The heart of the publicity process is the press release, a simple document (really!) that tells the media the story you want them to cover. You should send out a constant stream of press releases about everything that happens in and around your business. If you sponsor or participate in associations, clubs, or trade shows, you have an endless supply of topics. The same is true if you support any charities or worthwhile causes like disaster relief funds, local or national.
There are plenty of books with instructions and sample press releases at your local library, but if you consider writing a grammatically correct sentence similar to massaging your own forehead with a ball peen hammer, consider finding a freelancer to do the writing for you. For a surprisingly nominal fee, they’ll gather the information the release should contain, write the page or so of text, and put it in a format the media outlets can use. To find one, try posting a notice at your library, calling the English department at your community college, or checking with your chamber of commerce. You don’t need to make any long-term commitments, so try two or three different writers until you find somebody you can work with.
You can generally handle the distribution of the releases yourself. Once the writer gives you the copy, put it on your letterhead and send it to every media outlet you can think of. Again, your local library can help you find their addresses and contact information. The obvious ones include your local newspaper and radio stations, but don’t forget the broadcast and cable television outlets, too. You never know when they’re going to be in the market for a visual story featuring a snazzy product. There are also weekly papers and free tabloids as well as regional magazines, organization newsletters, and even websites and blogs devoted to local news in many communities. All of these outlets consume huge amounts of content, so they’re always looking for new sources of material.
Try not to limit your campaign to one type of news. Certain editors will be receptive to technical stories about new products and services, but business editors like to hear about expansion and hiring. Consumer affairs editors look for news that will help readers save money, while lifestyle editors want features about interesting people and their flashy lives. Every mention of your company’s name is a plus.
Another reason for you to distribute the releases (and to list yourself as the follow-up contact on the release), is that most reporters will call you to get more information to shape the piece to their specific readership. The electronic media will certainly call, because they’ll want a sound bite or video clip from you to go with the reporter’s story. Even if the media doesn’t pick up a particular story from your release, it may spark a related idea they want to pursue and they’re likely to turn to you as a source if they have your contact information on file.
When the media call, talk to them! They’re usually working against a deadline and can’t spend a lot of time waiting for you to return their calls. For the same reason, they also won’t take up a lot of your time.
Being a newsmaker does have its drawbacks. But dealing with paparazzi and signing autographs is a small price to pay for frequent press coverage that will help build your company’s business.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.