According to Entrepreneur.com, public relations is “Using the news or business press to carry positive stories about your company or your products; cultivating a good relationship with local press representatives.”
It is not difficult to understand why PR is so valuable. When a website sings your praises, when a news story quotes you as an expert, or when a TV program touts your new product, you are getting the sort of attention that you couldn’t buy. Advertising is fine, but is limited, gets tuned out, and is really just you telling the world that your business should be noticed. But publicity? When you get positive publicity, it is an independent third-party telling the world that your business is different and better.
But this begs the question: how do you catch the attention of the press and get them to do a story about your business? Because I have been writing a small business column for USATODAY.com since the day it went online, I hope that I can offer a unique perspective as to what the press looks for and how you can utilize PR for your own business.
Here are my five steps to getting publicity for your business:
Step 1: Come up with a unique story/angle. The press is not in the business of simply writing stories about what a nice business you have. They are in the business of reporting on what is unique, new (hence “news”), and interesting.
So that is what you have to give them.
Example: I know of a scuba diving shop in the Florida Keys that wanted to get some press. So they organized a dive to explore a sunken ship that had long been suspected of being an old pirate ship. The shop let the local press know about the dive and their intent to search for sunken treasure. That unique angle got them a ton of publicity.
What is it about your business that is different? What can you do that would be of interest to others? Maybe you can create a contest, or sponsor a community event.
Step 2: Locate the right reporter/editor/blogger/producer. Once you know what you want to pitch to the press, then it is your job to figure out to whom to pitch it to. You have to find the specific person or people that cover the “beat”, or topic, you are pitching.
When someone writes to me with a unique small business story, I listen. But when I am pitched a story about, say, healthcare (because someone found my name on a generic list of writers), I delete it and move on with my day.
Step 3: Pitch the story. Back in the day, people were taught to create a formal press release that covered the 5 W’s of journalism: the who, what, where, when, and why of an event.
Don’t do that. They often do not get read.
Instead, write a short, snappy email to the person you identified. Make it personal. Maybe compliment them on a recent story they did. Then say that you have something you think is right up their alley, pitch your unique story, and say thank you. A few paragraphs total should do it.
Step 4: Follow up. Everyone is super busy these days and your contact may not get back to you quickly. A gentle follow up reminder is perfectly OK, smart even.
Step 5: Prepare. Surprisingly, this is where many folks miss the boat. If you are fortunate enough to get the press interested in your story, it is then up to you to be ready when he or she comes calling. This means knowing what it is you want to communicate, winnowing it down to some simple talking points, practicing what you want to say, and then remembering to mention those talking points when you are interviewed.
It also means being ready for any after effects of the story. I know of a pizza restaurant that worked hard to get the local restaurant reviewer in the doors. She finally showed up and loved the place.
And the restaurant lived happily ever after, right? Unfortunately, no. It was completely unprepared the day the positive review came out, was swamped with people that weekend, did not have enough wait staff on hand, ran out of dough, and in the end, lost a lot of dough.
So yes, PR can be a double-edged sword. But if you do it right, you too will definitely find some hidden treasure.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.