We all know the saying in business, "It's not what
you know but who you know", right? This saying is
definitely true when it comes to small business and
on occasion, the same can be said in media relations.
However, what you know can sometimes get you just
as far - especially if you're trying to tell your
story to the local press.
Some time ago, a small-business client
approached me about handling public relations for
her firm. She had been writing her own press releases
and submitting them to the press but all of her efforts
had generated no press. She asked me to critique her
work to discover what she might be doing wrong. Upon
reviewing her press releases, I found that her writing
skills were outstanding but the problem came when
I began to investigate the methods by which she was
submitting her releases. The five rules below illustrate
the lessons that she learned about distributing press
releases to the media.
Rule #1: Do your homework
on reporters. You can start with the Bacons'
Media Directory, which serves as the public relations
practitioner's Bible. If you don't know what it is,
basically it lists the name, address, phone number,
fax number, e-mail, beat (issue or specific type of
story to cover), deadlines, and story preferences
and angles for most every reporter and news producer
anywhere in the world. There are five volumes of books:
Newspapers, Magazines, TV/Cable, Radio and International.
You can purchase the books or get the same information
from Bacons' in CD-Rom format or through an online
subscription. These books are invaluable but unfortunately
are also very expensive.
Here's a tip: You can access
them for free usually at your local public library
or a college library. Use these books to help you
narrow down the reporters that you think would be
helpful for launching your story. If Bacon's is completely
out of your budget, just follow your favorite local
newspaper to determine which reporters cover which
Rule #2: Verify your sources.
Just because you found information on reporters in
Bacons' doesn't mean that your work is done. Most
reporters are assigned a beat but those beats change
from time to time and as a result, reporters tend
to move around a lot. Because the Bacons' books and
their competitors are only published once per year
with occasional updates, it's very important that
you call media outlets and verify that you can still
reach the reporter you would like to talk to. More
importantly, find out if the reporter still covers
the beat that is important to your story. If for some
reason there is a new reporter covering that beat,
make note of those changes in a database or spreadsheet,
and always call before sending out a new release.
Rules #3: Know where to call
for information. Most people are afraid to just
call up a reporter (they can be scary people) to find
out this information, however if you want to avoid
that aspect of the job, then simply call the News
Assignment Desk - the nerve center of news operation.
It is here that you can verify the reporter information
and also get a sense for the types of stories that
an editor might find interesting enough to assign
to an individual reporter.
Rules #4: Know how a reporter likes
to receive information. When it comes to distributing
press releases or letters, all reporters are different.
It's your job to find out how a reporter wants to
receive his or her information on a potential story.
For example, some reporters only read faxes while
others only look at releases sent by mail. Still others
will only read e-mail, and yet others will only accept
a story idea over the phone. This is important because
if you violate the reporter's rule for receiving information,
then your release likely will never be read. It will
get a one-way trip to the trashcan.
Rules #5: Adhere to a reporter's
deadline. Just as you can find out the name and
e-mail address of a specific reporter, you can also
find out their writing deadline. This is very important
because the last thing anyone wants to experience
is being on the line with a reporter when he or she
is on deadline.
Here's another tip: Most daily
newspapers are put to bed at 5pm. Call the reporter
between 8am and 9am because you might catch them before
they go their morning editorial meeting. When calling
up a reporter directly, always asks the reporter if
he or she is currently on deadline as a courtesy.
They will respect you for it and this will give you
an indication as to how long you have to speak with
that particular reporter on the phone. If you're nervous
about speaking with the reporter, then create a short
script that you can state comfortably in 60 seconds.
While it's always great to know a reporter
personally, few small-business owners will ever have
that luxury. However, if you know what to do and whom
to contact when the time comes to tell your story,
your chances of coverage are just as good as anyone
else's. After all when it comes to media relations,
it's not just who you know but what you know - plus
a little luck never hurts either.
- Community Media