How Will the Media Portray You?

Article by C.J. HaydenWouldn’t it be great to get your business in the news? Of course, you’d like to make sure it’s portrayed positively. How can you ensure that the media coverage you get showcases your business in the way that you want?

Unfortunately, you can’t. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and web-based media all have one thing in common. Their goal is to please their audiences, not to keep the good will of the people and businesses they choose to cover. If you can provide them with an interesting story that is unbiased, informative, and entertaining, it’s possible that they may present it virtually unchanged. But you also run the risk that they will put their own spin on what you communicate.

Reporters, editors, and producers often want more than one source for a story, so they may interview your competitors or others with an opposing point of view. If they like what these others have to say more than what you have presented, the resulting feature may turn out to showcase someone else! The author of the piece will also have his or her own point of view about what you are doing, which may not agree with your perspective at all.

The first step to getting accurate media coverage is to write a news release or pitch letter presenting your desired story. Picking the right story to create a release around is crucial. In order for the media to be interested, the information in your release must be truly newsworthy, or have broad appeal to their intended audience. The larger the audience of a particular media outlet is, the harder it will be to attract their attention.

In a small community, offering a new workshop to the public might be enough to get you in the local paper or on the radio. To get coverage from the daily newspaper or evening news in a large city, however, you’ll need to announce something more significant. It can help to tie what your business does to some major trend, recent news, or an upcoming holiday or event. With magazines and on the Internet, your story’s direct appeal to the niche audience a particular outlet serves is the key to attract editors.

You’ll need to send your release, along with any supporting material, to the editors and producers of the departments, features, or programs that specialize in the kind of story you are presenting. You can create your own media list by researching the media outlets you want to reach, or you can purchase lists and directories from companies like Cision or Gebbie Press.

After sending your release, follow up with a phone call, and be prepared to pitch your story verbally. Be sure you have an answer to the question, “Why will this story interest our audience?” The larger the outlet you approach, the less likely it is that the journalist or editor will take your call. That’s why it’s essential that you prepare a targeted, well-written release in the first place.

For help in writing, packaging, and following up on your release or pitch letter, you’ll need a good publicity guide. Two I would recommend for professionals and consultants are:
Get Slightly Famous by Steven Van Yoder
Sell Yourself without Selling Your Soul by Susan Harrow

These books will also help you to prepare for giving a media interview. The words you use to answer a journalist’s questions, your ease in answering questions briefly and quickly, and your ability to steer the interview in a favorable direction will all affect how well the finished piece reflects your views.

If concerns about how the media might portray your business make you think twice about approaching them as an interview subject, there are two alternatives to consider. The first is paid advertising. While it doesn’t carry the credibility of editorial coverage, it is one sure way to put your message out exactly as you wish your potential customers to see it. Of course, this can come with a high price tag.

With newspapers, magazines, and the web, however, a less costly and often more effective alternative is to approach the media as a writer, rather than as a business seeking publicity. If you can write an article about your area of expertise that will interest an editor, you may be able to get the exposure and credibility boost you are wanting without paying for it. You might even get paid to write the article.

Be aware though, that publications won’t be interested in a self-serving article. You must educate or entertain their readers in such a way that the showcasing of your products and services is secondary. Study the style of the articles in publications that interest you, and see if you can duplicate it. If this mode of writing isn’t your strong point, consider hiring a ghostwriter to produce a saleable article under your byline.

Many people believe that any kind of publicity is good for business, but it’s not always the case. If a media story about your business turns out to be not so complimentary, don’t despair. You can still turn it to your advantage by excerpting any positive comments from within the story for use in your future marketing.

Letting people know that your business has been featured in the media will add to your professional credibility, and most prospective clients will never have seen the original story. Mentioning a prior media appearance will also increase the likelihood that other media outlets will become interested in your story. Then you’ll have another chance to get it right.

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