It feels a bit strange in one way to be writing about traditional media on such a thoroughly 21st-century website as Tweak Your Biz. But I have a newsflash for you. Your customers are still reading newspapers and magazines, watching TV and listening to radio. Traditional media still matters. And it offers you a way to reach your customers for free.
There is only one obstacle stopping you from availing of this marvellous, free publicity tool – and that’s the journalist. Journalists are hard-boiled and hard to please. They run a mile from press releases sent in by businesses, because they see them as thinly veiled plugs. If you want to rise above the hordes and persuade them to take you seriously, you have to be strategic in how you approach them.
This five-step strategy will give you the tools you need to get journalists onside.
# 1. Give them a story
I’ve said it before. It’s all about the story. A story is what journalists want. Unless you’re new in business, the fact that you exist isn’t newsworthy, though it is worth celebrating in other ways. And they don’t want to hear about your latest offer. If you send in these types of stories, journalists will think you’re plugging. They’ll only allow you to do this if you’re an advertiser and you want to put words to your ads.
There are two types of stories that journalists are interested in. One is if a major event has happened in your company. Awards (nominations and wins) are almost guaranteed to get you coverage. And in these recessionary times, if you’re hiring, that’s a good news story. If you’re moving to a larger premises or are introducing a brand new product or service that’s not available anywhere else, journalists will prick up their ears.
If there’s no big news in your company, take heart. You can present yourself to journalists as an expert in your field. If you can give informed opinions about trends that affect consumers, or impact on the economy as a whole, you will regularly be sought out for a quote or soundbite.
# 2. Source good pictures
Pictures are often seen as an afterthought by businesses when they’re sending in their press release. But if you don’t send in a good picture to print media journalists, or even to an online publication, you’ll greatly jeopardise your chances of getting the coverage you deserve. And that would be a shame, particularly if you’ve managed to attract the attention of a journalist.
If you’re serious about launching a press campaign, it’s worth investing in a good photographer who can guarantee quality snaps. But if the budget doesn’t stretch that far, you can still do a good job with a digital camera. The picture must be high resolution, with a file size in the megabytes if possible. It must be in a format that the journalist can open, JPEGs and GIFs are fairly safe bets. And it must be in focus, not blurry.
# 3. Plan your press release
Now you have your words and your pictures, it’s time to shape them into a press release. A press release is a piece of information about a product, service or event that journalists shape into an article. Journalists receive hundreds of them, so put your main news item into the headline of your press release. In other words, if you’ve won an award, put that information into the headline. Then repeat it again in the first line of the first paragraph.
Develop your story throughout the press release, following the five Ws of journalism: what’s happening, why it’s happening, who is involved and where and when it’s happening. Round off with a quote from you/your CEO, which you feel gets to the heart of your story. At the end, supply contact details so you’re easy to reach. You can also add a note to the editor, giving supplementary information about your company.
An effective press release will read like a newspaper article. It will have a headline and will be 250-300 words long, with one to two sentences per paragraph and a line between each paragraph. The language will be simple and straightforward, so it can easily be digested by time-pressed journalists.
# 4. Pick the right journalists
Now that you’ve written your press release, you need to decide who to send it to. This will largely be dictated by your audience and how they consume their news. It will also be dictated by the specialism of your company. Draw up a list of 10 outlets to approach, a mix of TV, radio, newspaper and online outlets.
Study these outlets carefully and identify which sections of them your business would fit best with. You’ll notice that the names of certain journalists keep cropping up. Target your press release at those. Some of them will have a helpful email address with their name, but if not, you can always ring up the media organisation and ask for it. When you send your email, use your headline as your subject line to attract their attention.
# 5. Give journalists what they want
Journalists are time-pressed and it’s hard to hold their interest. So what do they want? They want you to:
- Make Yourself Available: Journalists may want to interview you on the strength of your press release. It’s in your best interest to answer their calls or emails. They’re handing you an opportunity to publicise yourself for free, so it’s worth making time for. Journalists will see you as reliable and will be more likely to return to you for interviews, giving you further publicity opportunities.
- Give Journalists Information: Some media outlets have a template with questions for you to answer when they’re featuring you or your business. Make sure you conform to that template or they won’t include your story. If you’re being interviewed, don’t be too cagey about your business. After all, this is your chance to show off your passion and expertise.
- Meet Their Deadlines: None of your preparation will pay off unless your information is submitted by the time of broadcast or print. Unfortunately for traditional outlets, the lead in time can be quite slow, so you need to factor that in when you’re planning your press campaign. If your event is in three weeks’ time and you want coverage in the local newspaper, don’t send your press release in the week of the event, or it will be included too late. Aim for the edition that comes out two weeks before your event.
So what are the rewards for all these efforts? As I’ve touched on, the biggest one is the chance to reach thousands of potential customers for free. You’ll be able to communicate directly with your audience and let them know who you are. Being featured in media outlets still carries clout and builds trust in your brand.
By targeting traditional media, you’re tapping into a valuable link in the publicity chain, one that will further enhance the reputation and profile of your business.
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