If you want to get your message out, don’t make the mistake of treating the media like a vending machine. Some people figure if they kick it and shake it a few times, they might get something good for free.
That’s not how it works.
It’s never too late to start. Maybe you’ve had media coverage of your business in the past and were unsatisfied with how it turned out. Or you’re looking for positive exposure in the future.
Either way, it helps to think of your connection with the media like any kind of relationship: You have to invest in it.
Here are some dos and don’ts:
–DO think about who can help you, not just what can help you. Once you decide how you want to get your message out, figure out who can make it happen. Who is in charge of making news decisions at the local paper? Who is the producer at the radio station making things happen? These are the people who can help you. Find out who they are.
–DO keep in mind the difference between advertising and news. If it’s advertising you want, you’re going to pay for it. If it’s news coverage you’re looking for, that’s a different beast. The media is concerned about serving their readers, viewers and listeners. They’re under no obligation to pay attention to you. You have to make them want to care.
–DON’T assume that what you have to say is the most important thing in the world, and that people should drop what they’re doing to pay attention to your story. In some cases, that might happen. But in most cases, media have many competing interests. It’s a hectic business with many distractions. You have to figure out how to rise to the top.
–DON’T be frustrated. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right person who gets your message. If it doesn’t happen on the first phone call or first e-mail, don’t throw up your hands in frustration. Keep doing your homework, and stay positive. Getting agitated won’t help. Be persistently pleasant about reaching your goal.
So how do you do this?
Make a connection. Newspapers, TV stations, radio stations and websites all have people who tend to focus on different things. Sending a mass e-mail to an entire newsroom looking for coverage of a story isn’t going to be very effective, and in fact could annoy the people you’re trying to reach. Instead, spend some time finding out who is the most likely person to be interested in your story.
Develop a dialogue. Often, people look at media coverage as a one-time event. And in many cases, that’s true. But if you think your business is going to attract on-going attention, or hope it will, it means a relationship is even more important. Connect with journalists on LinkedIn and Twitter. Pay attention to what they are writing. Tweet their relevant articles. See if you have any connections who can make a personal introduction to a journalist.
Help them understand. Nobody understands your business better than you. And that can be a weakness if you assume that other people know what you know. If reasonable, invite journalists to your business for a tour. Reporters like to know what makes things tick, and if you give them a peek behind the curtain, they’re likely to be more understanding about your mission.
Make sure communication runs two ways. Don’t ignore the media and then expect them to come running when you have something you want to say. Media respect people who answer questions plainly, and who are willing to give as well as get. If someone from the media contacts you, make sure you communicate on a timely basis, even if you feel you don’t have much to say. Media tend to write off people who are not responsive. On the flip side, there’s nothing more prized by a journalist than a good source who is easily reached and quick to respond with an answer.
Remember, not everything is a story. If you’re trying to develop an ongoing relationship, don’t try to get a story every time. But do stay in touch. It might mean sending a reporter an update on your business even if you’re not looking for a specific story. Compliment a reporter on a recent story you enjoyed.
Don’t burn bridges. If you’re unhappy with coverage, deal with it constructively and think long term. If there’s a mistake, ask them to correct it. Educate them. Hope for a better story down the road.
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