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Media Training 301 -- Become a Partner, Not a Player

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/20/2006 | Marketing
Every business owner should include getting publicity as a part of his or her overall marketing strategy. However, there is a lot more to garnering free publicity for your business than just writing and sending press releases.

You want to build a long-term relationship with the media, and become known as a resource, an expert in your industry. That doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen by accident. It takes time, careful planning and a strategy. The good news is that you don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars, or hire an outside agency to do it for you.

Before you can start creating a buzz and building a successful publicity campaign, you need to know three things:

1. Why do you want publicity in the first place? Are you trying to build credibility? Let people know about your product or services? Create or strengthen your business's brand?

2. What is your message? When putting together your publicity campaign, you need to know what you're going to say and how to say it so that you achieve your ultimate goals.

3. What type of coverage are you looking for? (There are three types: Newspaper/visual, radio/audio, and Television/visual/audio). Of these three types, which is going to be the best way to get your message out?

Once you know where you want to end up, the next step is to create a roadmap that will get you there.

There's a famous saying that illustrates perfectly what you ultimately want to achieve: "If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying 'Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday,' that's advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk him into town, that's promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor's flowerbed, that's publicity. If you can get the mayor to laugh about it, that's public relations. And if you planned the elephant's walk, that's marketing."

Here are the "insider secrets" that will help you to become a partner, and build a solid relationship with the media so that you can "plan the elephant's walk" for your business.

1. Do your research before writing your first press release. Think about your story. Who is it going to affect, interest or impact? Is it strictly of local interest, or can you hook it to a larger event or happening? Is it a one-time happening, such as your grand opening, or a special event, or milestone? Is it part of an ongoing effort?

2. Create your own "hot list." Now, figure out which media sources are going to be most interested in your story. Start locally. Think of your local newspapers, television and radio stations. Include your local public radio station, college stations and any others that provide news stories in your list. (Special Note: If your story isnt one that is going to be over in fifteen minutes, dont forget organizations that publish newsletters! Think about your local Chamber of Commerce or organizations whose members or clients could also become your customers!)

Then think even further outside your "circles of influence." If you live in an urban area, there may be national affiliates like APR, etc that have stringers or offices nearby. Include those in your list.

Now look at online sources. Be thoughtful here. Dont just send a press release to everyone. Sure, it may get published online, but it may also get dumped into a news bin on a thread where it is never seen or read.

In addition to the hundreds of news sources, think about your affiliations. Are you a member of a national society, or organization? If it is relevant to your story, mention that youre a member, and then send a copy of the press release to them as well!

3. Make it personal. Now that you know which media sources youre going to send your press release to, get on the phone. Find out the name of the specific person you need to send the press release to. (These is a step a lot of people skip over, but take my advice and dont, because its one of the most important!) Remember the word "relations" in "public relations." Building any worthwhile relationship takes time and effort. You have to give something to get something.

If possible, talk to the reporter or editor personally. Introduce yourself, and let her/him know that youre going to be sending him/her a press release. (If you're inexperienced at this, you can actually use that as an introduction and let him know that you want to get started off on the right foot). You want to find out the following information:

- The correct spelling of her/his name.
- How they prefer to receive the press release -- faxed or in the mail.
- How far in advance do they prefer that you send the press release?

Always make sure to ask what their deadline is. If faxing your press release is okay, get the fax number, and find out if the cover sheet should be addressed to the reporter or someone else.

DO NOT CHAT. This is not a social call. You are calling to get information, not a date. (Tricks of the trade: Get your Rolodex or PDA out while your talking to the reporter. Note all of the pertinent information so that youve got it for the next time. On the back of the card, or in the memo section, write down the date you spoke with them, and the reason for the press release.)

4. Once youve found your contact person, stick to them! Unless otherwise instructed, never send the same press release to more than one person in any organization or publication. If there is any confusion or duplicate coverage, it will be blamed on you, and you will lose your credibility.

5. Follow-up. Within a day or two of sending your press release, call and make sure that they received it. If not, be calm, and pleasant, and just say that youll send another one. Re-check your contact information, and make sure youve got the right address, fax number, etc. And then send it right away.

6. Never just send a press release the day of your event. It makes you look unprofessional, and you probably wont get covered. The only exception to this is if youre holding a press conference to make a big announcement that will impact many people.

Always plan ahead and give the media as much time as possible to decide how they are going to cover it.

7. Know Their Deadlines. I cant stress this often enough. EVERY TIME you talk to a reporter, ask what their deadline is.

When youre submitting an article or a press release to a magazine, call first and ask about submission deadlines. And then make sure that you send it in with time to spare.

Mark the deadline on your media info sheet, or your Rolodex, but check back with them periodically, because changes do happen.

8. Keep your promises. If a reporter calls you, and you don't know the answer to a question, or he needs something you don't have but you promise to get it -- do it. Always follow through and do what you say you're going to by their deadline.

9. Be professional. Offer to act as a liaison if the reporter needs to speak to other people in your organization or industry, and volunteer to provide additional research or background information. Put together an online pressroom on your Website, as well as offline media kits that you can send along with your press releases, or when needed.

10. Remember what your mother taught you. Be polite. Say please and thank you. If you read an article that a reporter has written and you liked it, send a handwritten a note and let them know. Be willing to provide information, resources or background material even if it doesn't directly benefit you. Building a solid relationship is about more than selling more widgets, and will pay off in the long run.