When clients hire us to promote their business, they usually have the idea that we’ll be able to convince not only the local newspaper, but also the New York Times and USA Today that their small business is worthy of a 20-inch feature on a section front with several nice, big pictures.
They think that a PR firm can pull magic strings or wine and dine the right people, and suddenly the client will become media darlings. I’m sorry to disillusion you, but it just ain’t so.
The power of PR firms boils down to knowing how to find, develop and pitch a story. It doesn’t hurt to know who to call and to have a relationship with the reporter on the other end of the line, but by far, the most important aspect is the story itself. And seldom will that be a straight feature about the business itself, unless your business is highly unusual or has done something phenomenal.
That doesn’t mean that your “Joe the Plumber” business can’t get ink – on the contrary. You just need an angle. By angle I mean a unique point of view from which to tell the story.
Don’t think about what you would like to see in the media but rather what would be relevant to the media’s audience. Will your story entertain? Enlighten? Educate?
When you consider a story topic, ask yourself, “so what?” “Why would anyone care?” “What is the take-away?” If your idea is nothing more than a puff-piece that makes you look good, unless you’re Bradgelina, it’s a dog.
Look at your business from all sides. Break it down into components, as though you were taking apart a car, piece by piece. Examine every possibility. Often the most interesting stories are in the details rather than in the big picture.
Conduct a media audit, or survey, of all aspects of your business, making a list of ideas that you generate from the following possibilities:
Your employees – With small business, you can talk to each employee. Find out what your employees’ interests are outside the business. Do they have unique hobbies or volunteer activities? Did they do something noteworthy in the past? Has an employee won an award? Been promoted? Gotten into the Guinness Book of World Records for making the longest chewing gum wrapper chain? Regardless of the story, you can link it back to your business because the employee works for you.
Your customers – If yours is a high-touch business that impacts people’s lives, there are often great stories that show how your product or service changed their circumstances or made their lives better. If yours is a business related to health, education, or other human service industry, it’s a natural for this type of story, but there are many others, as well.
Your industry – Are there trends going on that are making national news? Whether they are positive, negative or just interesting, they provide you an opportunity to become a resource for the media and to enhance your visibility. When the housing market crashed, the media looked for experts in real estate, mortgages, finance and related businesses to comment on aspects of the crisis on both a national and local basis.
Your products and services – Is there something new or different about what you do? Is your product being used in a new way? Have you made an old product – such as the upsurge in popularity in black-and-white Converse tennis shoes – suddenly cool again? Be honest – everyone likes to think that what they do is unique, but few really are.
Your business processes – Have you developed a cutting-edge method for production, or are you making your products the old-fashioned way like your grandparents did? Are you marketing your products in a unique way?
Yourself – Have you won an award? Gotten elected to a position in an organization? Accepted a volunteer appointment? Are you making a speech? Running for public office? Earned a degree? Won a new client? What professional advice can you provide? How can you use that in a story?
There are a million stories in the Naked City – look for them!
(Next: What to do with your great stories once you identify them.)
Photo by umjanedoan.