If you want to spread the word about your small business, press coverage is a must. But how do you get journalists to write about you in their magazine or newspaper? And how can you secure a spot on radio or TV? Read on and find out…
1. Decide where you’d like press coverage
Start by making a list of the publications or programmes you’d like coverage in. This needs to be strategic; you may love reading the Sunday Telegraph, but if your ideal customers read the Daily Mail, your efforts could be wasted. So do spend some time finding out what your ideal customers watch read and listen to before you finalise your shortlist.
2. Get contact details for relevant editors and journalists
Many publications list names and contact details for journalists inside (known as the masthead) and email addresses are also sometimes included. If they’re not, you can usually work out the email format by looking at an address that is listed (contacts for advertising sales usually are). Radio and TV producers and researchers are sometimes listed online – or can be found on social networks like Twitter – but it’s usually quicker to ring up and ask.
Don’t bother with generic email addresses (e.g. [email protected] or [email protected]) as, in many cases these are not checked regularly. There are subscription-based services out there that list journalists’ contact details like Gorkana, Response Source and Seek or Shout but they are pricey and not always as up-to-date as they should be. If in doubt, just pick up the phone.
3. Write an email pitch or press release
If you’re trying to get coverage in a regional publication or programme, it’s a good idea to write a press release. Local newspapers are often so short-staffed that a well-written press release, with all the relevant information, may be printed with very few changes. You can find out more about writing press releases here and a quick Google search will throw up plenty of examples for you to look at.
If writing’s not your thing, consider outsourcing the job to a freelance writer. Most have websites, so googling ‘freelance writer’ + the name of your town or city is a good place to start. Look out for someone who with experience working on a local or national newspaper, as they should also be able to give you a steer on the ‘top line’ of your story (i.e. the most newsworthy bit). Good writing doesn’t come cheap though, so expect to pay upwards of a few hundred pounds for a professional job, but if you weigh that up against the cost of your time, it can definitely be worth it.
Pitching to an industry, consumer or national publication? A few paragraphs in an email outlining your idea can be enough. Here’s a link to an article showing you how to write a great email pitch
Whatever you do, don’t write articles on spec. Editors rarely publish pre-written articles for a variety of reasons, including those outlined below:
– They like the idea but have covered something similar recently
– They like the idea but want to approach it slightly differently
– They like the idea but have just commissioned something similar
– They don’t like the idea at all (ouch)
Whatever the situation, writing articles on spec can waste valuable time in which you could have been doing something more productive.
It’s fine to pitch ideas over the phone, by the way. Just avoid obviously busy times (like press day on a newspaper or just before the news bulletin on a radio programme, for example) and have an email pitch or press release ready to send if a journalist or editors ask (most will).
And do pay attention to lead times (the period of time between an editor or producer commissioning an article and it being published or broadcast). As a general rule of thumb, most daily publications have a much shorter lead times than you’d imagine.
4. Be prepared to follow up if necessary
When journalists are interested in story, they usually pounce straight away, but in a busy newsroom, things can get missed. So don’t be afraid to chase up pitches by phone or email. But do tread a carefully, as there’s a fine line between being proactive and being a pest. If you’ve chased a couple of times and you’re not getting anywhere, it’s probably safe to assume the editor is not interested and offer it elsewhere.
It’s fine to offer the same idea to different editors, as long you’re upfront about what you’re doing. But do bear in mind that there can be rivalry between different publications and even on different sections of the same newspaper, magazine or programme. While it’s tempting to go after as much coverage as possible, if an editor agrees to run your story, then sees it somewhere else – particularly before theirs is due to run – they could be pretty miffed. And is it really worth risking long-term relationships for short-term gains?
5. Don’t get complacent if you get a ‘yes’
Getting a ‘yes’ from an editor – particularly if you’ve been pursuing them for a while – can feel like a major victory. But in your excitement, don’t forget to ask these vital questions:
– Who will be writing the article?
– How many words would you like (if they want you to write it)?
– Will the editor/journalist want to do any interviews? If so, will this be face-to-face
or over the phone?
– Do they need pictures? Would you like us to provide them or are you going to send
your own photographer?
– What’s the deadline?
– When the article is likely to appear?
News is, by its very nature, unpredictable. So don’t be surprised if a journalist says they’re going to run your story and then nothing appears. In fact, I can almost guarantee that this will happen to you from time to time: a bigger story will come along and yours will be shortened or maybe even cut altogether.
While it is frustrating, particularly if you’ve spent a lot of time on a story, don’t get angry with the journalist. It’s just the way the media works and they’re just doing their job. Stay cheerful, keep sending them good ideas and some of your stories will stick. You’ll also build a reputation for being a ‘go to’ person for your industry or sector – which means they’ll soon start coming to you for comment – rather than the other way round.