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How to get free media coverage print Print

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Free publicity can be a valuable help in promoting your business image and boosting your sales. It involves developing the ability to spot an idea or opportunity and transform it into a newsworthy story or event. This guide offers you some tips on potentially newsworthy situations and some ideas on how you can exploit these opportunities.

Building a successful business involves raising your profile in the community. You can achieve this in a number of ways, often without any direct cost at all, except for your time and effort.

  

Become the authority

People prefer to deal with those they perceive as leaders in the field, so set about establishing yourself as the expert in your industry. You are sure to know more about your topic than the average person.

Whatever your industry, aim to get people to see you as the authority of it. If you sell cameras, they should want to come to your shop. If you are a human resources consultant, they should want your help with recruiting suitable staff.


Writing articles

An excellent way to achieve this is to write articles on your industry for publication. For example, if you are a photographer, you can write articles on the impact of digital photography. If you sell computers, you can write articles about the latest computer technology or how to combat viruses.

You'll probably have noticed that trade journals covering your industry often feature articles by 'leading figures'. If you feel that the trade journals are beyond your ability at this stage, build your confidence by submitting articles to local community newspapers first. These newspapers are often hungry for content and you may be offered a regular column.

If you lack writing skills, delegate this task to a staff member or try contacting a retired journalist or English teacher in your area. Find out if any educational institute near you offers journalism courses - these students might be keen to gain some work experience.


Giving informative talks

If you feel more comfortable talking than writing, then volunteer to talk to local organisations, such as Rotary, Lions and Zonta clubs. These organisations are always on the lookout for good speakers, and if your talk proves interesting you're likely to be referred on to other clubs.

If you're nervous about public speaking, then you can get help from communications courses at a local educational institute, organisations such as Dale Carnegie www.dalecarnegie.co.nz or Toastmasters International www.toastmasters.co.nz, or from a PR consultant. Most people who have undergone effective communications training report a very positive impact on themselves and their businesses.


Offering information packs

The contents of your talks and articles can be recycled into very effective free information packs that you can offer to prospective customers.

Always popular are 'How to' articles such as '10 tips to improve…', '7 ways you can get better results at…' or 'A beginner's guide to…'.

You can use these articles in many ways, including:

  • Incentives for people to come into your premises ('Collect your free guide to…').
  • Free extras with purchases (for example, buy a digital camera or power tool and get 'A beginner's guide to…').
  • Credibility building in direct marketing mail-outs ("Enclosed is a copy of my recent article, 'How to protect your computer from viruses' published in the Computer Gazette").
  • Reprints or photocopies of your articles in newspapers or trade magazines carry the extra credibility that comes from publication (but do get permission first).
     

Keep the advertising low-key

The golden rule is to keep the promotion of your business low-key.

You're unlikely to get invitations for articles or talks unless what you have to say is genuinely interesting and helpful. A brief mention of yourself and your business at the beginning or end of the talk is all you should expect - but this should be quite enough.

If people are interested and see you as the authority, they will seek you out. You can mention, however, that you have additional free material available.

For example, a human resources consultant could offer at the end of a talk to send an information pack on 'How to recruit the right people' or 'How to avoid a personal grievance claim' to those interested - an excellent way of gaining new prospects.

Rather than hand out free information packs at the end of the talk, gather business cards or address details instead so that you can add the names to your database of prospective customers and follow up the business opportunities properly.

 

Building media relationships

Gaining free publicity for your business also means getting the media to report on your business - usually through the local newspapers, but also national newspapers, TV and radio stations, trade journals and specialist publications. You must take the initiative. This is something that you have to work at, because it doesn't happen by itself.

Journalists and media people are always on the lookout for human interest stories for their publications, but again the key to success lies in recognising that they are not about to give your business free advertising.

The story will be rejected unless it is genuinely newsworthy.

Start by building a network of contacts in the news media. Make a list of all the media outlets you're interested in, ranging from community newspapers, radio and TV, through to regional and national media, and specialist trade publications.

Now establish a database of names and contacts for people who cover specific areas - for example, the business editor of your local newspaper. Your task is to develop a relationship with these people. It is far more effective to phone, fax or email a story to an actual person than to 'the editor'.

 

Creating newsworthy stories

Now search for newsworthy items that will get you free coverage. Potentially newsworthy stories are all around us - it's often just a question of looking at things differently. Here are some ideas:


New products or services

Are you a new or unique business in the area? Are you bringing out new products or services that are in any way unusual or of special benefit to the community?

For example, the owner of a computer shop might be able to offer special equipment to help the partially sighted or the disabled.

A hardware business might decide to break the 'gender stereotype' by running special DIY demo evenings for women who want to complete projects around the house, but have been frustrated by their lack of DIY skills in this traditionally male area.


Community involvement

Community involvement can also be a great source of news. Think of sponsoring a local sports team (you could share the cost with other businesses), a local activity (such as cleaning up a park or beach), or getting involved in projects to improve the community. For example, a hardware store shop owner could donate paint and organise a work party to spruce up a community hall.

Can you help schools, rest homes, or the needy with supplies or services? Do you hear any requests on the radio that you can help with? Mention of your business on the radio can have a very positive impact.


Working with charities

You can also gain a higher profile by establishing a working relationship with a charity. For example, offer your business as a collection point for donations, or help sell tickets, or donate a portion of each sale to a charity. Charities typically have strong networks and databases of donors, so the relationship can work well for both parties.


Staff news

When you employ a new person, tell the press and send in a photo. If your business is growing strongly and taking on staff, tell the media: this is good news for the community. Have any employees been given awards? What have you yourself done that could be seen as newsworthy? Any awards, seminars, guest speaker roles, etc.?


Business changes

Are you increasing (or decreasing) the size of your business? Are you celebrating an opening, or some anniversary? Are you bringing in new product lines, or providing new services? Any statistics or surveys you can quote or provide about business or other changes in your area can often be worked up into interesting stories.


Customer news

Have you had any celebrity customers? Have your services or products helped customers out of a tricky situation? Have you been asked to do anything unusual?


Creating your own news

If newsworthy items are looking a bit thin on the ground, you could try to create your own news. For example:

Hold a special event. Hold an open evening for the public at your business (even if you are a manufacturer). Show people what you do, give balloons to the children and refreshments to the parents. If you're a retailer, offer special deals or give updates on new products or services.

Provide free education or training. For example, florists could offer free lessons in flower arranging, photo stores could give free photography lessons, and so on.

 

How to inform the media

The best way to inform the media is via a phone call followed up by a fact sheet or press release. Remember the cardinal rule: you must come up with a strong storyline. Persistence also pays off - you will learn more as you go on about what different media are looking for.


The phone call

Jot down the main details of your story on a piece of paper, then call the right person for your topic. Tell them immediately that you have a story you believe people will want to read or hear. Outline the story, ask if they have any questions, and conclude by thanking them for their time.

Once you've finished the phone call, fax or email all the details of your story to the person you spoke with. Enclose quality photographs or graphic material if possible, and follow up two or three days later.


The fact sheet or press release

A fact sheet or press release simply outlines on paper the main points of your story. You can follow the time-honoured guidelines of who, what, when, where and why. Who are you, what do you do (or did you do, or will you do), when do you do it, where do you do it and why is it a story?

Choose the most interesting headline you can think of, then outline the main story theme in bold in a first short paragraph. Work down from most important to the less important, because if the editor is going to do any trimming, it is usually from the bottom up.

Use direct quotes from people if possible ('Susan Brown commented: "This is the first time…"') because they make more impact. If you've never prepared a fact sheet or press release before, get some help and/or study stories in a newspaper to learn how they are structured.

Make sure you include a date, the writer's name, further contact details and a release date (if necessary). This should be before the story has gone cold, but give enough time for the reporter to get the story out: a few weeks should be enough.

  

Summary

The possibilities for free publicity are endless and with time you'll become more expert at spotting and successfully exploiting opportunities. Free publicity offers an excellent way of raising the profile of your business and increasing trade.

  

Further information:

To talk to an ANZ Business Specialist:
Call 0800 269 249
Visit anz.co.nz/business
Visit your nearest ANZ branch

          

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