If you run your own business, getting featured in your local newspaper can be a great way to get in front of prospective customers. But how do you go about it? Read on and find out.
1.Read the newspaper
It sounds obvious but if you want to get featured in your local newspaper, you actually need to read it. And I don’t meant a quick flick through; I mean reading it carefully - from cover to cover - so you can get a feel for the kinds of stories it generally covers. Some local newspapers are happy to cover award wins and charity fundraisers, while in others (bigger regional titles, for example) the bar to entry is much higher. Your local newspaper may have a specific business section, where it covers new enterprises, events and launches. It may feature stories on local businesses in the main part of the paper. You’ll only find out if you invest the time in reading it carefully.
Although it’s tempting, please don’t skip this part. Taking the time to understand what kind of stories your local newspaper will be interested in - and what it definitely won’t - will save you tons of time in the long run.
2.Develop some story ideas
Once you’ve read your target publication carefully, it’s time to start thinking of ideas. But instead of thinking about the story you want to tell - consider the kinds of stories your local newspaper usually runs - and what you could offer that might be a good fit. While every publication is different, as a general rule of thumb, most are interested in stories that that will matter to local people. So before you pitch an idea, ask yourself whether the guy who runs your corner shop, the local bus driver or the retired school teacher who lives at the end of your road would actually care about your story. If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board.
Do remember that the fact your business exists, is not a story. To capture a journalist’s interest, you generally need to be doing something interesting: hosting an event, raising money for charity or launching something new, for example. And the more unusual or unexpected it is, the more chance you’ll have of getting coverage.
Why did this story make the news? It’s unusual, quirky and will appeal to local dog owners who may consider entering their own dog into the competition.
Why did this story make the news? Local person helping other local people - a strong angle for a local newspaper.
Why did this story make the news? Local person ‘done good’ - often a winning combination in a local newspaper.
Why did this story make the news? Unusual, quirky and controversial.
Why did this story make the news? Unusual (teenager publishing novel, written with her mum), controversial and also a local person ‘done good’.
3.Be aware of timing
When you contact a journalist with a story idea, the first thing they will ask themselves is: ‘why do people need to hear about this now?’ (or next week or next month - depending on when you approach them). And journalists generally aren’t interested in ‘old’ news. So it’s no good contacting a local journalist about an event you held last week or a trip you took last month - get in touch in advance.
While there are no hard and fast rules, weekly publications tend to work a week ahead and dailies a day or two ahead, but some plan further in advance (this is usually referred to as the lead time). Don’t try and second guess this kind of information; if in doubt, pick up the phone and ask.
As well as finding out how far your target publication works ahead, it’s a good idea to find out its press day (usually the day prior to publication) although do bear in mind that many local newspapers now have a strong online presence and may publish stories at any time. The more you understand about how things work on your local newspaper, the better.
4.Source journalists’ contact details
If you want to increase your chances of getting a ‘yes’, finding out the name and email address of the person who can make (or get) a decision about whether to run your story can be a smart move. If you’re pitching an idea for a news story (a short 3-400 word article) this will generally be the news reporter or news editor. If you’re pitching a longer, more in-depth feature or interview it’s more likely to be the features editor.
Many publications list contact details for journalists and email addresses are sometimes included. If not, you can usually work out the email format by looking at addresses that are listed (advertising sales contacts usually are).
Most journalists can be found on Twitter in a few clicks. Read more about how to find journalists’ contact details here.
Steer clear of generic email addresses (e.g. [email protected] or [email protected]) as, in many cases, these are not checked regularly. And don’t be fobbed off by people who say they will forward your press release or email to the journalist or editor concerned. Make it your mission to get the name and email address of the person who can make/get a decision about whether to use your story or not.
If it doubt, just ring up and ask. And don’t take it personally if people are bit short on the phone, as newsrooms are busy places. Ask nicely and you should get the information you need.
5.Write an email pitch or press release
First off, please don’t send a pre-written article, as these rarely get published. Instead, send a press release or email pitch outlining your idea. If a journalist is interested they will either interview you and write up the piece themselves or (depending on the type of article) ask you to write it up to their brief.
Local newspapers are often short-staffed, so a well-written press release, with all the relevant information may be printed with very few changes. Learn how to write a press release for your small business here.
If you don’t have the time to write a press release, please don’t let that put you off suggesting a story idea. A short email pitch, that explains your idea in a paragraph or two, can be just as effective. Learn how to write an email pitch for a journalist here.
If you’re not confident in your writing skills, consider outsourcing the job to a freelance writer. Most have websites, so a Google search of writers in your local area should throw up some possibilities. Look for someone with a background in journalism as they will also be able to give you feedback on whether your story will grab journalists’ attention (and, if not, suggest tweaks that will make it more newsworthy).
6.Consider your email subject header
Most journalists get hundreds of email pitches and press releases every day - many of which remain unopened, so a compelling email subject header is vital.
An email header that includes the phrase ‘story idea’ and a compelling one-liner that describes your story is more likely to get a journalist’s attention.
It’s fine to pitch ideas over the phone too, by the way. Just avoid obviously busy times (like press day) and have an email pitch or press release to send if you’re asked (most journalists will).
7.Be prepared to follow up
If a journalist is interested in your story, they will generally get back to you within a day or so. But in a busy newsroom, stories can get missed, so don’t be afraid to chase up pitches or press releases by phone or email. If you’ve chased a few times and you’re not getting anywhere, it’s probably safe to assume the journalist is not interested and offer it elsewhere.
It’s fine to offer the same story to different programmes or publications - as long as you’re upfront about what you’re doing. Bear in mind that there can be rivalry between different publications - even on different sections of the same newspaper. While it’s tempting to go after as much press coverage as possible, if a journalist who wants to cover your story sees it somewhere else (particularly before theirs is due to run) they won’t be very happy with you. And it’s never worth risking a relationship for short-term gains.
Securing press coverage isn’t always easy. Building a media profile can take months - or even years - so don’t be disappointed if you’re not successful immediately. Some journalists will ignore your press releases and pitches completely. Others will knock back your ideas - over and over again. But if you’re persistent, consistent, willing to learn from your mistakes (and you will make them), you will get there in the end.
9.Stand your ground on advertising
Journalists should report the news in a fair, unbiased way - which means covering stories based on their merit. Sadly, I’m hearing more and more reports of small business owners saying they have been told their story will only be published in their local newspaper if they pay for advertising. Please be reassured that if your story has been selected on editorial merit, there is no obligation whatsoever to take out advertising with the newspaper (although you may decide to do so of your own accord, which is quite a different matter). If a reporter is insistent that you pay for advertising, you may want to raise the matter with the editor (who might need reminding of the National Union of Journalists’ code of conduct).
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