Media relations: a proven tool

Ask most operators today how they can build their business and they are likely to mention direct mail and advertising. And while these are both useful and important elements in a comprehensive marketing program, they miss one of the most valuable — and cost effective — tools available to anyone: media relations.

By simply investing some time researching media that reaches your potential customers and working to educate the reporters and editors about you and your business, you can benefit from media coverage that introduces your company to countless potential new customers, all for free. And once you understand how media relations works, you can make it work for you.

For many, the arena of media relations is somewhat murky, but in the end, it’s a very simple process that can deliver powerful results in terms of educating potential customers about your services or products in a uniquely credible way.

NEW PRODUCTS ARE NEWSWORTHY

For example, imagine you are an OCS operator, and you’ve just added a new line of antioxidant infused teas. With just a few simple steps, you could generate media coverage in a variety of outlets that showcases your company and announces the new line of teas.

Then imagine the value of that article should a decision maker who is unhappy with his or her existing coffee service provider read the article and call you to find out more about the new offerings and your company in general.

A successful media relations campaign is easy and inexpensive, but can deliver powerful results. It’s a valuable investment of time considering that on any given day one television program alone will reach tens of thousands of consumers who will all hear your message.

Similarly, one newspaper may be read by hundreds of thousands of subscribers who all may think differently about their vending or coffee service providers if they see or hear news from your company.

Step one: create a media list

To launch your own media relations campaign, the first step is to create a media list, and the easiest way to begin is by thinking about your company’s sales prospect list. The idea is to first think of different traits characterizing your potential customers, and second, to identify media outlets that will reach those potential accounts.

Specifically, when your sales department is identifying prospects, what categories do they consider? Are they most interested in specific industries, such as hospitals, elderly care facilities or even health care in general?

Or is the location of a business one of the most important factors? When qualifying new prospects, are your sales people interested in the title of a decision maker, such as Human Resource Director?

EVERY INDUSTRY HAS TRADE PRESS

This can be important, because just as we in the vending, OCS and foodservice industries rely on publications such as this one for information about our industry, virtually every other industry has similar publications targeted to that particular topic.

So, if your company is interested in acquiring new hospital accounts, for example, you would want to be sure to consider publications that report on hospitals, and possibly even health care in general.

Consider locations, too. Is there a specific area of town where the business population better matches your target client list? If so, you’ll want to make sure that all the media outlets that cover that particular geographic area are included.

Simple Google searches can help you identify media outlets both in your home town and those that report on specific industries or topics that you might want to consider, although media lists or databases with more detailed information can be purchased as well.

IDENTIFY YOUR KEY CONTACTS

Once you have thought through where your target customers are likely to see or hear your message, the next step is to create a list of reporters at those media outlets.

As you probably know, different reporters cover stories from a different angle, depending on their role in the media outlet.

For example, a society editor would probably cover a celebrity wedding by discussing the fashions of the bridal party and color of the flowers. A business reporter, on the other hand, might cover the same event by discussing the revenue the event generated for the community or the number of jobs it created.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON THE MEDIA

To help you with this process, review several issues of the media outlet you are considering, identifying stories and the corresponding reporters that you think might fit into the type of story you would like to create. Then take careful note of who those reporters are, and collect his or her contact information.

Most media outlets have this information easily identifiable on their Website. In fact, when you are reading a particular story, many media outlets provide all of the reporter’s contact information when you click on their byline at the beginning of the article.

To ensure accuracy in the story, you’ll want to prepare a press release or other short document that catches the attention of the reporter and includes all the details of the story you are considering.

Reporters typically work on any number of stories and frequently produce them under tight deadlines, which means they may only glance at your press release for a moment or two. They also receive countless press releases just like yours, so try to think of a way to make your story stand out, or convey immediately why it is of interest to them specifically.

In addition, they are not experts on everything, and most particularly they are not experts on you and your business, which is why it is critical that you provide them with as many details as possible.

IDENTIFY THE NEWS ‘HOOK’

To help capture the reporter’s interest as he or she reads your release, consider which aspect of your story would be most appealing to the media outlet or reporter where you are sending it.

Imagine, for example, that you are a representative of the ABC Vending Co., and your sales are exploding thanks to the new antioxidant tea your company began selling recently. The story might be presented in two different ways.

The version presented to the lifestyle section of the newspaper might read:

“New Beverage Craze Sweeping the City: ABC Vending Says New Flavored Teas Flying Off the Shelves.”

The version presented to the business section might read:

“ABC Vending Co. Opens New Warehouse: Says Space Needed to Handle Popularity of New Flavored Teas.”

Why is this distinction important? Because the reporters, who are always very busy, will be interested in how your story line applies to them.

If, for example, you were to call up the national news section of the newspaper and encourage them to write a story about your company, unless you truly have astonishing news to announce, the effort would most likely fail.

Even worse, you could potentially irritate the reporter who may not be interested in working with you in the future because he or she is afraid you will only waste their time.

If, however, you were to make the same effort with the local news editor, there is a much better chance that you would succeed because the local editor reports on local events, which means he or she is looking for a local story like yours.

The most important point to take away from this distinction is to make sure you are presenting your story in a way that highlights how easily it fits into their section of the media outlet.

Once you have finished your press release, the next step is to send it out to your target contacts, but you’re not finished yet. The next step — and arguably the most important one — is following up with the reporter to ensure he or she received your information, and, at the same time, essentially selling them on you and/or your company in the process.

PERSONAL APPROACH IS NECESSARY

No one especially likes making cold calls such as these, and many are tempted to skip this step. But it is one of the most crucial elements in any successful media relations campaign, because without the personal contact, your press release may very well end up in the reporter’s junk email file.

In addition, as you repeatedly contact reporters on your list, you will be building relationships so that the follow up calls will become easier and easier. Even better, as your relationship with reporters unfolds, they very well may call you to help them with a story on a related topic.

Successfully reaching reporters to discuss your story can be difficult because they are so busy, and, on top of that, they typically receive dozens of calls — hundreds in some markets — from people just like you looking to generate media coverage, so you’ll need to be diligent.

In addition, frequently reporters are working to file stories on very tight deadlines. Reporters are very stressed when a deadline is looming, and trying to convince them to talk with you when they are “working on deadline” is not only ineffective, it is potentially damaging.

When you call a reporter for any reason at all, as soon as they answer the phone, quickly introduce yourself and then immediately ask if they are working on a deadline or if they have a few moments to talk.

Meeting with reporters face-to-face can also be very valuable. When you are making your follow-up calls, you might introduce yourself to the reporter and invite him or her to lunch so you can tell them more about your business and services.

You should view the meeting strictly as an opportunity for you and the reporter to get to know each other better; but frequently, if handled well, the meeting can result in an article about you and or your company.

STAY ABREAST OF CURRENT EVENTS

Inserting yourself into existing media coverage is one of the easiest ways to generate media coverage, so if there’s a story in the local paper, on the local television news program or even circulating in a national debate that applies somehow to you, tying yourself to the story could deliver exceptional results.

Once you have the meeting, you’ll want to think carefully about the messages you will be delivering and the topics you will want to cover.

Essentially, you should imagine you are already reading the story in the target publication. As you are imagining reading the article, what, exactly, would you like to be reading? Information about you and your company?

Special products and services that your company offers?

Once you have thought this through, your challenge will be to make sure that you make these points to ensure that they actually end up in the article. If you don’t actually say the points that you’d like to read in the story, there’s virtually no chance they will actually be included.

Next, think carefully about the materials you will want to share with the reporter during your meeting. Specifically, you might consider bringing materials like the ones you use in your new business presentations, making sure they explain all the messages that you think are important about you, your company and your services.

HAVE YOUR INFORMATION ORGANIZED

Providing comprehensive information about your company to the reporter is important to ensure accuracy. As mentioned earlier, reporters cover any number of individuals, companies and stories every day, and frequently they don’t have very much time for research and verification.

When you provide them with information that can help them write their story, not only will they be appreciative of your help, but there is a better chance the story will be accurate as well.

BE READY FOR REPORTERS’ QUESTIONS

Finally, think about whether there are any questions that the reporter might ask that make you uncomfortable. If so, write down these questions and decide now how you would answer them.

The time to decide how to answer a potentially difficult question is before the interview, not when the reporter is looking at you expectantly.

Now that you have a basic idea about how media relations works, you may be wondering what stories you could generate about your company, so here are a few to consider:

- When you open your business.
- When you hire someone.
- When you have an opinion about something that you read in the paper or heard on the news.
- When your company offers a new product or service. (For example, if your company offers a health and wellness program, you might consider sending out a press release about it. Many employers are interested in integrating health and wellness into their vending program but have no idea how to go about it. If they read or hear something about your company’s offering, they may very well contact you about introducing the program to their workplace.)

- When you acquire a new customer.
- When you open a new location.
- When you or your company makes a donation to a charity.

The last thing you need to know about media relations is that unlike advertising, where you control everything from the message to the date the ad appears, media relations is completely unpredictable.

Your work with reporters could result in a story the next day, the next month or even the next year. It could also result in the biggest new account your company has ever landed, thanks to an article someone read in your local newspaper.

Looking back, you might decide that thanks to your media relations program, it was the easiest account you ever won.

When working with the media, know their needs

Media outlets are always looking for new stories. In every community, there are general interest publications and specialized media outlets. In approaching a news director or reporter, it helps to know who their target reader is. For example:

* The business section in the local newspaper and a local magazine dedicated specifically to business will both be interested in how your company affects or is affected by business and economic issues.

* The health reporter for the local newspaper and a local magazine focusing on wellness will both be interested in your firm’s health and wellness program.

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