Tools for generating media coverage of your small business

Many small business owners understand that publicity is an inexpensive, effective way to get their message out to the public. However, their knowledge of how to generate media exposure often doesn’t go beyond the most basic media relations tool, the press release. In fact, you can use many other tools to provide the media with the information they need to tell your story. Here’s a rundown of some of the items that should be in your media relations tool kit:

•  Press release – Some people argue that the press release is dead in this era of social media. I think that’s a vast over-statement. While a tweet or a blog post or a status update on your company’s Facebook page may intrigue a reporter, it won’t give him/her the details they need to fully cover your story.

I do agree, though, that the press release has changed greatly just in the past decade. Shorter is now much better. Most news can be shared in one or two pages, whereas in decades past I used to regularly write three and four-page releases. I’d say my average press release now is a little over one page long. Writing this tight can be a challenge, especially for the small business owner who is absolutely in love with their product and wants the world to know every single detail. But this is an age where less is definitely more when it comes to press releases.

In another change it’s important to know about, search engine optimization through the use of keywords and links is now the rule. There is plenty of good advice online, especially from sources like the blog at BusinessWire.com, on how to optimize your releases so they achieve high placement on search engines.

•  Backgrounder – This tool tells the story of your organization. If you’re releasing major news or trying to attract a feature story about your business, you’ll want a backgrounder that basically tells the story of your business, from how it got started to how its grown and where it is now. Again, shorter is better. And break things up with plenty of subheads that guide the reader through your background story.

•  Story idea letter – To obtain a feature story, sometimes you have to present several different possible story angles to the media. They aren’t necessarily experts on your field, so you have to provide this help to them. You do this with a story idea letter that contains three to five suggestions on how your story might be covered. Present these suggestions in bulleted paragraphs with three to four sentences outlining the story idea.

•  Media alert  – If you have an event that you think the media might be interested in  covering, use a media alert that clearly states, in bulleted form, the who, what, when, where and why of the event, along with ideas on the photo opportunities that will exist at your event. Be sure to include contact information, including your cell phone so they can contact you at the event if needed.

•  Media source sheet – This tool is used to generate media interest in using you as a media source for their stories. Include a one-paragraph bio and then list topics for which you can serve as a knowledgeable media source. Use two or three sentences to explain each topic and its importance. Reporters keep these on file for future use.

•  Company Fact Sheet – This is a quick way (usually only one page) to present the major facts about your company, such as when it was founded, owner name, number of employees, products or services it provides, location(s), etc. Done in the form of a bulleted list, it helps make sure reporters get the basics right in their stories.

•  Trend or Product Fact Sheet – Like the company fact sheet, this is a quick bulleted list of the important things you want the reporter to know about your product or about a trend that is impacting your industry that would make a good news story.

•  By-lined article – Trade and professional journals and business publications offer up a wealth of opportunities for having an article published under your byline. Check out the editorial calendars and author guidelines on publication Web sites. If writing isn’t your thing, consider hiring a ghostwriter. Such pieces can pay dividends long after their publication date since you can share copies with clients and prospects as part of your marketing kit.

•  Op/ed piece – This type of article gives you the opportunity to present your viewpoints on a topical issue that is impacting your company and probably other small businesses as well. Be careful about that issues you choose to argue for or against. You don’t want to offend customers or potential customers, but there are many business-related topics that provide a chance to advocate for your side and at the same time bring attention to your business. Such pieces help position your as a business leader in your community.

•  Letter to the Editor – If your local newspaper prints a story on something that is affecting your business, this presents an opportunity to present your views in a letter to the editor. Be sure to keep it brief and on point and avoid sounding angry.

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