Be media-friendly and get in print

Newspaper ArticlePublic relations is an important part of every business. You might place an advertisement and have an offer of free editorial space, or perhaps you want to write a press release about a new product or team member in hopes of getting some publicity. Whatever the reason, rather than incur the costs of a firm of public relations professionals, most SME owners prefer to do their own PR work.

As with most other industries the media are running leaner than ever before. There are fewer reporters, higher overheads and greater demands for coverage. If you can help the overworked media personnel do their jobs you’ll have a much greater chance of success with your publicity efforts.

Start by thinking of what the media want from you rather than what you want to put in the media. They look for content that will be appealing to their audiences. They need an angle that makes it newsworthy or interesting. They want it in a form that makes it easy to receive and manipulate. They also want to have a selection of high-quality illustrations for consideration.

This sounds as if you have to be a combination of trained journalist, photographer and editor, but it’s really not so hard. We’ll start with the story you’re going to put together.

Get to know the media in your area. Is their primary audience young or old? Is it male or female? Do they run ‘hard’ news stories or human interest material? Learn the names of the staff reporters and columnists and the types of stories they write about. This will help you target your material to the right people at each media outlet you contact.

Prepare your media information in a style that’s as close as possible to that used by each publication you’re sending it to. One might want interviews with your clients, another might want to start with a problem and write about a solution. The old principles of writing about ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’ and ‘Why’ still make a good outline of how the facts in a story can be presented.

Keep in mind the differences between the media. Information sent to a newspaper can be a page or so of double-spaced text with as many of the facts as you can fit in. Radio will only need a ‘teaser’ that has enough facts to make them call you for an interview. Television wants the full story and if you can put in suggestions for how it could be handled on-air so much the better.

Whatever else you do, don’t send the same thing to everybody. Spend some time to ‘customize’ each release or media information kit and you’ll get much better results. You’ll also be showing editors that you’ve given them some thought and respect their specific needs. They’ll appreciate it.

Most news releases these days are distributed electronically. That’s fine but it’s not enough. The telephone is still the best way to introduce yourself and your story to the various media outlets. Once you’re talking to someone in the news area, ask them how they’d like to receive your information.

Be sure that your contact details are included on all your publicity materials – email address, daytime and night time telephone numbers, cellphone number and business address. You never know when a reporter might decide to cover your story and need to get in touch with you before their next deadline.

If you have a website you can have a ‘media information’ section with news stories and visuals that can be accessed by the media as required. Post your material in the most flexible and simple formats – documents in MS-Word and photos as high-quality JPEGs. If the media want something else they’ll ask you for it.

Visuals are important elements of communicating just what you’ve got to the media and that includes radio stations. Photographs that clearly depict people or products are needed; if a different type of illustration is called for the editor will arrange for it. Avoid attempting to be ‘arty’ – odds are pretty good your photographs will never be used.

Always remember that time is critical when dealing with the media. If you’re sending out information about an event give them sufficient time to arrange coverage, including talking with you about it beforehand. If they contact you and you’re out of the office, call them back just as soon as you get their message. They could be on deadline and this might be your one and only chance.

Unfortunately all this isn’t going to guarantee coverage for your business every time you send information to the media. There are always times when every inch of space is allocated or even really good stories won’t get the coverage you just know they deserve. But keep on trying and do it the right way.

You’ll eventually become known by editors and reporters as someone who gives them quality material to work with. You might even become seen as an expert in your particular field and be contacted for comment on a breaking news story. Give them what they need, contact them personally each time you have something interesting to say and you’ll ultimately get the publicity you want.