Getting Featured by the Local Press: how, why, and what does it matter?

When businesses are trying to get off the ground, every single bit of exposure helps.   Sometimes it can feel uncomfortable or even impossible to try and ask people to tell their friends about your new business.  It feels like begging them to come shop or find a way to need what you’re offering.  And on top of that, word of mouth just isn’t that fast all the time.

Since its inception, social media has become a very hands-off, non-threatening way to mass advertise that you’ve started a new venture and to tell people what you’re all about.  But sometimes, the most obvious way gets overlooked.  Maybe you think newspapers are old-fashioned or who really watches the news anymore?  But you’d be wrong (or mistaken). 

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Here’s the reality: news outlets want more stories of small businesses opening in the area.  It helps to have more options in a community and encourages growth.  But there is a proper way to introduce yourself to the press.  So, let’s talk about how you can get noticed, tips for being professional, and all you need to know about press releases.

HOW TO GET NOTICED

For some, this may be the difficult part (for others not so much.. I’m looking at you, Justin!).  Not everyone likes being the center of attention, but if no one knows about your new business you won’t be around for very long.  Maybe you can join forces with someone who doesn’t mind shaking the hands and talking everyone’s ears off, while you focus on the nitty-gritty of running things behind the scenes.  So, here are some effective ways to get noticed by your community (and the local press).

Build Relationships

It should go without saying, but people with whom you have relationships will likely be the first through your door just out of kindness and wishing to be an encouragement.  But how do you not rely solely on them and create new relationships as well?

If you create a social media business account, you can reach out to your friends IRL (for the cool kids, that means In Real Life) and ask them to share with their friend groups.  The more they interact with you online and share your content (which you’d have to supply… so check out “How to Write…Period”) the more notice you’ll get for your business.  In addition, you can reach out to your local newspaper or news station and connect with them by interacting with their articles and sharing them on your social media account (if they’re relevant, of course).  If you share their work and let them know about it,  they will be far more likely to connect with your small business in a positive way.

Be timely

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As with anything, success very often doesn’t happen simply with hard work.  There is an element of luck, as well as watching trends and jumping on things almost before they boom so you have a leg up on the competition.  Find a way to capitalize on trending news within your industry.  Think of it like Fashion Week… you’re dictating what’s going to become popular (or at least you’re very opinionated about what is trending).  It almost doesn’t matter if you disagree… it’s about making your voice heard.  Here are some ideas for you to consider jumping in on the conversation:

  • Create or participate in unique “holidays” (national pizza day, honesty day, etc.)
  • Track hashtags on Twitter and Google Plus to see what’s trending
  • Read the paper for local events and strategically invite another business to  partner with you so you can create a cohesive representation and get featured together
  • Keep an eye on your local and state government since any changes to the law is great fodder for your “opinion” pieces

You don’t have to be a trend-setter, it’s about engaging your audience.  Find what interests them about your industry and insert yourself into the conversation.

Be Authoritative

I’m referring to being a reliable source of information to the media.  You should be the highest-ranking opinion when it comes to topics in your industry.  Not only should you have the most current information, but your opinion about various changes within the industry is exactly what the media will want to cover since you’re working on the “front lines.”  Make sure you take time to speak with a reporter and only give the absolute facts.  This will help in building a strong relationship and may even lead to getting prominently featured in the future.

Be Involved

Get community loyalty on your side by sponsoring kids at a local school or charity event, advertising for a personal start-up business (not direct competition, of course), or even putting on a seasonal event.  Find ways to prominently display your business’ involvement in functions that bring the community together and you will likely get featured on the news as well.

Support the Local News

Let me just say, you should embrace bribery… the media certainly does.  Offer your product or service for free (or greatly discounted) in order to get featured.  It may start with a simple on-air “thank you,” but over time you’ll inevitably build the necessary relationships.  Everyone likes being offered free stuff, so have no shame and take the feature story.

Share your news

If you’ve got news, you need to share it.  Don’t just share it with your friends or spouse (not that they’re not important, but….), seek out important people who can actually create buzz around your news.  Practice pitching exciting news.  Don’t worry if you’re late to the party, the local press will still want to hear about it (even if they didn’t get invited).

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TIPS FOR BEING PROFESSIONAL

Show Your Uniqueness

The media is always out searching for that big story or brand new information… and it could be about you!  Find something you’ve developed or a trademark service with awesome claims (like Sparrow’s “Live in 5” motto) to catch their attention.  You want to stand out from the crowd because every industry has its own multitude in which to blend.

Capitalize on your differences and make sure you can explain it clearly.  Not everyone is going to automatically get the nuances of your trade and how you’re different unless you show them. 

Stay Away from Industry Terminology (like the plague)

No matter where you work or what industry you’re in, there will be a special language for those involved.  It’s normal.  But, because that is a perspective known only by those who work in the industry, no one else will understand. Even if they’re normal words, they will have a different implication.  So when you’re communicating with a journalist, make sure you use plain language and explain everything you mean with non-technical words.

Use Bullet Points

When trying to make a pitch (or even a blog post or a letter with lots of information), using bullet points or steps (#1, #2, #….) keeps things digestible for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to sift through paragraphs of text.  Make things factual and in short bursts so it can be skimmed easily.

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Don’t Be Obnoxious

As with all of Sparrow’s advice for connecting with other bloggers and people within your industry, it is important to remember that they are people, too.  It really does matter that you don’t spam them (treat others how you’d like to be treated…. Umhmm, yeah…that).  If they don’t respond to your pitch the first time, you can send one reminder or follow-up email… but after that, you’re done.

Provide Unique Research

The media is in the business of reporting facts, so they are always on the lookout for quality information and statistics that are verifiable and accurate.  If, in the course of your business, you have collected data or have unique observations about various aspects of your industry, you’ve got the perfect excuse to corner the market on being the reliable “numbers guy.”  Sharing your information in a regularly issued press release will create scads of contacts who rely on your knowledge and will happily spread your business name around as an authoritative source and quality company.

Create a “Complete” Press Release

As a business owner, knowing how to write a press release is an important part of sharing information.  It’s going to be a summary of newsworthy information.  It’s meant to be in capsule form so that journalists can use that brief document to create an article or cover whatever it is you’re announcing.  You want it to be short, but not incomplete.  A press release should have any or all of these:

  • your company logo
  • product images you’re revealing
  • headshots of your team
  • videos
  • links to demos or free trials you’re advertising
  • social media links to your business pages
  • facts and figures about your company (serving ____ customers since 2020)
  • ideal market and audience
  • location of your offices

Again, a press release isn’t meant to be a book of information, but there is a way to be thorough without leaving out important information.  The more complete your press release, the more likely you are to get media coverage.

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Give a Shout-Out

It is an understood rule of business that when someone creates something unique, they want it (and themselves) to be recognized.  The same goes for your local press and media.  When you’ve been featured on the news or in print, make sure you share their content.  It not only helps legitimize your business, but it also gives them the recognition they deserve for their job and can even influence future stories. 

Be Useful (and Relevant)

If you’ve gotten your coverage from a particular news outlet or reporter, make sure you stay in touch.  You can occasionally email them with updates about your business and offer your services for information should they need you. It not only serves you well in the long term, but they also enjoy knowing they possess a reliable source of information within your specific industry.

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