Spreading the news.
Are you envious of the media coverage that other businesses get on radio, television, in local papers, and within industry trade publications? Truth is, you probably have a story to tell too, but you haven’t taken the time to uncover it, fine tune it, and get it into the hands of a journalist.
Why should you care?
Media coverage is more valuable than advertising because it enhances credibility. Positive news about your company implies that you have the knowledge and expertise to educate others. To match that value by purchasing an ad, you would need to spend thousands of dollars!
A good story prepared by a respected news organization will position you as a leader and drive business to your door; and if you take it one step further and use that coverage within your sales and marketing materials, you’ll get an even bigger payoff. I call it “using your news.”
The basic formula for media placement is based on this reality: Editors, producers, and reporters have pages and airtime to fill, and they are always in search of a good story. How do you begin to reap positive press and its benefits? Follow these five basic guidelines:
1. Be prepared before you make a pitch.
Fine-tune your story, or “pitch,” before you send the email and by the way, most journalists prefer to communicate via email because they’re often on deadline, and taking your phone call takes them away from meeting it.
The best news angles are not always obvious. Your company may have a great product or deliver stellar service, but quite honestly, 20 other companies are probably saying the same thing, so a journalist won’t see anything special in this. Go down under the surface to find what merits special attention. This often relates to something already in the news.
For example, the media will cover stories on air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. As an hvacr professional, know what’s hot and what’s not, literally and figuratively!
If the season has unusually high temperatures, and higher usage and fees hit the news, jump on it. Call your local newspaper or television station and offer tips to homeowners on how to manage the heat with their cooling systems. Invite a reporter to ride along with you to a customer home and show them how you test a home for energy efficiency and by doing so, save people money.
Fall is a good time for tuning up, so offer your local newspaper a story on how to get a heating-and-cooling system prepared to meet the cold. Invite them into a customer home, where the visuals are to back the story up. Talk about everything from duct cleaning to changing the furnace filter. Focus on top priorities and highlight the value of each.
Let’s move on to allergy season. Can you help allergy sufferers feel more comfortable inside their homes by installing air cleaners? If you can turn readers and viewers on to new products and services that will ease their suffering, they will turn to you to install them. Carbon monoxide detection is another story the media seems to cover annually. You know the answers, so let local news stations know you are available for interviews and background information and offer to put them in touch with your customer “success stories” that illustrate your skills and knowledge.
Another tactic is to tap into broader topics that can be linked back to you. Jeff and Mike Allen, co-owners of Allen Service of Fort Collins, Colo., run a successful plumbing, heating, and air conditioning business. Their business story speaks for itself with increasing revenues fueled by good customer service and employee satisfaction. Unfortunately, to a journalist, that news angle is a dime-a-dozen. My company jumped over that hurdle by connecting Allen to a hot national topic — rising unemployment.
We alerted the media in Fort Collins to the fact that amid rising unemployment, the service industry is experiencing a labor shortage that is expected to worsen when baby boomers retire. Needless to say, their ears perked up.
Allen Service has been proactive in recruiting top talent, and we let the media know. To add to it, Allen is a member of Nexstar®, a worldclass development and best practices organization that selected them to host a peer group meeting with business owners from across the country where the labor shortage would be discussed in great detail. This validated our assertion that they were experts on the topic. As expected, The Coloradoan newspaper jumped on the story and positioned Allen as a leader in their industry and community.
The same is true for industry publications. The things that are impacting you are most likely impacting others; so if you have strategies that are working, offer to share them with your favorite publication. Don’t give the same story angle to two publications at once, though, because editors like to bring timely information to their readers, and they prefer to be the only one bringing it to them. It’s called an “exclusive.”
2. Know the editor/reporter.
Do your homework and make sure you know what specific reporters and editors like to cover and how they tend to cover it. Then they won’t view your pitch as a waste of their time. The more you can make their job easier, the more successful you’ll be. It’s about building relationships with editors, reporters and producers as a trustworthy and knowledgeable hvacr authority who is responsive and willing to meet news deadlines.
3. Be prompt in meeting deadlines.
The media moves very quickly, and moving at their pace makes it more likely they’ll come back to you in the future. Provide information quickly and clear your calendar to accommodate them.
A client of mine once dropped everything and drove 25 miles back to his office to email a photograph to the local paper to accompany an article they were writing, and because he did, the photo and his event got prominent placement in the publication.
4. Define your key messages.
This will help you alleviate interview jitters and butterflies circling like bats in your stomach. If a journalist is interested in interviewing you, they will typically email or call you to set up a time to talk. Ask them what angle they’re taking and what they want you to focus on. Write down three key messages on the subject along with three key messages about your business, including practices, commitment, etc. If you make all of these points, you’ll consider the interview a success.
If you’re considering writing an article for submission to a publication, email the editor before you start writing to see if they have interest in the topic and acquire their editorial guidelines. They are most likely posted on the publication’s Web site. If they are not, ask the editor to email them to you. These usually specify things such as length, tense (past or present) and voice (first-person or omniscient).
Begin the writing process with an outline, and use it to chart your course. The most important thing to remember when submitting an article is that it should not be an advertisement for your business. In fact if it is, it will most likely be rejected. Editors want to use your expertise on timely topics. At the end of the article, you can include a one paragraph description or “byline” on yourself and your business, along with your Web address.
5. Polish up your interviewing skills.
• Speak clearly with confidence. Remember, that they came to you because you are the expert on the topic they’re writing about, so you will have the answers to their questions. If for some reason you don’t, simply say that you will research it and get back to them promptly.
• Do your homework. If you tell an editor you’re knowledgeable on a topic, you should be.
• Cite examples. “First person stories” put a face on a topic, so if you have a customer story to share that helps illustrate a fact or point, share it. You don’t have to mention their name.
The same tactics will serve you well when contacting radio, television, and Web site editors and reporters. Again, focus on stories they are following. For example, Bonfe’s is a Minnesota company that is known for blower door testing for leaks in houses that result in higher energy bills. Minnesota had a very long and cold winter this year, so heating bills were the talk of the town. One cold weekend, a colleague of mine called the local CBS affiliate and invited them out on a blower door test run with Bonfe’s. The technology was new to the marketplace, and homeowners can benefit from it, so the station accepted the invitation. They went to the customer home with Bonfe’s and captured the test on tape along with recommended tips for solving the problem. It was a win-win!!
It’s worth it to spend time and energy on public relations because there is a big return on your investment. Phone directory ads, direct mail, and other forms of traditional marketing can’t sell your knowledge and expertise like public relations can. Public relations will get your message to the marketplace in a creative, effective and lasting way and should be part of a larger marketing and advertising plan. Now, go out there and make it happen!
Kari Logan is co-owner of Minneapolis based C.E.L. Public Relations Inc. and a former television producer and news assignment editor. Find out more at www.celpr.com or call 888-235-2780.