When starting a business, many people think their product or service is so good that the media will flock to them offering coverage. That is rarely the case; coverage is something you have to earn. And to do that, you should keep a few simple ideas in mind, regardless of whether your business is two weeks or two decades old.
"Public relations" is defined as earning media coverage, via news and public affairs shows, through the channels of broadcast, print publications, social media, blogs and websites. The term "earning" is important because, unlike what happens in advertising, coverage is not paid for (for more detail, see the Entrepreneur Small Business Encyclopedia).
Also, unlike what happens with advertising, when you go looking for media coverage of your small business, it's unlikely that anyone is beating down your door. You have to reach out to the media and that can feel overwhelming, especially if you lack the resources to hire someone with contacts and expertise in dealing with reporters and editors.
Where do you begin? What's the starting point for a media plan? How do you target which media you want to reach? Here are five ideas to jump-start your effort:
1. Think 'local.'
Start with pitching the outlets you’re familiar with, the ones you read and like in your local media market. When you pitch a reporter, mention a piece of his or her work that you recently heard or read. Most journalists have a professional presence on Twitter and Facebook. Start following the reporter's posts, and look for opportunities where your knowledge could build upon a piece he or she has done.
Communications trainer Michael Smart says that referencing a reporter’s earlier work is a great way to stand out in a crowded inbox. But be sure to offer something new. “Your challenge is to make sure that your pitch propels the earlier stories forward rather than repeats them,” Smart advises. This shows that you are actually familiar with the reporter's topics and style. Also: that you're a fan.
2. Think 'trends.'
Pay attention to the themes you hear and see in the news all the time, like personal finance, healthcare and cyber security. Is your product or service relevant to any trends in these categories? Have you seen a study related to the industry that could be a jumping-off point for mention of your own company or space?
Typically, if you are in the same demographic as your potential customers, you should look to the stories (and the reporters covering them) that you normally read and listen to; these are potential channels for coverage. Maybe there’s a big issue being debated in your local city government. Could your expertise further the discussion around that issue? This strategy can be applied on a national or local scale, depending on the issue's scope.
Joining in the social media conversation is another great way to build your reputation as a thought leader in your space. Many social media platforms, including Twitter, will give you real-time information on what topics and hashtags are trending. If there’s one relevant to your expertise, join in the conversation. You can search for hashtags related to your industry to see what people are saying.
You can even hone down your search to your city or cities near you. For example, if you’re an interior designer based in Bethesda, Maryland, you can simply search for the hashtag #interiordesign, near Bethesda, and find results of the latest tweets and the issues you may want to engage with.
3. Think 'crisis.'
Create a crisis plan and document it, so that when a major negative event occurs, your company is prepared to handle things appropriately. Prepping talking points to offer to demanding reporters at the same time the crisis is occurring rarely has a positive outcome.
No matter what line of business you’re in, you likely have prepared materials about industry issues you could use as a guide, whether those be blog posts or white papers. Have them at the ready for any industry crisis and adapt them as needed so you can reach out to the media or answer questions easily if a reporter contacts you.
From the standpoint of social media, look to KitchenAid's response to an employee tweeting an offensive comment about President Obama's deceased grandmother from KitchenAid's Twitter account during a 2012 presidential debate. The company's response shows the power of rapid crisis handling and appropriate messaging in the limelight.
4. Think 'sound bites.'
Deliver a concise message to the media. You’re likely a great public speaker. You know how to give presentations to big audiences and prove the value of your products and ideas. But can you get your point across or explain in 10 or 15 seconds what is great about what you do?
Being media trained is critical, as that will often dictate if and how often the media come knocking after your first hit with an outlet. Can you create a wonderful visual with your information?
Say you work for an environmental firm, and you've just completed a nationwide beach cleanup. Rather than saying, “We collected 200 tons of cigarette butts,” say instead, “The amount of cigarette butts we collected would wrap around the world one time.” This will create a visual of scale that people can understand. And reporters will appreciate that visual. So, be creative with information that others may find unexciting. It's all about delivering strong and interesting content.
4. Think 'branding.'
Check to make sure your brand is safe. Secure any website domains, Facebook profiles, Twitter handles, Pinterest pages and Instagram accounts related to your company early, whether you need them or not. You may use only one or two social channels, but you want to make sure the rest are secure so they're there if you want them. Most important is to ensure your profile is not co-opted by your competitors.
Starting with these five practices will not only get you familiar with the media landscape, but help you build your experience with and knowledge of the media. Starting with baby steps and growing your media plan as your company grows will provide a great, organic pathway. That way, when the nightly news comes calling, you'll be ready for your close up.