How do I gain coverage for my business in my local media?
If you run your own business and rely on local customers, getting featured in your local newspaper or magazines can be a perfect opportunity to get in front of these important customers. But how do you do it? Here's what I find works.
· Know your media
This does sound obvious, but make sure you read the papers or magazines you want to get your business featured in. Read it from back to front! By doing so you will get a feel for the stories the paper likes to cover. For instance, some very local newspapers are happy to cover business good news stories, your award wins or links to charities, whilst others, such as the regional titles, will want much more. Some local newspapers will have a dedicated section for businesses where they cover events, launches, business news or new start-ups, or it might cover local business stories throughout the paper. Therefore, you should make sure you do read each title you fancy! Understanding the type of stories each paper is interested in – and what it is not – will save you a heap of time in the long-run.
· Develop your stories
Business stories are the way forward! Once you know what your target publication likes to cover, you can start to think of ideas or stories which would be a good fit. Invariably most are keen to cover stories which will matter or make a difference to local people. Each thought you have, think of the audience. Would the person picking up the newspaper, whether they are a local teacher, shop owner or retired resident, be interested in reading your story. If your idea turns out to be not that exciting, go back to the beginning and have a re-think. Just as an aside, that fact that your business is new, is celebrating an anniversary or has taken on new staff members is not really a story. To capture the journalist's and reader's interest, you need to think of doing something more interesting around your news. It could be that you are celebrating your business anniversary by hosting an event, or raising money for a local charity, or launching a new service.
Here are some examples:
A family-run garden centre invests in new ideas to attract families to their business by using crazy golf.
Why does this work? It shows that this family-run local business is keen to attract families to their garden centre, provide refreshments and acknowledge the need to make their centre an experience.
A mum, who is also a counsellor sets up her own charity to help others in need.
Why is this of interest? A local person has taken the time and made an effort by helping other local people. This is always strong angle for a local newspaper.
Mum who lives with Asperger's and ADHD, launched a business selling handmade fidget jewellery which consists of everything from cogs to bumps and lights to make it tactile and especially useful for people who may suffer some form of anxiety.
Why did this story succeed? The story has a personal touch – a real reason why this mum started her business.
Shop relocates to a new premise.
Why? This relocation story may not usually be of interest to larger publications, but it is to outlets like this very local newspaper. However, the business has shown it is doing well by moving to larger premises in a prominent area. The owners show they want to succeed and are keen to support their town. They state they believe their town is the best place for their business.
Cambridge small business launches a new product
Why is this of interest? Cambridge is a techy place! This business has launched a new product – a shirt which has a chip embedded into its cuffs. It allows the users to pay for goods via their shirt cuffs! It's innovative, and it's a local company. It's fun and functional and showcases the creative minds which are found throughout the city.
These examples do show why you need to read your local papers. For instance, the Cambridge- based media cover very different types of stories than the local King's Lynn paper even though they are owned by the same publisher.
· Be timely
Your story needs to be timely. If it is old news (last week or last month), they will not be interested. If you are holding an event, make sure your story goes to your journalists the next day or at least in time for the next issue.
Think about why and when people need to know about your story.
Be aware of the timetables your local media work to. A rule of thumb to follow is that a weekly publication will tend to work a week ahead, dailies are a day or sometimes two ahead and monthlies can be several months ahead. These are called their lead times. Don't try and second guess this though – just give the paper a call and find out.
The press day is another day to be aware of. This is often the day before publication. This will be the absolute very last day you can get your story to a paper but remember the journalists will love you more if you don't keep running up to their deadlines. Online newspapers obviously can publish at any time, but again it is worth talking to the paper to see how they prioritise online vs hardcopy stories.
· Know your people!
The quickest way to get a 'yes' or 'no' is to send your copy directly to the journalist who is most likely to be interested. So, if you have a business story, look for the name and email address of the journalist who covers business. They are likely to be the ones who can make or influence the decision to cover your story.
Most locals will list contact details for their main staff and often include their email addresses. Other than that, have a look at the sales contact emails and copy that email format – it usually works.
Twitter is a wonderful source for journalists! It is really a 'go-to' platform and worth investing in some time sourcing names and creating a locked list of your own key contacts.
Going directly to a journalist is best, but you will find some outlets have a generic email like news@. You can use these, but you will see your success rate drop. Try and go directly to the best journalist or editor for your particular story. If you are in doubt, just pick up the phone to the paper and ask. Sometimes you may get short shrift but be nice, and you will get the information you need eventually!
Just as a rule of thumb, if you are pitching an idea for a news story, go to the news reporter or news editor. If you are pitching an idea for a more in-depth or longer feature or interview idea, you should try the features editor.
· Pitch perfect
Pre-written articles are very tempting but not really the best way forward as they will rarely get published. Instead, send your journalist a press release or short email pitch which outlines your story and why you feel it is of interest to their readers. If the journalist is interested, they will either write up the piece in their own words or interview you. In some cases, they may ask you to write it up for them but to their brief.
From your research, you will have probably noted that local newspapers can be short-staffed and often run by journalists covering several titles or working part-time. Help them to help you! Write a well-written press release with correct and relevant information. They will often print this with no changes, so take time writing your release.
Alternatively, you can suggest a story idea by sending a short email pitch in just a paragraph or two. Look our tips on writing your pitch here.
If you are uncomfortable with writing your own pitches, consider outsourcing your story to a freelance PR or writer. Look for someone who has experience in doing this and understands your local area.
· Grab attention
Journalists literally get hundreds of pitches and press releases every day – most will go un-opened, so you need to grab their attention with your email subject header.
I tend to use:
PRESS RELEASE: or STORY IDEA: in the header before adding my one-liner, which will describe my story in a quick and short form.
Pitching by phone is ok too! However, have an email pitch or press release ready to go as well as most journalists will ask you for one regardless. Avoid press days or busy periods if you are going to pitch by phone.
· Follow up
This is always a tricky one and where a relationship with your target journalist will help as you will both feel more comfortable in taking follow-up calls, and they are more likely to follow up by email.
If a journalist is interested in your story, they will either just go ahead and print, or they will follow up with you in a day or so. If your story has been missed, don't be afraid to follow up by phone or email, but if you are not getting any contact back after a couple of goes, assume that this time your story has not made the cut.
Just remember it is fine to offer the same story or release to different publications – just be upfront about it. Some rivalry will exist between different publications and sometimes within different sections of the same newspaper. While it is tempting to go for as much coverage as you can, sometimes it is better to protect your relationship with your journalist instead.
· Keep going
Gaining press coverage is time consuming and not always easy. Building a media profile can take you months or sometimes years, particularly if you have a small business with limited 'news'. Some releases or pitches will be ignored, some will be knocked back, but keep learning and keep going, and you will get there!
· Stand your ground
This is such a common one! Many small businesses I work with say they have been told their story will only be published in their local paper or target media if they pay for advertising. There is never ever any obligation to take out advertising with any publication as part of your PR plan. You may want to consider an advertising contract with a level of advertorial content as part of your marketing activity, and this may benefit you as a local business. Still, it is not the same as PR.
Here's my quick win plan for each of your stories
- What's my story?
- Who are my target audiences?
- What are my target media for this story?
- How will I tell my story?
- What do I need to do? (quotes, images, facts)
- When do I need to do it all?
- How will I celebrate my success? (own blog, social media, actual press coverage, email newsletters, hard copy handouts).
If you are looking for adhoc or on-going PR support or fancy a quick chat about how best to go about placing your story, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org