In their book Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting your business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors provide a step-by-step guide to getting free press for your business.

No matter how large or small your business is, the key to securing publicity is identifying your target market and developing a well-thought-out PR campaign. To get your company noticed, follow these seven steps:

1. Write your positioning statement. This sums up in a few sentences what makes your business different from the competition.

2. List your objectives. What do you hope to achieve for your company through the publicity plan you put into action? List your top five goals in order of priority. Be specific, and always set deadlines.

3. Identify your target customers. Are they male or female? What age range? What are their lifestyles, incomes, and buying habits? Where do they live?

4. Identify your target media. List the newspapers and TV and radio programs in your area that would be appropriate outlets. Make a complete list of the media you want to target, then call them and ask whom you should contact regarding your area of business. Identify the specific reporter or producer who covers your area so you can contact them directly. Your local library will have media reference books that list contact names and numbers. Make your own media directory, listing names, addresses, and telephone and fax numbers. Separate TV, radio, and print sources. Know the “beats” covered by different reporters so you can be sure you are pitching your ideas to the appropriate person.

5. Develop story angles. Keeping in mind the media you’re approaching, make a list of story ideas you can pitch to them. Develop story angles you'd want to read about or see on TV. Think back to the last story about a company that kept your attention. What angle and interest was in that story and others that caught your eye? Plan a 45-minute brainstorming session with your spouse, a business associate, or your employees to come up with fresh ideas.

6. Make the pitch. Put your thoughts on paper, and send them to the reporter in a “pitch letter.” Start with a question or an interesting fact that relates your business to the target medium’s audience. For instance, if you were writing for a magazine aimed at older people, you could start off “Did you know that more than half of all women over 50 haven't begun saving for retirement?” Then lead into your pitch: “As a Certified Financial Planner, I can offer your readers ten tips to start them on the road to a financially comfortable retirement.” Make your letter no longer than one page; include your telephone number and email address so the reporter can contact you.

If appropriate, include a press release with your letter. Be sure to include your positioning statement at the end of any correspondence or press releases you send.

7. Follow up. Following up is the key to securing coverage. Wait four to six days after you’ve sent the information, then follow up your pitch letter with a telephone call. If you leave a message on voice mail and the reporter doesn't call you back, call again until you get them on the phone. Don't leave a second message within five days of the first. If the reporter requests additional information, send it immediately and follow up to confirm receipt.

Press releases

Think of a press release as your ticket to publicity—one that can get your company coverage in all kinds of publications or on TV and radio stations. Editors and reporters get hundreds of press releases a day. How to make yours stand out?

First, be sure you have a good reason for sending a press release. A grand opening, a new product, a record-setting sales year, a new location or a special event are all good reasons.

Second, make sure your press release is appropriately targeted for the publication or broadcast you’re sending it to. It sounds obvious, but many entrepreneurs make the mistake of sending press releases at random without considering a publication’s audience.

To ensure readability, your press release should follow the standard format: typed, double-spaced, on white letterhead with a contact person’s name, title, company, address and phone number in the upper right-hand corner. Below this information, put a brief, eye-catching headline in bold type. A dateline—for example, “Los Angeles, California, August 10, 2015—” follows, leading into the first sentence of the release.

Limit your press release to one or two pages. It should be just long enough to cover the six basic elements: who, what, when, where, why, and how. The answers to these six questions should be mentioned in order of their importance to the story to save the editor time and space.

Don’t embellish or hype the information. Remember, you are not writing the article; you are merely presenting the information and showing why it is relevant to that publication in hopes that they will write about it. Pay close attention to grammar and spelling. Competition for publicity is intense, and a press release full of typos or errors is more likely to get tossed aside.

Some business owners use attention-getting gimmicks to get their press releases noticed. In most cases, this is a waste of money. If your release is well-written and relevant, you don’t need singing telegrams or a bouquet of flowers to get your message across (and most reporters won’t take such shenanigans seriously).

Talking to the media

Once you reach the reporter on the phone, remember that they're extremely busy and probably on deadline. Be courteous, and ask if they have time to talk. If not, offer to call back at a more convenient time. If the reporter can talk to you, keep your initial pitch to 20 seconds; afterward, offer to send written information to support your story ideas.

The following tips will boost your chances of success:

  • If a reporter rejects your idea, ask if they can recommend someone else who might be interested.
  • Know exactly what you’re going to say before you telephone the reporter. Have it written down in front of you—it’s easier, and you’ll feel more confident.
  • Be persistent. Remember, not everyone will be interested. If your story idea is turned down, try to find out why and use that information to improve your next pitch.
  • Don’t be a pest. You can easily be persistent without being annoying. Use your instincts; if the reporter sounds rushed, offer to call back. Daily newspaper reporters face deadlines in the early afternoon. It’s best to call between about 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
  • Be helpful and become a resource by providing reporters with information. Remember, they need your story ideas. There are only so many they can come up with on their own.
  • Say thank you. When you succeed in getting publicity for your business, always write a thank-you note to the reporter who worked on it with you. You’d be surprised how much a note means (and how few of these reporters receive).