Angela’s Note – John Sternal (@SternalPR) is a veteran PR practitioner who’s helped many small businesses obtain media exposure on a national level. He’s the co-founder of UnderstandingMarketing.com, the #smbiz Twitter chat for small business, and has authored The PR Toolkit for small business. This is a blog post to print out and tack on your memo board for future reference!
When I travel to speak with small businesses and entrepreneurs to learn about their companies there are two things I constantly hear. They want to learn to use PR to build more awareness of their business. And although they want to save on costs by doing it themselves they just don’t know where they’d find the time to become their own PR person.
Here I’ve put together an action plan that can help entrepreneurs and small business owners easily grasp the fundamentals of PR along with steps they can do each day to minimize their investment of time. It’s very true that in PR the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it. But let’s be realistic for a second and remember what a day is like for a typical small business owner that has his/her hand in virtually every aspect of the operation. Time is of the essence.
Here’s my 7-Day Plan to help you get more PR for your small business (each step should take only 30 minutes):
Day 1 Brainstorming Ideas: the first thing you have to do is come up with a story. For many this is the most difficult part because it often involves a lot of creativity. So let me try to make this as easy as possible. If you think all you have to do is think about something cool about your company, load that into a press release and send it to a reporter, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Reporters will tell you your story is “too narrow.” So how do you broaden a story to make it appealing? Here’s an example:
One of my small business clients is in car leasing. A narrow story would be to approach an editor and pitch an angle on how the company was helping small businesses get rid of unused car leases to save money. Many of you may actually think this is a timely story given the current economic climate. Doesn’t matter what you think; it matters what the reporter thinks. So instead we found other similar trends, i.e. getting rid of unused IT equipment, office furniture and even real estate, packaged it all up into one “larger” story and sent it to The Wall Street Journal to see if they’d be interested. Read the story here.
Day 2 Write Your Story:
Again, stop thinking of how great your company is and start thinking of writing for the reporter. This means writing pitch letters that capture their attention. If you’re in a technical industry you better find a way to dumb-down the pitch so that it doesn’t include industry jargon and buzzwords, unless you’re actually pitching an industry trade journal. Offer up lots of interesting anecdotes, customer stories and perspective. “PetPain Tablets Now Available In Minnesota” is a headline that won’t capture much attention, but “Older Dogs Now Learn New Tricks In Minnesota” will capture the attention of a company that offers arthritis supplements for pets.
Day 3 Research The Media: One of the most important steps in the entire process, you must know who you’re pitching. Read your local newspapers to see who’s writing stories of similar topics. Watch the local television news. If it’s in a different market, log on to the Internet to research reporters at a different newspaper or media outlet. As an added tip, start emailing them every now and then to comment on their stories. Don’t pitch your story just yet, but do let them know what you liked or disliked about a story they did. Make it so that they know who you are as this will pay off later. There also are resources to help you find what reporters are looking for when writing their stories.
Day 4 Ask Customers For Help: Customer stories can often seal the deal for a story since it adds the perspective many readers are interested in and it takes away from your story being too promotional. Talk to your customers and find out why they buy your product. What’s their situation? How do you help them? Use this information in your writing and pitch letters to again capture the reporter’s attention. And ask the customers if it’s ok for a reporter to contact them. This always gets a reporter’s attention. If you’ve done a good job developing quality products with a good reputation then this should be an easy step. If not, then you’ve got other things to worry about first before going after PR.
Day 5 Email Reporters: Today it’s time to send your pitch to the reporter you have targeted. If you don’t have their email address, simply call the paper or television station and ask for it. It’s easier than you think to get their email address. Write a few paragraphs of why your story is interesting to their readers and click send. Don’t worry about being too formal; they’re people too and can have normal conversations.
Day 6 Phone Calls:
First, take a deep breath. You can do this. A lot of reporters will list their email and phone number at the end of their stories. Use this checklist to double-check the strength of your story, call up the reporter and ask them if it’s a good time to grab a minute to tell them about a story idea you have. But do this AFTER you’ve already sent them an email so they may already be familiar with the story. Oh by the way, it won’t be such a cold call if you’ve already established a little relationship from commenting on other stories. They’ll remember you. And they won’t bite. The worst that can happen is they say no, which means you either move on to the next reporter or you go back to step one and develop a different story. But don’t be afraid of getting no for an answer. Babe Ruth once was the home run king of baseball but he also struck out a lot, too.
Day 7 Follow News Patterns: If a reporter says they’ll keep your story on file, you now are tasked with reading the news each day. Reporters like to do stories on items already in the news so monitor what’s being reported on because you never know when something breaks and your story is relevant. For example, a company that makes portable radios may have a hard time getting a story in the news – until a hurricane hits a certain area.
Following these daily action items won’t turn you into the next PR powerhouse, but it will give you an honest chance of getting your story in the news.
Angela’s Follow Up – Think you don’t have a story? Think again! Most of us have definite news-worthy things happening in our lives – whether it’s connections we’re making, businesses we’re starting, books we’re releasing, campaigns we’re working on with our blogs….whatever. Think about one newsworthy story in your life and see what happens if apply this seven day challenge to that story!