In school, I studied traditional public relations. I never really expected to be on the other side of the equation, but through an obnoxious number of tweets about the Indianapolis arts scene and sheer dumb luck, I somehow became a contributor to the Indianapolis Star. Most weeks I’ll submit an article or two on everything from zombie simulations to high-falutin’ classical music concerts. Usually I’m working with non-profits and small arts organizations, but being on the reporter side of the desk has taught me a few things about how to help everyone tell their story, including small businesses.
The first and most critical step is to make yourself accessible. This means you need a website, even if it’s a cheap freebie hosted on WordPress.com. Throw something up with basic information and, more importantly, contact information. Preferably, multiple forms. If you truly want media coverage, include a phone number. If you’re a volunteer organization and don’t have someone manning the phones during regular business hours, connect it to a free Google Voice account and forward it to someone’s cell phone. But have a way to get in touch with you quickly. You never know when your reporter is working on assignment and needs to talk to you pronto. But in case he or she has more lead time, also have an email address or a contact us form. The more specific you can get, the better–I love being able to find exactly the person I need from an online directory so I have a direct line of communication to the right person. And for the love of Pete, check that email address regularly.
Having that email address is so important because increasingly, the people writing articles aren’t full-time journalists. Instead, like me, they’re people with regular day jobs who fit in interviews when they can. Being able to schedule them is tremendously important.
Next, make your voice heard. If you truly and genuinely have an interesting event–no, your anniversary party or open house probably doesn’t count–the media genuinely wants to know about it. Take some time to research your media target’s staff and find out who’s written articles about similar events in the past. Then reach out to them or to the editor of the section. Do not carpet bomb your request to everyone at the outlet, or you will wind up in purgatory forever and ever, amen.
Finally, be ready. If you believe you’ve got a good chance at having news coverage, prepare a few talking points. But mostly, follow your passion. Nothing makes for a better article than talking to someone who is so excited about their product or event that they can’t stand it and have to tell you everything. Tell me why you care so deeply about what you’re doing. Chances are, other people will catch your enthusiasm, too.
Talking to the media shouldn’t be intimidating. Just do a bit of prep work online, with your press release and with your staff, and you’ll be good to go.