During my years as a journalist, I gave free publicity to hundreds of businesses like yours. But I didn’t do it out of the goodness of my heart; I did it because it was in my interests.
By the way, I also ignored many businesses that asked for free publicity, because it wasn’t in my interests to help them.
That’s the key to getting media coverage – you have to make it in the media’s interest to cover you. Common sense, no?
Give them what they want
Now you know it’s important to give the media what they want, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘What does the media want?’
The media want stories that will attract readers. That’s because readers attract advertisers.
Why did all those businesses succeed in getting free publicity from me? Because they understood my job was to publish interesting stories that were relevant to my readers.
Why did those other businesses fail? Because they thought my job was to publish boring propaganda that was irrelevant to my readers.
One size doesn’t fit all
The first thing to do if you want free publicity is to write a ‘media release’, which is an article you distribute to the media to publish.
Journalists can use this article as they please – they can ignore it, publish it verbatim, re-work it or combine parts of it with content gleaned from other sources.
There’s nothing wrong with calling journalists and asking what you’d have to do for them to publish your media release. The key is to find out what they consider interesting and relevant – and then send it to them.
Please note that ‘interesting’ and ‘relevant’ mean different things to different publications. For example, The Wall Street Journal finds financial news interesting – but the financial results of a small business like the Smithville Bakery would not be relevant to the bulk of its readers.
Conversely, the Smithville Bakery would be relevant to the local Smithville News – but its financial results would not interest the readers.
National media, local newspapers and trade publications have different definitions for ‘interesting’ and ‘relevant’. So don’t fall into the trap of distributing a one-size-fits-all media release. That would be as senseless as Levi’s creating one type of jeans for the entire population – men, women, boys and girls.
Shrewd media strategy
What is news? As the term suggests, it’s new information. News publications are hungry for new information, so the fresher your media release is, the more likely it is to be published.
News publications also publish commentary – ‘Person X says Y about Z’. Technically, this isn’t news, but if the X or the Y or the Z is significant enough, they’ll give it a run.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at a possible media strategy for the Smithville Bakery:
National media report on national issues. So our baker could provide commentary about how his business had fared under a new tax or a new industrial relations regulation.
Local newspapers report on local issues. So the Smithville News might be interested to learn that our baker has just installed a whizz-bang piece of machinery or made a big donation to the hospital.
At the same time, local newspapers like to put a local spin on national issues, so our baker could also offer commentary on the new tax and new industrial relations regulation.
Trade publications report on industry-specific issues and general business. So our baker could let Bakers Monthly know about the whizz-bang piece of machinery he’d been able to install because of a new government subsidy aimed at small businesses.
The magazine would also be interested to hear his take on the new tax and new industrial relations regulation. He could also share successful sales and marketing ideas he’d implemented.
Nick Bendel is a former journalist, and an expert in writing, communications and media strategy. He’s also the author of Crush Them with Content: How to Use Content Marketing to Beat Your Rivals.