Dealing with the Media
Business Services West Magazine, May 2003 for 1 July
By Peter Urs Bender
When I left my day job and started my own business (as a speaker, trainer, and business consultant) I realized that I would have to get some publicity for myself if I wanted to become known. And that made me very nervous. I knew I would be dealing with a force that could make me a hero or a zero in no time.
When we think of the media, we tend to think of a large, amorphous “Thing” that enjoys eating little entrepreneurs for breakfast! If you persist in thinking of it as the Fifth Estate, or as a huge Entity, you’ll be making your first mistake.
First of all, the media (radio, television, and print) is made up of people just like you and me. You will be dealing with individual real people, not Entities that live in some other dimension. I soon realized that direct contact was the only way to go.
Since my first tentative attempts to contact them, journalists have become some of my best friends. They are intelligent, well-educated people with interesting things to talk about. They are often not only sympathetic to me and my business in print and on the air, but are people with whom I enjoy spending time.
There are many nuances to dealing with the media. I deal with some of them in my book Secrets of Power Marketing. You will learn others as you make contact with various media over time. But I would say that the single most important factor in dealing with any reporter, interviewer, or editor is to be friendly, open, and above-board.
If you are dealing with someone from the print media, you have a better chance of getting your message across because the length of the interview will give you an opportunity to return to a point you feel you may not have covered very well.
If, however, you are dealing with broadcast media, you must remember to be precise and get your point across quickly and accurately in as few words as possible. The 10- or 30-second sound bite is not an exaggeration. That’s how much time you may be allowed to make your point. And that, in turn, is because the time constraints on broadcast media are much greater than those in print media.
Let’s suppose you have just started a new business, and are looking for some local publicity to help you market.
Draw up a list of the media you’d like to appear in. It will and probably should include the local radio and TV station (in medium to larger centers), and most certainly the local newspaper, whether daily or weekly. There are also other community publications. The Chamber of Commerce publishes newsletters. There are Tourism guides and other special-interest publications, perhaps even a local business publication. Try to get into them all.
You read the paper, listen to the radio, and watch TV. Who are your favorite writers, editors, columnists, and commentators? If you like their style, it’s probably because they’re like you in some way. Try to contact and build relationships with people like that.
Decide which of the three main media might be of most immediate help to you. When you’ve canvassed the one you think might be of most help, try the others. The whole idea is to get your story out to the public through as many outlets as possible.
Tip: Print is likely to be of most value to you. When the article has appeared you can make very inexpensive copies of it and use it as a marketing tool. Radio and television are a little more difficult. You can have tapes made, but they’re more cumbersome and more expensive.
Media attention doesn’t just come from heaven. Nobody will phone you. You are your own media agency. You have to phone them. Making the contacts – cold-calling if necessary – is the important thing. Don’t be afraid. Reporters won’t bite you. They’ll probably leave you with a feeling of how courteous they are. You must not just sit wishing you could get into print or on the air.
To be successful you must try to make your story not only interesting to journalists, but to others in the community. Try to give it an interesting angle. Put it in the most unique light possible. Never be boring! It’s important to know your subject well so you can cover the points you want with your reporter and make sure they’re clearly understood.
When you’re starting your own business it’s also important to be able to give a 30-second description of who you are and what you do at the drop of a hat. Work up a description and mission statement that you can present as an “infomercial” when someone in the media asks you what you do.
If you’re calling the local television or radio station, a good place to start is either with the program or news director. From the program people, find out which program might be interested in your story. If you don’t know the host or hosts of this program, ask their names. From the news director, ask if he would be interested in a short press release or interview. Then, if possible, go directly to the people who will be dealing with you.
Learn the names of these individuals, and put them in your file. You might want to contact them again in the near future. Lay out your story as clearly as you can, and ask if they might be interested.
With print media it’s a good idea to have a prepared press release. And it’s not enough just to announce that you are opening a business to sell widgets. You must somehow make the selling of widgets immediate, interesting, and of value to the community.
Depending on how elaborate you want to get you might want to offer pictures, samples, and other prepared literature (if you have any).
Working up a press release is not as difficult as it might seem. Keep in mind the writing formula: 5 W’s and an H –Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Make sure the first few paragraphs of your release answers all those questions quickly and precisely. The How question can form the body of the story.
Don’t call it a “Press Release”. Give your news release a strong title, and above that title put the line “For Immediate Release”. Always start your news release with the name of the city, and the day of release. For instance, Start it “WINNIPEG, 30 June, 2003 – ”. Don’t just launch into the story. If the actual date isn’t that important, use “WINNIPEG, May 2003 – ”.
Proof it well, and have someone who understands language check it out or you. Nothing is worse for the image of your business that poor grammar and misspellings in a news release.
There are lots more information about how to write a press release in my book Secrets of Power Marketing. You will get the hang of it quickly. If you are going after media coverage, however, the main thing to remember is that you have to keep at it. One press release is like a drop of water in the ocean. Create a media program that will get you the opportunity to get into the news every once in a while.
There are three basic situations that can get you coverage. They are:
1. An event (both before and after)
2. An award or acknowledgement of some sort (always a valid reason)
3. As information (what background will the press be interested in?)
Events include the launch of a new business, opening a new store/office/plant, the anniversary of a product/business/location, the development of a new technology, an open house or tour, a speaking engagement (include a copy of your speech). There are dozens of other opportunities, some of which might not seem obvious. Look for events to hang a story on.
Awards can include both receiving and giving them. Have you just become an approved supplier? Send out a press release. Are you sponsoring a community contest? Receiving a business award? All are opportunities for coverage.
Information releases are looked on with interest by the media. They can occur as the result of a business survey, advice on a common problem, facts or trends in your industry. These, and other such instances, are legitimate reasons to seek coverage. There are many others.
One of the world’s most successful public relations practitioners, Michael Levine of Hollywood, who wrote Guerilla P.R. How You Can Wage an Effective Publicity Campaign…Without Going Broke, says: “Don’t just take ‘yes’ for an answer. Follow up, follow through.”
His statement is not a mistake in grammar. He means that a successful first contact is just the starting place for a long-term, fruitful media relationship. If the reporter agrees to an interview call again before one takes place and ask if the journalist would like any additional material. Is there is anything else you can provide to assist the story he or she is going to do on you?
When the interview is over and in print, or on the air, call the journalist back and thank him or her for the coverage. Or drop him a thank-you note, or a postcard. You would be absolutely astonished at the number of people who forget this elemental courtesy. Remember. You may face that journalist again – perhaps in an antagonistic position. You want the person to think well of you.
An experienced print journalist friend of mine confessed to me: “If I write a story about a person or company and (readers) like it, they're afraid even to send a note saying so. Why? They've been told you shouldn't try to bribe or put pressure on the media. That doesn't mean not saying thanks for the story. (It) just means not sending a huge floral arrangement.”
Make your relationship with the media special. Your business will be the better for it. Everything you would do to build relationships with key clients and prospects goes double for the media. Send them notes, post cards, and information. Try to keep in regular contact, once you have made the first call. They may not respond immediately, but inevitably there will come one of those slow news days…and they’ll remember you.
It’s a big world out there, and you deserve your own thirty seconds of exposure. Try to make sure that exposure is a positive one, but don’t worry if, once in a while, it turns negative. Any publicity is better than none. Most people don’t read all the details, and many forget once they have.
You’re not heard on radio – until they know you.
You’re not seen on television – until they recognize you.
But if you’re in print – you can always send them a copy.
Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada’s most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit www.PeterUrsBender.com.