I’m often asked to write about small businesses but I’m amazed at the contrast between those who are media savvy and ready for a journalist’s call and those who miss out on free coverage because they’re ill-prepared.
The very best are ahead of the game, they’re already using Twitter and Facebook and blogging, letting people know what they do on a regular basis. They’re not chatting inanely or describing their lunch – though this too could prove riveting if they’re a food producer – but even a few lines describing what’s planned for the day can be interesting and build up a loyal following. One of the very best proponents I’ve come across is Sarah Pettegree of Bray’s Cottage pork pies.
The worst, sad to say, don’t answer their telephone or pick up messages or they make it clear they’re uncomfortable talking to the press even when I do get through. I’ve written food articles for a coffee table book, for handbooks, magazines and guides, I’ve written business articles for newspapers and produced online features. I know, it’s the tail end of the holidays and everyone deserves a break from their year-round job, but tailor-made marketing opportunities to targeted audiences don’t land in your lap every day – and a piece of well-written editorial in a well-read publication can represent the equivalent of hundreds of pounds-worth of advertising.
So here are my thoughts about how to claim your free coverage and make sure you don’t miss out when a chance arises.
- Check your voicemail regularly and call back promptly if you want to be included in a feature. Journalists on daily papers often work to the tightest deadlines and will swiftly move on if you don’t get back to them. If you’re helpful and co-operative you could be top of their list next time they need a quick response.
- Get a website set up – even if it’s just a front page. Make sure it’s optimised for search engines – it can make the difference between someone finding you and being able to contact you – or not. Don’t let your domain name expire – it’s so frustrating to be directed to a site, only to find nothing there.
- Commission a good photographer to take pictures of your products and key members of your staff and/or family – including you. Make sure the photographer knows you want permissions to use the results for all your marketing and media purposes. Get a shot of your shopfront or premises as well. If your budget is too tight for professional images get a relative, friend or employee with a good eye to do the honours. A picture provides a focal point for an article – and if your product (or your face) is featured it will be the visual prompt to the reader who wants to buy.
- Learn how to attach images to an email at maximum resolution (you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to do this, which always gives me a sinking feeling as I attempt an over-the-phone instant lesson).
- Consider starting a blog, using Twitter and/or facebook. Keep this going with regular updates.
- Nominate a family or staff member who’s both knowledgeable and comfortable when talking to the press if you don’t like promoting your own business.
- Ask a specialist marketing company to do the job for you for an annual fee. The best are worth their cost several times over.
- Do all of the above and you’ll become known as the first port of call to media circles when they want to talk to someone about your line of business.