information about your brand. Rather, find out where people are already talking about a similar product or need and give them information of value.

“Your audience is actively seeking you, or your product, through online research. Make sure you’re active in their arena so you can be found,” says Katherine O’Hara, vice president of New Jersey-based S3, an advertising, media, and public relations firm. “Blogging creates HTML-based text that is tapped by search engines and smiled upon given its constant refreshing of content.”

Building up respect and the reputation of a trusted brand will get companies noticed, especially when reporters are looking for good sources. Sure, it may take more time out of your busy day, but if you don’t have the public relations team or political machine on the scale that the president does, taking a few hours a day to interact with your customers and the media people who follow your brand can result in a booking. Once you connect with a journalist, “make the most of this opportunity by asking the reporter to link to your blog or mention your Twitter handle,” suggests O’Hara. And while most outlets don’t pay a guest-appearance fee, the publicity that comes out of being tagged an expert can be priceless.

Another way to get noticed is by sharing insightful information with the community. “Build case studies of how you’ve tackled challenges all small businesses are facing (e.g., surviving the recession) or unique challenges you’ve tackled or tools you’ve employed with breakthrough results,” says Marie Wiltz, senior media specialist with Ketchum. Executives can take that a step further by writing byline pieces on leadership, management, and/or the issues that small businesses are facing, adds Wiltz.

To be even more relevant, “be ready to divulge real business challenges—cash-flow issues, mistakes you’ve made, and how you’ve dealt with them—these are the things the small-business media are looking to share with their readers who want key learnings,” says Schneider.

Finally, get in front of the crowd as much as possible. Speaking engagements are still one of the best ways to get yourself out there, O’Hara says. “It places you in front of a captive audience while positioning you as an expert. Make sure to promote such engagements on your website, blog, and fan page. Even if people aren’t able to attend, it adds weight to your credentials.”

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