Wouldn't you like to see your company in the newspaper? Or an article about your store's grand opening on the evening news? Getting a story about your business in the newspaper or on TV can be more powerful than a paid advertisement, and it's seemingly free!

But if you'd like to see your name in print or on the tube, so would a lot of other business owners. Every week, I receive stacks of press releases announcing new products, new companies, or pitching stories for me to cover. With so much competition for reporters' attention, how do you make your story stand out?

I'll give you some inside hints on increasing your chances of publicity -- if you promise not to tell my fellow journalists I'm spilling the beans.

First, it's easiest for a reporter if you do a lot of the work. Most people in the media are overworked. The more details you provide, the easier it is for the media to craft a story about you, and the better your chances of getting publicity.

Most important, of course, you must have something the readers, listeners, or viewers of a media outlet will find interesting. Sure, you think it's important you've promoted Ann Wong to vice president, but why would others care? Is she the first woman/minority/disabled person to reach this level? Is she only 17 years old?

What you need is a "hook." A hook is an aspect of your story that "hooks" readers in -- the thing that makes your news compelling. Some stories, of course, are naturally compelling: a closely contested election, a hot sports contest, a cool new consumer product. But let's face it -- most of us who run small businesses don't have stories that are naturally gripping.

Instead, we have to find an angle to give to reporters showing that our story is timely, amusing, informative. One easy way is to tie your story to outside events that generate their own publicity, such as holidays, local celebrations, sporting events, or new legislation. Reporters always need timely tie-ins.

Here are other tips to help get your name in the paper:

  • Be creative. Reporters are tired of seeing the same old kinds of stories. The offbeat and unusual grab attention. If you're not creative, sometimes just a little "twist" on a story is enough: an accountant who sends out a list of the 10 worst tax deductions instead of the 10 best.
  • Be visual. Television, in particular, needs visually stimulating stories, but having a good photo opportunity also increases your chance of making it into the newspaper. Find ways to make your story visual, like the pet store that holds an Easter parade with pets in Easter bonnets. It's on TV every year!
  • Work with others. Leverage the power of other organizations to gain visibility; consider unlikely coalitions, not just similar interest groups.
  • Become the "expert." Reporters need reliable sources they can turn to quickly. Provide trustworthy, objective information, preferably with statistics. And stay in touch regularly.
  • Be available. No one can cover or quote you if they can't reach you. Include all your phone numbers and contact information in your press release. And don't send out a press release and then leave on vacation.
  • Respect deadlines. Don't call reporters when they're on deadline, which is typically late afternoon for daily journalists. Midmorning is usually the best time.
  • Do your homework. Get to know which media outlets (TV, radio, newspapers, Internet sites, trade publications) cover your industry or the type of story you're likely to have. Develop a database of such journalists, and keep in touch with them. If possible, get to know them personally.

Finally, keep trying! I hate to let you in on this (and please don't start flooding my mailbox!), but the companies that often get the most coverage are those that regularly and repeatedly send press releases. A one-time press release is far less likely to get you coverage than an ongoing public relations campaign. You're going to have to be a bit of a (polite) pest -- bugging reporters frequently. Just don't tell anyone I said so.

Rhonda Abrams writes a widely read column on entrepreneurship and small business. Abrams is also the author of the well-regarded business plan guide The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies. She has started and built three companies, including her publishing company, Running 'R' Media, and her newest enterprise, RhondaWorks, which plans to offer a comprehensive online interactive business planning center. Visit Abrams at www.RhondaOnline.com.

Copyright © 2000 Rhonda Abrams