By Brian Cross, and EO Saint Louis member, and managing partner at Elasticity
I was talking to a national business editor the other day about generating publicity, and I asked: “If 98% of businesses in America are small businesses, why do the local and national business media focus 98% of their coverage on large businesses?” The editor’s answer: “We’d love to cover more interesting small and mid-sized businesses, but the truth is that they don’t know how to articulate their story or work with us in a way that would be useful to our readers.”
And why not? As the owner of a public relations agency, I’ve discovered that the majority of small and mid-sized businesses (SMB) think that public relations means simply sending a press release on each thing they do to a list of reporters. With no prior relationship with the reporter—and oftentimes poor storytelling—it’s no wonder they don’t see much press. In my experience, the combination of mutually beneficial relationships and quality content is the key to any successful PR strategy.
Here’s an interesting fact: Press releases are often perceived as noise. SMBs are better off building relationships with reporters and being seen as a trusted industry source, not a pest. Many reporters prefer to deal with someone they know than make a cold call. Content is the other large stumbling block to getting solid media coverage. Reporters get into the business to tell stories, so we have to give them a compelling one to tell. Here are some tips on how to do just that:
1. Get the message points straight. This will help keep you on track and your story concise. Like a good “elevator pitch,” the story needs to be tight and quickly conveyed to the reporter or editor. They will allow you to elaborate if they find the story interesting.
2. Tie the story to a trend in business or popular culture. This makes your business timely and relevant, and increases your odds of being considered for print. Most reporters and editors want to bring a trend in business, national news or popular culture to the local level, so timeliness and proximity are key to getting your story picked up.
3. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes. If you were reading your story, what would you want to know? What could you write that would improve the reputation of the reporter? At the end of the day, your story is judged against all of the other reporter’s stories. The best story will undoubtedly become “lead” news.
4. Spend your time on quality writing. Since most of your competitors are turning in poorly written stories, taking the time to craft a great piece will present you as a more credible source. I can tell you firsthand that quality writing is rapidly declining. Stand out by writing well.
5. Focus on the larger impact of the story. Don’t just talk about yourself. Instead, tell the story of what you do for others and how they benefit in return. In doing so, you will present your business as a change agent, preventing you from being lumped into all of the other general organizations.
6. Emphasize the prominence of the people involved. The news is a personal business, and people like reading about other people. True to life, bigger names get more pickup. Who is involved in your story that other people would want to know about? Start there.
7. Invest in your own media. Social media is your own magazine, news stream, op-ed and TV channel. Treat it like an interactive broadcast tool with, and for, your audiences. It’s a great way to demonstrate that you’re a part of a larger business or cultural ecosystem. It can also give background credibility to your company when the editor researches you before “going to print.”
In my experience, SMBs have great stories to tell, they just need to make sure they’re telling them correctly. At the end of the day, quality content and mutually beneficial relationships can help you gain positive exposure. Just remember to mention EO when nailing down those media interviews!
Brian Cross is a founder and managing partner of Elasticity, a public relations and social media boutique agency. Fun fact: Once a volunteer firefighter, Brian now spends his time rescuing newborn twins from the perils of modern life. Contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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