Want publicity? First step is to understand today’s media milieu

When it comes to understanding someone you’re trying to build a relationship with, we’ve all heard the old saying, “Walk a mile in their shoes.” Nowhere is this truer than if you’re trying to build a relationship with someone in the media to get publicity for your small business. It is critical to understand today’s media environment, which is far from a rosy place to work.

For some time now, the media industry has been full of turbulence and uncertainty about the future. Job security is a constant worry for editors and reporters, particularly on the print side.

Staffs are smaller than ever before and everyone is doing multiple jobs. For example, instead of editing one weekly newspaper of a chain of papers, an editor may be editing two or even three papers. Or instead of just editing the newspaper, they may also now be in charge of filling up the paper’s website. And, of course, despite the additional work, wages have not improved. Believe me when I tell you that people working at weekly newspapers, for example, are doing it because they love journalism, not because they hope to be well paid!

So what does this means to you, the small business owner who is trying to get the local media to pay attention to your company? First of all, it’s significantly harder to get anyone’s attention in the media than it was before the Internet came along and changed the whole game for people in this industry. Your e-mails and phone calls may go largely unanswered, unless you have big, big news to tell.

Here’s what you have to do to make sure your story will get noticed by overworked and often underpaid editors and reporters who have to worry about whether their job will last:

• Make it easy for them to tell your story. Write a good, solid press release that covers all the necessary facts but that doesn’t drag on for pages and pages. Before preparing your press materials, think through what someone is likely to ask and answer as many of those questions as possible up front. The more complete the information you provide is, the more attractive your story will be because it won’t require a lot of work on their part.

If your response to this is, “Gee, do I have to do their job for them,” my answer is “Yes, you do! And you should do it gladly because of the payback you’ll receive from the free publicity.”

• Be responsive to deadlines. These people are juggling a lot of balls; don’t make their job harder by not responding in a timely fashion or not providing answers you said you’d provide by the deadline they gave you.

• Be specific. Reporters want facts, not general statements or opinions. If you’re going to tout your business growth, you have to be willing to support that assertion with some actual data on its growth. Use numbers and stats to make your story substantive instead of just fluff.

• Don’t be coy. Don’t be evasive when answering questions; be forthright and honest. Be prepared ahead of time by having thought through any potentially negative questions that might be asked and having solid answers ready. If a question comes up that you really don’t want to answer, just say so instead of dancing around the topic. Say something along the lines of “That’s not an area I want to go into. Instead, I’d like to focus on…..”

I realize that many small business owners are leery of dealing with the media. I’ve even heard people say you should avoid the media at all costs. This is nonsense. Publicity can pay huge dividends and it’s free! Just make sure your ducks are in order and be sympathetic to the challenges today’s editors and reporters are facing and you’ll do fine and reap the rewards!

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