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How to market to and through the media

While publicity is the most powerful promotional tool there is (since it is more impacting, more far-reaching, and far more credible than advertising), it is the one that is the least effectively used. Too often, for example, business owners view a news release as a form of advertising.

It's definitely not. The media are not in the business to provide free advertising. And if you are guilty of this, they will also likely tell you (if they actually tell you anything at all) that you should have called the advertising department instead. However, don't get me wrong. Their goal is to report on stories that affect or are of interest to their readers or viewers. So, news releases are the media's best friends -- but only if they follow a few important guidelines.

Newsworthiness is the Foundation

Reporters are always looking for newsworthy items on which to report -- that's what reporters do. But they specifically like human interest stories, stories that are related to current events or important issues, or those that have some emotional appeal. Larger media also like stories that appeal to a wide audience. Targeted or specialized media, on the other hand, love to report on stories that appeal to their specific market and thus help capture more of it.

Of course, the foundational component of the news release is the news aspect. A good story must be newsworthy for it to be considered. But the news release should not tell the entire story. If you do have a good story to tell, your news release should provide enough information to generate interest and it must say just enough to incite the media to want to know more.

While there are thousands of ways to present a news release, there is no one "correct" way of doing it. There are as many different ways to present a news release as there are publications out there. However, all of them should at least possess some key elements, which are:

  • A strong, compelling headline
  • An appealing, informative story
  • A professional, tasteful appearance
  • A number of quotes and reactions
  • And the sender's contact information

An excellent news release can also be a powerful business tool for gaining free media coverage for your company, product, or service -- and keep in mind that media coverage tends to be a more effective form of promotion than advertising since it is coming from an objective third party. It can be used for announcing important company changes, new appointments or recruits within your organization, or the launch of your company's new product or service.

Capitalize on Leadership or Uniqueness, not Superiority

Being the first in some category is an effective tool that can also help spark more interest in your news release. For example, if you can support the fact that your product is the first in its category, that your service is the first to be delivered in a certain way, or that your event is the first or largest of its kind, you can and should use that information in your news release.

Obviously, a company claiming to be the best is never a news item. But a company claiming to be the first at something always is. Capitalize on it when approaching the media. Look for ways to market your story differently by presenting it with a different angle or a unique twist.

For example, think of the times you've seen a story about someone starting a business. While it may sound trivial, it isn't if that person is a local politician, suffers from a disability or has 10 children. In other words, bring your own unique angle or experience into your news release. A person I knew was an amputee -- and an entrepreneur. His product was a backpack with special straps that made carrying it a little more comfortable. I told him to use his lack of one leg in his release as being the inspiration behind the creation of his backpack. "One-legged man lightens people's loads!" was the headline.

In fact, human interest aspects are wonderful tools to spark interest. In most cases, adding a special human element or some emotional appeal -- even blending it with an important social issue -- will up your chances. The key is to be able to capture the interest of reporters who are bombarded with literally thousands of news releases each and every business day.

A news release is like a résumé, which is not meant to land a job but to land an interview. In the same way, a news release is not meant to get instant media coverage but should be used as a tool for sparking interest and curiosity among a very busy and exceedingly leery staff of reporters and editors -- and it must do so quickly and efficiently. Therefore, the headline as well as the first few lines should instantly communicate something worthy of their attention.

Blend a Human Feel With Your Story

For a great sample of an effective news release, see one developed by Leslie Spencer at http://www.bizine.com/prhbwm.htm. She operates an online business called "Home-Based Working Moms," which offers resources for home-based businesses run by mothers. Her goal was ultimately to get exposure to, and to increase memberships of, a specific target market. (By the way, Leslie follows another important rule of online marketing -- niche marketing, which is also a great way for gaining attention from the media.)

She wrote an excellent news release that successfully tied-in the benefits of her business with the current challenges faced by most stay-at-home moms -- women who want to be more involved with their children while at the same time contributing to the family's income. Her news release, entitled "The New Entrepreneur: Shorts, Shirt and... a Stroller? Moms Find Ways to Combine Career with Children," provides the media with a great story to tell.

That said, you may feel that you're not a skilled writer. And if you're anything like me, you probably don't have the time. The following are great sources for help in writing, targeting, and distributing news releases, particularly electronically or for Internet-related information. Many provide the full service while others only provide guidelines as well as lists of media contacts.

Finally, Target Your Market... And Your Media

A news release sent to the general media often gets lost in a sea of others. Most often, it will end up on some editor's desk where your story will be screened and, if judged newsworthy, passed along to a particular reporter in the organization. However, special features writers, columnists, radio show hosts, news anchors, specialized media representatives, special interest publishers, trade publication editors, specialty channel producers, radio show (or segment) hosts and so on are particularly beneficial.

First, a news release sent to a specific person (and not the general newsroom or media entity) has definitely better chances of being noticed and reported -- it doesn't have to go through so many hands. While it may require a little research, remember that the media are made up of people too. They like the personalized approach just as much as your clients do.

Second, targeting your news release is far more effective, for the results that you want your release to achieve will be substantially higher when reported in a medium that targets your specific market. Ask the following: "Where does my niche or target market hang out? What do they read? What shows do they watch? What programs do they prefer? To which ezines are they subscribed? What web sites do they surf? On what discussion boards or forums do they participate? With what associations or trade organizations are they affiliated?"

The media's greatest concern is their audience and especially their ratings -- not the stories on which they report. Therefore, targeting your news release is just as important as market targeting. Not only will you attract qualified prospects but your chances of being reported will also increase since the media love stories that inform or affect their specific audience.

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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