Getting media coverage used to be as simple as sending out a press release to a handful of journalists covering your industry. Today, journalists are inundated with hundreds of press releases every day from companies trying to secure those coveted media placements. Small businesses must think outside the box to make an impact and earn valuable media coverage. By flexing a few creative muscles, you don’t even have to spend a lot of money.
1. Put a new spin on old tricks. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but put a different spin on it. Karen Macumber, CEO of the Boston-based startup Lifeables, put a postcard on the windshield of a $25-million private plane as a twist on the old method of putting flyers on windshields of vehicles all over town.
The goal wasn’t to earn the business of the airplane owner, but to generate buzz and capture the media’s attention. So Macumber took a photo and shared it across her social media accounts, knowing that a follower she had from the Boston Globe would appreciate the crazy antic. Sure enough, he re-tweeted the photo to his 18,000 followers. Shortly after, Macumber had an interview request from the Boston Herald that resulted in an online feature and front-page coverage in the paper’s business section.
2. Send product-related packages and gifts. Sending journalists wacky gifts or memorable items relevant to your business makes it hard for them to forget about you. Jarrod Holland, who runs North Carolina-based PR firm Holland & Holland Public Relations, used this strategy for DryCASE, a vacuum-sealed, universal-fit case for smartphones that is clear enough to take photos and videos underwater.
Holland targeted journalists heading to a tradeshow the following week by sending an old, recycled cell phone soaked in sand and water overnight with a note saying, “Don’t let this happen to your smart phone,” and directions on locating the client’s booth at the trade show for a free DryCASE sample. The cost? Postage only.
3. Focus on building relationships first. One long-standing secret to generating press is having established relationships with journalists in your niche. DJD/Golden uses an annual reporters dinner on behalf of clients to build trust and generate interest. Marcia R. Golden, managing partner, says the event is very informal, and within a few minutes of starting the conversation with a simple question, pens and notepads are everywhere. “The purpose is to get our clients on each reporter's list of usual suspects —as trusted resources,” Golden says, “Stories result almost immediately after the dinner, and filter through the rest of the year.”
4. Get your products in the hands of celebrities. Celebrities are one group which seems to have no problem getting media attention—wanted or not. Mikey Rox, principal of the creative advertising and marketing agency Paper Rox Scissors, has earned his clients coverage by sending free products to celebrities for themselves or their children. Backpacks made by one of his clients have been worn by Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith.
5. Ditch the copy and use an infographic. Jennifer Davidson, director of operations and "Beer Diva" for SaveOnBrew, says her company uses infographics as a means to convey a lot of information in a visually appealing, easy-to-digest format. Not only do graphics get the point across in fewer words, but they earn more likes and shares across social media sites.
6. Play on current news. Tying your products or services in to current news and world events makes your company more relevant and gives journalists a two-for-one deal. Steve Turner of St. Louis-based PR firm Solomon/Turner created “Flu Buster” kits for his office equipment client OfficeWare (now Konica Minolta) at the height of the H1N1 scare.
Because common use of office equipment such as copiers is a common way to spread germs, it was a perfect value-added solution for customers. The kits included tissues, hand soaps and sanitizers, along with a label with tips on staying germ free. NBC Nightly News picked up the story, leading to further media coverage reaching a total of 12 million people.
7. Start a Facebook group to keep journalists informed. Mashable praises Patagonia’s unique approach to PR using a Facebook group exclusively to give journalists insider tips about company happenings. The article actually focuses on skipping the press release altogether, a strategy many companies have moved to. Instead of issuing a mass press release, publish your news on your company’s blog. You’d be surprised at the number of pickups a more casual approach to news can earn. This is something Google does regularly and well.
8. Use social media to find bloggers, writers and journalists with an interest in your niche. People love free stuff—even journalists. Twitter is a great resource for finding blog publishers, journalists and freelancers relevant to your industry. Rob Mitchell, president of Paperclip Robot uses a Twitter keyword search to find bloggers and writers who are having problems with an iPhone or iPad that his product, the BubCap home button cover, can remedy. He reaches out to those writers offering a solution, a tactic which has earned BubCap dozens of media mentions.
9. Get blog coverage by offering free products for reviews. These days, getting coverage on a blog with hundreds of thousands of followers can be just as valuable as traditional media coverage. Little Idea, an invention development company serving individuals and small businesses, garnered tons of blogger attention by creating a focus group to test and review a new product. The Elk, a stroller attachment designed to help parents exercise their arms while walking a baby, was so well-received by bloggers that they shared the product with their own networks and invited the company to attend related events.
10. Run a contest or promotion. Company promotions and contests are a viable way to earn media coverage thanks to the widespread use of social media. It’s easier to get your name out there when hundreds or thousands of social followers are talking about your business. Creating an event that gets people talking will naturally entice the media; they want to be covering what’s caught the social sphere by storm. New York City-based PR firm Affect created The New York Intern Project, a social media contest that successfully accomplished two goals: Finding great talent and earning media coverage.
If you want journalists to cover your story, you must stand out from the crowd. That means coming up with something unique and attention-grabbing. The bottom line? Use a no-holds-barred approach. Nothing is off limits in today’s cutthroat media world, as long as you’re not breaking any laws.
Read more marketing advice from OPEN Forum.
Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via Contently.com.
photo: Getty Images