Everyone wants good PR (public relations) or good press to put it simply. But how to get it?

The answer is actually really rather simple, and follows a lot of the same rules as social media and content marking: give your audience what it wants!

Your audience in this case is that odd mixture of reporter, editor, and reader. For the most part, in this blog post, I’m discussing newspapers and magazines. But the same rules generally apply to radio, television and web-based news sites.

Your Target

I often hear the complaint from businesses that it is impossible to get the major media interested in small business. It is not impossible, just hard. It is also making sure that you are targeting the right reporters, and right media outlets in the first place. Small local papers are much more likely to be interested in things that will affect the local community. Magazines, and in some cases television, are much more likely to be interested in “human interest” stories. Business journals, including industry specific magazines, are probably most interested in ideas or services that other business can use or learn from.

If you are a small business in a distinct community – as opposed to the big city – focus on your local newspaper or area paper. That might be a free weekly paper, or a daily traditional newspaper. If you are a major business for your community, it is quite possible that your reach will be greater and you can aim higher.

The Press Release

A press release is exactly what sounds like – a release of information to the press. They tend to be short, written in the third person (as if a reporter had written them) and should include quotes from key people involved as well and any and all information that might be considered pertinent to the reader. Remember this is about what a reporter, or editor, will think their readers will be interested in – not what you think is interesting. Long scientific diatribes filled with difficult to spell words are probably not going to work for the local free paper. A press release needs to be newsworthy, or it needs to comment on something that is newsworthy. If you can provide some background to a major story that is already being covered, you have an excellent excuse for a press release!

It is not the goal of a press release to have it reprinted in full – although that would be nice – but rather to give a reporter a jumping off point for their own article or to give additional information for something that they are already working on.

These days emailed press releases are the way to go – preferably with pictures. But don’t send gigantic photos through email. Attach medium sized images and link to high resolution ones.

The Pitch

Journalists are always looking for story ideas. If you have a good one, even if it is a little self serving, you can always call, email, or even write in miniature a “pitch” for how you imagine the story working. I’ve found that pitches work best when you can talk with the writer concerned and then email over some quotes for them to use. Pitches also work best if you can target a particular reporter. Read / watch / listen to your target media outlets and find out which reporters like writing about subjects that align with your interests. Perhaps there is a business reporter who writes about interesting business models. Perhaps another reporter likes writing about pets and animals – if you are a veterinarian that is probably someone you want to get acquainted with.

Information When They Need It

Over the years, the single biggest thing that has allowed me to get great press is the simple act of returning phone calls and responding when I’m asked. A reporter calls up on a busy day and wants to interview someone about the dangers pets face during the holiday season – that reporters request is now my number one priority. I might give that interview myself, email some quotes over or drag a veterinarian out of what they are doing for five minutes, but I will get that reporter what they are asking for. The simple truth is that reporters work to deadlines and simply don’t have the time to mess around and wait for a couple of days for you to get back to them. Most newspaper articles are written that day for the following days paper or maybe the following day of you are lucky. If you respond, the chances are they will call back the next time they need something because they know you’ll work with them and not let them down.

I’ve actually had letters to the editor, in a local paper, complaining that my hospital was always in the paper and what was the connection between the two businesses. I was in the paper, because I would issue press releases when I had news, and I was always respond when asked. Reporters know that the exposure from a newspaper article is important, so they are not going to beg for your input.

Bad Press

If you talk to the press there is a chance of bad publicity. And if you don’t talk to the press there is a chance of bad publicity. There is some merit in the idea that by making yourself more visible, you become more of a target and it is easier for reporters to inquire about something that you would just as rather they forget. However, any reporter worth their salt is going to chase a story down that involves issues or problems, because that is what sells papers and other media.

I’ve found that, on the whole, local media are pretty good about sorting out the normal disputes that occur with all businesses from time-to-time with the real stories that might have “legs.” Having good relations with your local media will not insulate you from bad press, and reporters will bristle at even if inference that it might, but decent relationships will make it easier to get your point across.

Never, under any circumstances, use the words “no-comment.” It sounds awful, and just makes reporters much more interested, because if you are saying no comment that means you don’t want to talk about something that is probably very interesting. Simple, straight forward, and above all short answers to questions are your best defense when being asked about something you’d rather they didn’t. If you genuinely don’t know, say; “I don’t know at the moment, but I’ll be more than happy to find that out for you.” or “Let me put you in touch with someone who can answer that better than I can.” Of course, make sure that you get back to them, because if you don’t now you’ve just made them mad.

And I hope it goes without saying that nothing is ever off the record, even when it is.

Crisis

Crisis management is really beyond the scope of this blog post, but I wanted to briefly touch on it as it really an extension of bad press. When a crisis, that involves the press, happens it is important to get out in front of it – just like with any bad press. No waffling – either in terms of your response or your statements. Don’t hide – it is very easy to feel like the world is collapsing around you, but the media are going to report something and it should be that you are dealing with the situation – not that you are holed up and not speaking. It is far better to give to much away too soon, to try and defuse a crisis, than to give away too little and have to increase it later after the press have had a field day with your reputation.

Toyota’s handling of their recall is often help up as a prime example of doing too little at first. In the end, Toyota were able to recover but only by doing what they should have done in the first place and untold damage to their brand in the process.

The media will always find you should problems occur in your business that they deem to be newsworthy. Building bridges to the media, however, will allow you to open a dialog for both good and bad news. The media can definitely be your friend, and for the most part, they are not looking to be your enemy – so why not create those relationships to help build your business?

Have had good or bad experiences with the press? Have you had crises that you have been able to handle well? Let me know in the comments section I’d love to hear from you!  

Next Week: Please don’t do this…

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