Small businesses don’t always have a dedicated PR department, or even a dedicated person to handle media relations and press. Therefore, it is not always as easy for small businesses to build media relationships because a small business owner must wear so many different hats.
That doesn’t make connecting with media professionals any less important. In fact, press relations can help small businesses replace more expensive advertising campaigns, so they deserve some nurturing and attention. Here are 10 great tips for small businesses that want to build strong media relationships but don’t have the dedicated personnel to spend a great deal of time on it.
1. Polish Your Pitch
Don’t assume that you need to write a press release in order to reach media professionals or bloggers. Every small business should have what’s called an elevator pitch ready to go. It is called an elevator pitch because it is short enough to tell someone about your business in an elevator. Take the time to have your pitch in writing, and dedicate a blog post to it so that you can send press and media professionals to it via links on social media. It is also always a good idea to have at least three different length pitches written out: small, medium, and large. That way, you will have a pitch ready to fit any occasion.
2. Find the News Angle
Unless the journalist you are targeting writes specifically about your city, town, or industry, there must be a news angle in your story for it to appeal to them. Find the interest point to help make the media connection. That connection can be location or industry, but consider if your story can tie into current events, trending topics, pop culture, or something else that makes it newsworthy, like a charity angle or being environmentally friendly.
3. Know Which Journalist to Contact
Your story may not appeal to all media professionals. If a journalist is working on a story, or regularly writes about your industry or a topic that is relevant to your business, that is the journalist you should try to reach out to. This will save you time; no need to pitch your story to someone who has little to no chance of being interested. Look for a writer or blogger who focuses on small business, your industry, your city, or similar. Keep your lists handy for future reference.
4. Find Media Contacts Looking for You
Although they may not be looking for you or your business specifically, journalists will often reach out on social media when they are looking to fill a story. Social media tools allow you to easily track specific keyword mentions online and alert you. There is an excellent source called HARO, which stands for “Help a Reporter Out.” You can sign up for free email alerts that will let you know when a journalist, blogger, or reporter is looking for a story that you can relate your business to.
5. Reach out on Social Media
Most reporters and media professionals do not mind at all if you reach out to them on Twitter or whatever social media channel on which they have a public presence. This is where your pitch blog post comes in—you can send a tweet that includes a link to your pitch with a short note. Be sure to use a link shortening service like Bit.ly to give you that extra room to compose your tweet.
6. Send Personalized, Targeted Emails
Personalize your email communications and be sure that you are sending them to the right journalists. Your email communications should appear to be individually sent, even if they are not. Tools today allow you to automate personalization in the address field. Beyond that, be sure that you are sending relevant emails to the correct journalist that covers the types of topics you are angling for, that way you will also have less emails to send to only targeted individuals. If your email looks like it was automated or a copy and paste blanket letter, it will not get the same attention that you will garner by making it personal.
7. Connect on Social Media
By connecting on social media, it means being social and engaging with journalists all the time, not just when you need something from them. Occasionally comment, like, and share their articles or blog posts. Don’t only comment or engage when you want their attention. That way, when you do reach out, they will recognize you from previous interactions.
8. Share All the Information
Always share all the news and all of the information you have. Let the reporter edit out what they do or do not want. If there is something you don’t want reported, the best thing is to still let the media contact know about it, but explain that it is “off the record.” That way, you would not run into a problem of them discovering it from another source and printing it. This will avoid an expensive problem for you that can turn into a PR disaster.
9. Be Honest
Honesty is the best policy. We shouldn’t have to say it, but it is important to understand that when dealing with the media, it is extremely important because being exposed for not telling the truth by the media is quite a public affair. This could create a PR nightmare for you that you can’t afford.
10. Learn How to Be Quotable
Make the reporter’s job easier by giving quotable sound bites. The less editing and guess work that a journalist has, the more likely your news or release will get posted. Keep your quotes short and to the point, and offer perspective, not a complete story.
11. Be Timely
Old news is no news. Being timely can have a dual meaning with journalists: It can mean making sure that the news is relevant or put a current events or pop culture spin on your news, and it also means respecting a reporter’s deadlines. Do not assume that just because a reporter is not with a print medium that there isn’t a deadline to adhere to.
12. Be Accessible
When reporters work on deadlines, they might need to follow up with you to ask a question. Give them access to you and set parameters. If you don’t mind them contacting you late, let them know if it is OK. This is likely to help your story get run when a reporter is up late working on a deadline and the corporate crowd may not be accessible.
13. Offer Exclusives
Whenever possible, providing an exclusive to one special media contact will help drive your story or news. This may sound like something that a professional corporation might do, but offering an exclusive can be the small business’s ticket to receiving all the press you need from just one source.
14. Show Personality
Especially when dealing with words or email communications, too often personality gets lost in all of the text. Journalists are people too and they can have a soft spot for those small businesses. The only way for them to know if they like you is to show them a personality. This can be nurtured over time through social connections and by peppering in personal comments and anecdotes.
15. Provide Photos
A small business may not have professional or stock photos, but you have something better—genuine pictures of your small business, your store front, your customers, and your products or services. Those are most valuable for attracting attention in articles, so those types of photos will be what journalists want.
The Top 5 “Don’ts” When It Comes to Media Relationships
Small business owners and employees tend to be very passionate about their business. The main lesson here is don’t take it personally. Media professionals, writers, and bloggers live in a world of deadlines and cut offs.
- Don’t complain in public if a story didn’t get the spin you hoped for or if you are misquoted. If there is an error, correct it politely.
- Don’t add media contacts to your company newsletter (unless they ask to be added).
- Do not friend media contacts on Facebook. Connecting on LinkedIn is perfectly fine, but Facebook is off limits.
- Don’t be too aggressive with your follow up. Respect the journalist’s time and itinerary.
- Don’t expect that a reporter has to run your story. That attitude will get you nowhere fast.
Conclusion and Takeaways
Although many of these tips for dealing with the media and journalists might sound like common sense, they are often forgotten, overlooked, or even foreign to you if you don’t live in the world of PR and media. As a small business, you have some advantages over corporate PR professionals in that you have the ability to provide a real story. Not every journalist or writer wants a polished, professional press release. As you venture into the field of building media connections, your small business status will not only help you get your press news published, but can make it even more enjoyable when you establish real connections with real people.