British entrepreneur extraordinaire, Richard Branson, has long been noticed for his willingness to do outrageous things in order to promote his empire. The irrepressible Branson, who reminds me of a naughty gnome, explains his frequent media appearances by saying, “Everyday television and newspapers need visually interesting stories to feature. We just try to help them out by doing interesting things in public places and making sure they know where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing.”
As the entrepreneurial revolution continues to grow, so does the media interest in stories about engaging small businesses. It’s up to you to take advantage of this curiosity by helping reporters and interviewers discover what makes you newsworthy and being willing to share your story and information with them. Here are some simple ways to get started right in your own backyard.
1. Make a list of local media outlets and possibilities. Study all of the newspapers, even the giveaway ones, in your area. Listen to radio stations and find out who does interviews on talk shows. Check area television programming to see who does stories and interviews with local people. Make this an on-going project, since the media is a changing environment.
2. Get to know the interviewing style and interests of local reporters. Listen to talk radio, read the newspaper, and study regional magazines with an eye to analyzing the slant and area of interest of various reporters. The more familiar you become with their work, the easier it will be to find a “hook” that will interest them in what you’re doing.
3. Keep looking for opportunities that are appropriate to you. One Sunday, I noticed a tiny paragraph in the business section of our newspaper which said, “Have you left corporate life to start something on your own? If so, we’d like to hear from you for an upcoming story we’re doing about career changers.” I promptly called the reporter’s voice mail, introduced myself and explained that while I hadn’t done exactly what she was looking for, I did have some information that might be of interest to her since I do seminars on self-employment around the country, had written a book on the subject and had talked to thousands of people wanting to leave corporate life. The reporter called and interviewed me a couple of days later. When the story appeared— as a front page headliner—my comments were sprinkled throughout the article giving me the appearance of being the local expert.
Another of my favorite tools is the lowly letter to the editor. If you see a story that deals with an area related to your business, your professional comments may be welcomed. You could write to applaud the original article or add additional information or disagree with what’s been printed.
4. Find ways to be visible and the media may find you. Numerous invitations and interviews have come to me because of my teaching in adult education. One of those interviews, went out on the wire services and was published in newspapers all over the country. In fact, Making a Living Without a Job became a book because an editor saw the course description in an adult education catalog and contacted me, starting a chain of happy events in motion.
So agree to be part of a panel discussion, accept the speaking invitation from your local Rotary club, donate a prize for your church raffle. Well promoted local events often get media notice—and some clever journalist might just track you down. Never underestimate the value of community involvement.
5. Pay attention to Joan Stewart and Peter Shankman. Joan, a former reporter, now helps small businesses get media exposure. Her Web site, Publicity Hound, is loaded with useful information and her weekly mailings are always full of fresh insights and resources. Be sure to sign up.
Peter Shankman is the genius behind Help a Reporter which sends out mailings three times a day with requests from journalists, freelancers and bloggers looking for folks to interview on specific subjects. I had two interviews that resulted in exposure in national magazines as a result of responding to requests on HARO. It’s a bit tine-consuming to monitor all the resources, but absolutely worth the effort.
6. Don’t be discouraged if your efforts don’t produce immediate, measurable results. Of course, it’s always wonderful if your telephone starts ringing or you’re flooded with orders after you’ve made an appearance. But that doesn’t always happen. I remember a small business expert being interviewed in Time magazine and then publicly complaining that it hadn’t brought her any new business. She simply didn’t understand the process, although it’s easy to sympathize with her disappointment.
Frequently, the main value of media exposure is that it helps people become more familiar with you and your name. That may not translate into new business overnight. I often have people who show up in my seminars clutching old, yellowing newspaper articles about me that they clipped years ago. Treat media interviews as seed planting expeditions and trust that good will come from every effort sooner or later.