But this is one of those rare moments.
I’m usually inclined to say that if politicians and governmental policy makers would act more like business people, our country would be a much better place. At the very least, our federal, state, and local governments would be much more “fiscally sound.”
That said, I also know this to be true – if you aren’t up-to-speed on the ways in which politicians and political campaigns approach the subject of “media coverage,” you could be missing out on some potentially big opportunities to move yourself and your business forward. And given how “media centric” our world has become, you can’t afford to fall behind in this area.
When I say “media coverage,” I’m talking about making yourself a part of the story in the professional media – coverage in newspapers, television newscasts, and on radio programs. These days, most discussion about small businesses and “media” has to do with marketing one’s business via social media, and that’s an extremely important topic in and of itself.
But don’t ignore the professional media. Politicians and campaign operatives certainly don’t; they know how to make it work for them. Let’s make it work for you, too.
First, understand that in the world of American politics, there are, broadly speaking, two different categories of professional media content. One category is referred to as “paid professional media,” while the other category is known as “earned professional media.” “Paid professional media,” as its name suggests, is media that you have to purchase.
If you’re a candidate running for office, or if you’re working on behalf of a ballot proposition, chances are you’ll need to spend lots of money buying lots of “paid media.” A video commercial on television, an advertisement in the hardcopy newspaper, a “tile ad” or video on a website, an audio commercial on radio – any or all of these advertising options could prove to be useful ways in which to communicate your message to the right people, but you’ll be paying for the opportunity to connect with each respective audience.
But as you go about your campaigning, you’ll also look for opportunities to get attention and “coverage” in the professional media, in ways that won’t require you to spend money. This is what is known in the realm of politics as “earned professional media” – one “earns” coverage in the news story, or the privilege of being a program guest or a topic of conversation on a show, because they have done something interesting and “news worthy.”
It’s not difficult to think of ways that political candidates can grab “earned professional media” coverage. They put out press releases and hold press conferences announcing new policy positions, they assume new, bold stances on the issues, and they create a “buzz” about themselves that gets people talking about them. And generally speaking, the more “earned professional media” a candidate can obtain for themselves, the better off they are going to be.
So how does a small business owner become interesting and “newsworthy” in such a way as to achieve “earned professional media?” Those who are elected to public office make decisions that impact a lot of people, so they are obvious targets of professional media coverage. But small business owners impact people’s lives as well, and with some effort and consistency, you can “earn” media coverage for your business that can pay great dividends.
Get started on your journey towards “earned professional media,” by following these steps:
1) Get Online – When I speak in front of business audiences, I still hear some amazing excuses from people who try to explain why they don’t want, or don’t need their own website. “I don’t need my own website because all my work gets done on my employer’s website.” “My kind of business doesn’t get done on the internet.” “I’m not good with computers…” The excuses are frequent, and numerous.
Start by registering your personal name as a website domain name, and if you already have a name for your business, register that as a domain name as well. There are lots of domain registrars online, but I always recommend Godaddy.Com. They are inexpensive, and provide excellent customer service both via email, and over the telephone, around the clock.
Once you’ve secured your domain name(s), then consider your options for setting up the website itself. Godaddy.com has a program called “Website Overnight” which provides fast, simple, easy-to-understand basics for just about any website application and all at very low prices (and here again, their customer service folks can walk you through the process of getting things set-up). If you don’t want to spend any money to launch your web presence, and you think you can handle things on your own without tech support, then consider what you can do for free at a web platform called Weebly.com. Weebly provides basic website packages that are completely free, with low-cost upgraded platforms available as well. Additionally, you can always set up a very simple website in a “blog” format, at blogspot.com, and wordpress.com.
2) Get Acquainted – Once you’ve got an online presence, spend some time figuring out who the commercial media “players” are in your community. Do you know who the reporters and editors and news directors are at the local newspapers? How about the local tv stations? And do you know who the hosts and producers are at your local radio stations – especially (but not limited to) your local talk radio stations? You can find a lot of this information on newspaper, and radio and tv station websites – but even if you have to make a few telephone calls, it can end up being very productive. These are the people who make decisions most every day about what becomes “news worthy,” and what is deemed “not newsworthy” as well.
3) Get Noticed – Given how pervasive national and global media sources have become in recent years, local professional media outlets are almost always eager to find unique “local” news stories that can grab people’s attention. So you’ll want to create an event, champion a “cause,” and do something out of the ordinary that can draw positive attention to you and your business.
If you’ve ever watched or listened to financial adviser Dave Ramsey, he’s always quick to tell his audience to invest for the long term, and to not be swayed by short-term, negative news about investments. In this regard, he is quick to point out that when the DOW drops suddenly or the economy sinks, it’s “news,” but when good things happen – the DOW stabilizes or the economy grows – it’s not nearly as “newsworthy” in the professional media as when something bad happens.
The same is true about business news. Think of it this way: every day in America, the vast majority of business transactions go exactly as they are supposed to. People provide a service or a product for a price that a customer is willing to pay, and both parties are pleased with the results. About the only time businesses – especially local small businesses – become newsworthy is when something negative or scandalous happens. But you can create positive attention for your business, if you’re willing to think outside the box.
4) Get Creative – Need some suggestions? Consider these..
Over the past several holiday seasons, a regional chain of car tire stores in the Pacific Northwest has carried-out an annual “clothing drive” for needy children in their local communities. They set up collection containers in the lobby area of each of their stores, and encouraged people to visit and make a donation. The tire store chain generates a lot of foot traffic in to their stores from people coming in to drop of their donations, they garner a lot of “earned media,” and a lot of good will among local residents.
Several years ago, I consulted a law firm on their marketing and advertising strategies. Although the lawyers at the firm thought I was crazy at first, I convinced them to plan and execute a promotional “event” at their offices. What resulted was a crop of new clients, and a string of new referrals for other firms.
We scheduled on a Saturday to do an open house at the law firm, and to hold a daylong “Free Legal Clinic.” At the “clinic,” anyone could walk in and on a first come, first served basis, sit and ask questions about wills and estate planning (that was the firm’s emphasis) of one of the lawyers on staff for half an hour, and all at no cost or obligation. Some people came in and got their free legal advice, and then left. Others, however, scheduled a follow up meeting with the law firm, and became clients of the firm. And the law firm got their event publicized via “earned media” in the local newspapers.
So what can your small business do to get noticed? Maybe it’s partnering with a local charity to generate donations. Maybe it’s offering your service for free for a day. Maybe it’s a combination of these, and other kinds of efforts. Start thinking now of how you and your business will “become the story” for local media professionals.
5) Get The Story Out – Once you’ve put together your newsworthy event or cause, get that information to the writers, editors, news directors, hosts and producers at your local professional media outlets. Do it succinctly, and with brevity, with advanced warning. Send them a brief email message, in bullet points format, detailing the basic “Who, What, When, Why” and “How” about your cause or event, and send the first one three weeks prior to your event launch. Then follow up a week later with a two week warning, and then send another follow up the week of the event. Make sure to include your contact info where you can be reached on short notice – preferably your mobile telephone number and an email address – and make yourself available to them.
Politicians can’t always guarantee that they’ll get the kind of earned professional media coverage that they’d like, and neither can small business owners. But if you’re willing to work at becoming media savvy, and willing to make yourself known, you may be pleasantly surprised at the ways you can elevate the presence of your business.