Getting Media Attention

Don’t overlook newspaper, television, and radio coverage as another way your company can garner attention and communicate its message

By Candace BelAir

Have you ever wondered if advertising really works? Then think about the studies that reveal the Reynolds Tobacco cartoon camel, Old Joe, is just as familiar as Mickey Mouse. And what about the companies that spend a half-million dollars for a 30-second television commercial during the Super Bowl? Smart businesses wouldn’t fork over that much money if advertising didn’t work. It does.

By the same token, audiences are savvy enough to recognize that advertisements are paid messages – with a calculated purpose.

So what can a company do to promote its business in a way that’s less self-serving than advertising? The answer – media coverage. When companies are quoted in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television media, it’s the kind of publicity and credibility that money can’t buy.

How do you get your company in the news? Take a pro-active approach: instead of waiting for news to break, and for the media to call, you contact them. Businesses do it all the time.

Start by getting familiar with reporters who write about your company’s industry. Send each reporter a letter, explaining that your firm is available as a source anytime they need one. Suggest a particular issue (or topics) for them to report on. Include supporting materials such as your company newsletter, brochures, newspaper clippings, bios, etc. Mention that if – at some point – they should write an article about your company’s industry, you’d be happy to provide background information, facts and figures, demographics, and so forth.

This is a way to introduce your company without being pushy. As a former reporter, I know this type of information is welcome. Just consider that more than half of all news stories result from ideas suggested by people outside the newsroom (e.g., readers, viewers, listeners). Reporters are always looking for credible sources, and more than likely they’ll keep a file on your company for future reference. Don’t be surprised if – when the reporter is ready – your company gets a call. It happens all the time.

For example, Golden Oldies, a Seattle record store with several locations in the Puget Sound area, notified feature reporters that industry insiders considered Golden Oldies “one of the best sources in the world for out-of-print music.” The result? The company was interviewed by KING-AM, KOMO-AM and the Bellevue Journal American.

Shurgard Self Storage had similar success in getting media coverage. They sent out press releases describing the business of mini-warehousing, including information that storage spaces aren’t just for storing furniture: rock bands use them to rehearse in and would-be novelists use them to write in. Just that little sample of information landed the company a story in The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce and coverage on KIRO-AM.

There’s another way to get your company’s name in the media: write the story yourself. Newspapers, magazines, trade journals, and newsletters often use articles from “guest” contributors. This is especially true in today’s downsizing climate. Many media outlets no longer have a staff large enough to cover all the stories they’d like. Submitted articles are often welcome and appreciated.

“How-to” stories, which include “insider” tips, are especially popular. When the Bellevue law firm, Trujillo & Peck, lost its power for a day (computer, phone, fax, copier) because of an electrical explosion, their marketing director wrote an “office survival” story and submitted it to several newspapers. Both the Pugnet Sound Business Journal and Tacoma’s Morning News Tribune ran the story.

But let’s say there’s no time for writing an article. There are other ways you can get your company’s name in print: write a guest editorial or letter to the editor. Surely you don’t agree with everything reported about your company’s industry. Take a stand! If you strongly agree or disagree with a particular slant of a story, state your case.

Recently, the medical director of the Seattle Psoriasis Treatment Center wrote to CNN and complained about a story. Not only did CNN executives thank him for the letter, they aired it (media outlets should be forums for opposing viewpoints).

But don’t think that the media will bite on anything and everything your company sends in. Keep in mind that the media won’t cover a story unless they’re convinced there’s a message that deserves to be told.

Here’s the bottom line:

So the next time you read something about your company’s competition in the newspaper, hear them interviewed on the radio, or see them on the evening news, don’t assume the reporter sought them out. It could have been the other way around.

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