Shortly after graduating from college, I landed a job with a daily newspaper. My internal title was “outfielder.” I was basically a grunt in the Sports Department. There were three of us. It was a part-time evening job. All others holding this position were students. I saw it as a great way to learn, first-hand, about how the industry works (and meet some of the players in town). This job taught me a lot about small business media coverage.
There’s nothing like being in a newsroom while issues are being put to bed to gain an understanding of how the business works.
In this town, sports were big – particularly at the high school level, so these contests, along with collegiate and professional games, were covered into the night. In fact, we put the last issue to bed around midnight. Bet you didn’t realize the paper you read might be different than the one delivered in the next town over?
Behind the scenes of news culling at a daily paper
Just about every hour from 5 p.m. to midnight, changes were made with updates on breaking news from the national wire services, sports scores or interview quotes and anything going on in town that wasn’t finished by the time the first issue was sent to the presses. While we had computers, this was before the internet age, so it was no small task assembling, designing and readying all these varying issues to meet necessary deadlines for the crew downstairs running the design shop and huge presses that made the paper delivered to your door in the morning as current as possible.
One of my jobs (this should tell you something about the regard for your releases) was to scan items mailed to the department and decide if it was worthy enough to pass on to a reporter. There were very few that made it past my trash can. Some I didn’t even open. If it was an organization that had a history of sending multiple releases each week that were self-promotional, I didn’t waste the time involved in picking up a letter opener.
Others would send material to the sports department that had nothing to do with athletics. Rim shot!
Still others touted their not-for-profit events, old news (last week’s gymnastics results aren’t relevant to a daily paper), feel-good community stories (send it to features – don’t expect anyone will reroute your release to the right department) and massive media kits with 20 pages of reading material and a dozen glossy photos (really – and your museum news is relative to a sports reporter how?).
It was a shame to see how much money was wasted (not to mention paper) because someone couldn’t be bothered to make a phone call or scan a database to ensure material was going to an appropriate recipient.
If you’re going to send a release out, make sure it offers something interesting for right readers (that would be the demographics of the paper you’re sending it to), goes to the right department and screams newsworthy quickly. No one at a paper has time to read more than a couple of lines (if they even open your piece to look at it) so if you fail to grab attention immediately, your release will be relegated to the circular file.
If it bleeds it leads is wrong
This might be the case for network TV or national papers, but local daily papers or weekly business publications are interested in stories that will affect the majority of their readers. International gore will be covered, but regional reporters will be working on covering issues that impact the immediate community.
The same holds true for most local broadcast stations. That’s why you’ll see so much coverage on the top employers. Local and state political issues (or politicians) are always hot topics. Health has been a big topic in recent years because more readers/viewers are focusing on that. Environmental issues are seeing increasing coverage for the same reason.
You’ll learn a lot about what the media likes in a story by reading, listening and watching before you pitch. Try to develop an angle that ties in with some of the things already being covered.
Are you a health coach? Don’t try to promote your business with a pitch. Instead, think about suggesting a weekly diet and exercise tip (back it up with an outline of ideas and a sample insert – keep it brief).
Do you keep a pulse on small business legislation? Consider approaching a reporter about a pending bill no one’s talking about that will have significant local impact.
There are lots of ways you can tie into popular news items by bringing a different twist.
Getting small business media coverage isn’t hard
Most reporters are very approachable, if you’re considerate in how you do it. Think of a reporter as a prospect. To be effective at convincing them you’re the right resource for them, it’s important to reflect on their perspectives.
They’re busy, over-worked, underpaid and spend a lot of time deflecting pitches from people who don’t even bother to consider how what they’re proposing fits in with the particular media organization style or even stated contact preferences. That provides a great opportunity for anyone willing to put in brief time getting prepared.
Before you decide to whip out the next media release – or worse, badger a reporter, reflect on how you can help a staffer do his job better. You might be amazed at how quickly you start seeing your name in the news, or a small business media coverage spotlight on your business, with a more considerate and considered approach.