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3 Steps to Building Relationships with the Media

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April 2,2014

By Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends


Writing and publishing press releases online is only the beginning to getting publicity for your small business.

If you are like most business owners, your PR dream is to get a journalist to write about your company or cite you as a key source in an article. Today, we’re going to focus on how to get the attention of journalists and editors, to get media coverage.

Contrary to what you might think, journalists don’t always find their own stories. There are simply too many. Everyday they’re bombarded with press releases and pitches. So from your perspective, it is going to be a challenge to get a journalist’s attention -- especially if your business is not a household name.

My company runs niche news and information websites -- think of them as online magazines. So we are the ones bombarded by press pitches. From our side of the table, we’ve learned a few things about what gets our attention (as editors and journalists) in a positive way. I’d like to share those with you.

 

Step 1: Identify the Right Journalists

Write this down: the single most important thing you can do to get media coverage is take the time to hone your list of journalist contacts. Include only the journalists and sites that cover the type of news you are pitching.

Surprisingly, many people give short shrift to this step. They find as many reporters as possible and blast out their press release.

Journalists and editors on the receiving end of this spray-and-pray approach will either ignore it or feel annoyed that the sender didn’t bother to read their content or site. They will just hit that “delete” button.

Consider instead the audience you’re trying to reach. If you sell marketing software to small businesses, you want to target journalists who write for small business publications, marketing sites, tech sites that cover small business news, and other B2B sites that may be relevant. Also include relevant local outlets -- they love “local company makes good” stories.

“Relevant” is the key word here.

Do your research. Find the publications (newspapers, magazines, online news publications, blogs) that target your desired audience. Find the editor or the journalist at each publication who is the best fit for your story. Hint: look for those who’ve written about a competitor recently. Just make sure your story has a different angle and something unique to offer to avoid redundancy. Keep a spreadsheet of each journalist and her contact information, including social media profiles. This list is like GOLD.

This might mean that your list includes only 10 or 20 publications. That’s fine. You can focus on doing a better job with those 10 or 20.

Tip: As a small business, you have a better chance of getting local coverage than starting with the New York Times. Also, start with smaller news outlets and news blogs, unless your news is simply earth shattering. Getting writeups in multiple smaller publications can encourage the big players to pay attention to you.

 

Step 2: Start Connecting

Now that you’ve got a targeted list of journalists and different ways to connect, start your efforts. Follow each on Twitter and Google+. Start sharing their content on social channels. Comment on their online articles.

Your goal here is to make yourself known, but gently. You don’t want it to be blatant that you’re trying to get a journalist’s attention by retweeting every single thing she shares. Amplify what’s relevant and comment on what interests you. This way, when you’re ready to pitch her, she should have an inkling of who you are.

Tip: Start this process long before you have a story to pitch, if at all possible. It’s painfully obvious when a business owner follows a journalist, shares her content, and then pitches her all in the same day that he didn’t invest the time to do it right, over a period of several weeks or months. Create relationships for the long term.

 

Step 3: Craft Your Pitch

Now that you’ve engaged with said journalist on multiple channels, it’s time to connect via email. Keep in mind, each pitch you write should be customized to that particular journalist. No one responds well to a “Dear Journalist” canned email.

Start off by commenting on a story you enjoyed, perhaps that relates to your industry. Briefly introduce yourself (one-sentence summary) and the reason for your email.

Remember: you’ve got to sell her on why her audience cares about your story. Why is it relevant to her readers? What will they get out of it?

Keep your story idea to three bullet points. There’s no need to go into details; if she’s curious, she’ll ask for more. Ask if she would be interested in covering this story, and let her know you will follow up with her in a week.

Don’t expect your phone to ring off the hook. Many pitches go unseen, simply because the sheer number of pitches in a journalist’s inbox make it difficult to find the good ones. If you don’t hear back in a week, send a followup email. At that point, she can let you know if she wants to pursue your story or not. It might not fit with what she’s working on currently, so she might want to cover it later. In that case, keep building your relationship as you did in Step #2 and have patience.

Tip: When you do get mentioned or featured in a news story, make sure to share the article across your social network, as well as on your site, blog, and email lists. Show the journalist your support, and she just might come back around to write about you later.

Getting media coverage is not always about having the shiniest story. Sometimes it’s just about doing thoughtful solid legwork -- and sticking with it over a period of time.

 

Anita Campbell is a former technology company executive. She is the founder of Small Business Trends, an online publication with news, tips and resources for small businesses. She is also the CEO of the small business news aggregator site, BizSugar.com.

 

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