As a business keen on pulling in as much income as possible, you have to realise that there are three parts of an equation to deal with when you make the effort to get your name, offer and ethos in front of the maximum number of prospective customers. These constituent parts are you, the public and a vehicle of communication, and that vehicle generally takes the form of a PR company, a journalist, or the two working together. All too often, the approach which businesses take to PR is to view it as, at best, a necessary evil, particularly when compared with the day to day details which comprise running the business. This is particularly true of smaller businesses which the owners have created and developed from scratch – as the ultimate expert in your business it might strike you that what you do, how you do it, and the factors which make you better than your competitors are blindingly obvious, but the public in general, the people you need to sell to, will generally be completely unaware of these facts. That’s why you need someone to shape your business into a story which people will want to hear and respond to, and it’s why building a genuine relationship with the people who can perform this invaluable task is something which is bound to pay dividends.
‘Developing a relationship’ is the key phrase there. Many businesses seem to think that ‘working with journalists’ involves dropping them a note when there’s a new product or service to sell and hoping they can persuade media outlets to publicise the details. To work properly, however, it should be a two way process in which you provide the journalist with as many details as possible and allow them time to shape this into a story, and this should take place upon a foundation of them fully understanding the workings of your business. By working closely with a chosen journalist and making them a part of what you do rather than a contactor you call upon sporadically, you’ll achieve the dual aim of investing them in your success and setting yourself up as their ‘go to’ expert in your particular field.
Their objectivity is also to be valued and encouraged. No matter how much your chosen journalist learns about your business, the chances are that they will still ask the kind of questions and experience the kind of doubts that echo those of the wider public. For your own part, taking a step back and thinking in detail about what you do and how and why you do it, will require an effort whereas, for a journalist you’re working alongside, it will be the default position, both personally and professionally.
In practical terms, the most difficult part of this entire process can often be making that initial contact. If you’re contacting a larger media organisation then try to do so via a single individual. Any email sent to a general address (i.e. information@) is likely to be lost in the daily deluge, whereas an individual, keen to find the next thing to write about, is much more likely to take the time to at least initiate a dialogue. Look at the content of a newspaper, for example, or a website or other broadcasting platform and pick the person who you think is most closely aligned with what you do. It may be that their writing style fits the image of your business which you want to portray, or perhaps they just happen to have shown an interest in the field in which you work. If you can, find a reason for making the contact at the time you’re making it – a topical tie-in with the work you do, or a new product or service which the world simply has to hear about – and make that reason the headline of your initial contact. Backing up your contact with more information is useful, particularly if that information takes the form of images, statistics or even, if practical, a sample of what you do. In simple terms the initial contact has to make you stand out from the crowd, has to relate what you do to what the journalist wants to write about and has to do so quickly and succinctly. Don’t worry that you have to write too much – creating the article is the journalist’s job after all – just enough to pique their interest. Contacting via email can often be less stressful, in that it allows you to hone exactly what you want to say before sending it, whereas a personal phone call is something which some people might find too nerve wracking a prospect. Once you’ve laid out the basic parameters of what you’re looking for via email, then any subsequent conversations should be much simpler and less stressful – the journalist already knows who you are and what you’re looking for and will be prepared with questions of their own.
Ultimately, the task of presenting your business to the wider world is one which is too important to be left to the occasional unsolicited press release. By making PR a core part of your business, building genuine relationships with the right journalists, you’ll be reaching out to your targeted markets in a consistent and focused manner.
What’s been your experience of dealing with journalists? Let me know. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org