Media Relations “Cheat Sheet” for Frugal SMBs

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It’s not easy, but media relations isn’t really complicated.

Here’s a straightforward, cost-effective approach coverage-starved SMBs can employ to maximize their media relations efforts.

First off, take the time to develop a list of journalists and bloggers you’d like to get your company in front of.  There are a number of ways you can do this. One of the easiest, unless you want to shell out for a resource like Cision (and if you’re reading this post I imagine that you don’t), is to use Google Alerts or Google Search to discover journalists who are already mentioning businesses like yours and relevant topics and trends. For example, for a client — Blue Frog Robotics — the Pilot team receives daily Google Alerts on topics and phrases like “consumer robots,” “personal robots” and “humanoids.”  Simple. Use several phrases in your daily searches to cover the bases.

Often, you’ll likely find articles of interest that may be one-offs.  Recently, a reporter for The Atlantic wrote a feature article about how running can help boost a writer’s creativity.  If you’re somehow involved in the running or athletic shoe business, know that The Atlantic isn’t going to publish another running-oriented article anytime soon.  But the reporter, a freelancer, is a runner so it may pay to stay in touch with him. Given your limited resources and time constraints, focus list building on publications and websites that publish content about your industry on a regular basis.

Once you have a media list you’re happy with (you’ll keep building on it over time), use Twitter Search or Google to find the Twitter handle of everyone on the list. Some sites make this easy for you by including the reporter’s Twitter name right next to their byline. Otherwise, they’re usually pretty easy to find. Once your done, start following them on Twitter from your company’s Twitter account.

From time-to-time, it will make sense to retweet, favorite, reply or comment to tweets from your key reporters as a way to let them know you’re interested in what they have to say. And to remind them that you have something to say too.  They won’t always follow you back right away. Sometimes never. With some journalists, you have to earn their follow.  In addition, work to identify which articles written by key journalists may warrant a comment by you — not something self-serving but instead content that adds value to the article and begins to establish you as someone who knows the industry or topic being written about. The goal is to ensure that when it’s time to pitch a story, that it’s not a “cold call.”

When you’ve developed a good understanding of the key issues several of your target journalists are interested in — like a business or consumer trend your company is integral to — it’s time to develop a succinct email pitch. At the risk of sounding too basic, and as mentioned earlier, the chances of peaking a journalist’s interest in a story idea are enhanced when the pitch is aligned to a topic or trend the journalist is also interested in.

It often takes some time before a sought after journalist will become interested in what a SMB has to say. Recently, the creative editor of Ad Week — a top-tier publication and website for ad agencies and marketers — said it’s not unusual for him to receive 100 email pitches in a day. Last week, a tech producer at CNN told me in an email that she received about 500 email pitches a day in the weeks leading up to CES 2016. Providing interesting commentary and/or distinguished points of view over a period of time all are part of the story, reputation and relationship development process.

While relationship development remains a critical component of media relations (and always will), even your best friend isn’t going to put their byline on an article that isn’t newsworthy. In this age of declining staff writers and news websites that are updated many times throughout the day, it’s important to make a reporter’s job as easy as possible, so…

  • make sure your pitch is topical, contains supporting data and is of interest to the specific reporter you’re reaching out to.  Use the P.S. section of your email to include a link to third-party content, like a research firm.
  • have at the ready media-trained customers who can speak to the benefits of being your customer.
  • make yourself available when the reporter needs YOU to be available.
  • keep getting up to the plate to take your swings; don’t get frustrated or impatient.  Home runs are rare (they’ll come!) but a steady stream of singles, doubles and triples will get you on, and keep you on, the media map.

P.S. Pitchers and catchers report to Spring training in 30 days!

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