Local press coverage can be an inexpensive and worthwhile way to release information about your business to old customers and prospects. The following steps can get your PR efforts started:
• Locate the various media outlets in your area.
• Send a short letter of introduction along with a fact sheet about you and your
• Enclose a Fact Sheet with background
data about you and your business with
• Prepare a Press Kit to introduce yourself
to editors and media managers.
• Send a press release.
Public relations is not a good name for one of a retailer’s very useful marketing tools. The name itself bothers the average small retailer. Public? Does it refer to customers? Or prospects? Or people in general? The big conglomerates and all the government agencies want to relate to many people, as in “the public.” Small retailers would settle for a few good customers.
And the word “ relations” can cover a lot of areas, too. You already have customer, vendor and community relations, also other kinds of relations. Most retailers really don’t care about relating to some of them. They would prefer to relate to more prospects.
“Publicity” is another difficult word. Most people, including retailers, think the word refers only to the routine non-news stories and blurbs about big-time celebrities or politicians. True, but it also can refer to your own personal and store news.
So, forget the fancy terms and definitions. Don’t let such mere words discourage you from relating your own news to potential customers. It may be easier than you imagine. Just think of PR and publicity as news, an inexpensive and worthwhile way to release information about your business to old customers and prospects. News that may help you build long-range sales.
The name doesn’t matter. The idea is to plan your own news or feature story and have it delivered free of charge to many prospects by your local newspaper, radio, magazine or other medium.
RELEASE YOUR RELUCTANCE
“Release” is another confusing word for us. It refers to the fact that you are releasing information that may be personal in nature. But all news is personal in some sense. I guess that the word “release” means that you are giving various media permission to release your news to their readers.
“Media marketing” is a new term being used by PR people to describe the process. It refers to the fact that you want to persuade editors of the various media to use your report. It’s similar to selling your products or services on a person-to-person basis. Maybe that makes the process easier to understand. The words aren’t that important; it’s the actual planning and follow-through of releasing information that will help you.
I have discussed the values of reporting your special news in your market area at various times in this column. And, certainly, every retailer can see all around him the many ways in which PR and publicity are used to build awareness for celebrities, politicians, retailers and others in all walks of life.
Yet, most small business people are still reluctant to make proper use of this fine information tool. Apparently, as most business polls report, these retailers just don’t understand the steps involved. Or, as the PR agencies also suggest, they need to use the services of a professional agency (provided at substantial cost, of course). Such suggestions aren’t necessarily true.
Many astute small retailers are making good and profitable use of news releases or reports to build their businesses. Their success stories are reported every month in this magazine. The process involved isn’t all that difficult or as costly as you may think. So, let’s review some of the major steps needed for you to make news in your market area.
WHO ARE YOUR MEDIA?
First, you will want to check directories and other retailers to locate the various media outlets in your area. You may find more media than you thought.
Don’t hesitate to expand your news area. A major nearby outlet may even pick up your release. They may be interested in your news, also in the possibility that you may become a potential advertiser in their coverage area.
Then, give the local media offices a call to find out the names and titles of the various editors who might be interested in running your news. Usually, you will contact the business or features editor. Larger newspapers and magazines may have other special home or fashion editors for your releases.
MEET THE PRESS
The recommended next step is to send your special editor a short letter of introduction along with a fact sheet about you and your business. Some retailers prefer to call or e-mail appropriate editors. But, electronic communications may not work as desired. Editors are very busy people. You risk bugging them. They probably receive too many computer releases already.
If you know the media’s publisher or station manager personally, give him or her a call to find out how to proceed and whom to contact. They will be glad to help, especially if you might be a potential advertising prospect. Ask for the name and title of the person who will receive your message. In today’s business mergers, these individuals are moved around at times, so editors may change occasionally. An extra receptionist call to verify a name, prior to mailing your release, may be wise.
Don’t just drop in or call on editors at their offices (more than likely, it’s a cluttered desk) to invite them to lunch or a visit your store. The editor’s management may have strict policies against such contacts and, also, may ban gifts of any kind to editors or other staff people. Remember that you are just one of many retailers desiring attention, so play it cool. An editor doesn’t have to be pressured into running your release. If it has real news value, it will be run.
Editors may not make much money, but they do have a basic authority. Even if you are a big advertiser in their medium, it’s not a good idea to make demands and attempt to use your “clout.” An editor has some clout, too, even if his outlet is part of a big media conglomerate, as most are now. An absentee owner may set overall policy, but individual editors still are primarily responsible for selecting most local business news.
As noted above, it’s best to start off with a short letter and a fact sheet about you and your store. It’s not a big deal to worry about, just a letter that needs to be tailored individually to get more personal attention.
An editor will appreciate your personal effort to use his or her name. It may help your material stand out from the many standard releases and e-mail notes received and skimmed each day. The letter will be short, basic and business-like. It will tell who you are and explain why you are enclosing facts about you and your company. Also, try to state in a very few sentences why your expertise might be of interest to the editor.
List reasons why you can be of special help should the occasion arise when an expert’s opinion about window coverings and decoration might be needed. An effective letter will require extra thought and, possibly, some professional assistance.
FACT SHEET ANSWERS QUESTIONS
Next recommendation: enclose a “Fact Sheet” with your letter. It will be a brief supplement, with background data about you and your business. Do not make it into a long history of your business and products. Such information usually ends up in the editor’s junk file. But, the brief data in a fact sheet will be filed for future reference, as needed. You will receive a call from the editor if and when more background facts are needed.
Why bother with a fact sheet? Why not just include essential information in the introductory letter or in an e-mail memo? Some retailers and editors do make use of e-mail or faxes for follow-up questions when planning to use a retailer’s press release.
Electronic communications can be fast ways to collect additional information and quotes about the news release. But, as the numbers of e-mailings increase, and the volume of irritating spam messages explode on their screens, editors find less time to check their electronic messages. They may be days late in reading their e-mail. So, for now at least, most editors prefer to receive reliable, written fact sheets.
OTHER INFORMATION TOOLS
More elaborate and expensive methods can be used to attract and inform media people. Larger retailers and manufacturers prepare specialized “Press Kits” to introduce themselves to involved editor and media managers. Basically, the kits are expanded Fact Sheets, designed to provide editors with more information and assistance. And, at the same time, attract added attention for a possible feature story.
Additional personal and business information materials are included in a Press (or PR) Kit. Here’s a list of items usually included:
• More biographical information.
• Added descriptions of company history and growth.
• More technical product information and consumer benefits.
• Black-and-white glossy photographs of major products. (Also, notes that color transparencies are available on request for feature stories and articles).
• Copies of any articles or testimonials published about yourself or store.
• Ideas and suggestions for possible feature stories.
• Your current press release with standard contact and date information.
A good press kit requires extra planning and preparation costs. It is intended to be a long-range file material for the editor to refer to as needed. It can be a valuable tool that should be kept up to date. You can send new releases to add to it from time to time. Assuming the materials spark additional news pickups or even a feature story, the costs and extra effort are well justified. Also, you can expand and justify your initial preparation costs by using kit items in other sales promotion and presentations.
If you are really serious about expanding possible news coverage about yourself and store, you can add other more expensive ways to reach and attract editors. Try other, and more elaborate, projects such as press parties (usually a breakfast meeting or fancy cocktail party), a special product or treatment display, an interview with a name designer etc.—any idea or event that gives you a chance to contact more editors. You might even prepare a brief presentation to explain your media objectives.
If you have budget and time you can find ways to get some additional press coverage. (I’ll have more about this in a future article.)
START WITH A NEWS RELEASE
Regardless of how you pursue press and media coverage, regardless of how much money you spend, your coverage starts with an initial press release. Editors prefer a specific format for these releases, whether received by mail or computer.
It should include the following:
• Standard Format—Double-spaced with margins of at least one inch on each side for an editor’s notes. Always use a conventional easy-to-read typeface.
• Contact Person—In the upper right-hand corner, put the name and phone number of the person an editor can call for additional information. It will be your name or that of a designated assistant. If an outside agency person is the contact, he will use his own name and letterhead.
• Date—Put the date of your release in the upper right-hand corner. Note also if the release is “For Immediate Release,” or if you prefer a specific later running date, list it and hope that the editor will use it.
• Headline—Your release will be all uppercase and centered. A simple one-line “grabber” head is best. Don’t labor too long over attempts to come up with a unique or clever head. The editor will probably change it anyway. A longer two-sentence headline with more facts may help an editor write a better head to fit media format and style.
• Body Copy—Begin immediately below the headline. Explain what the release is all about. Usually, a news report notes the article’s who, what, where, when, how and why—if possible, in the first sentence. Any actual news about your product or service is justification for a release. If it is special in some way, explain why. An original “hook” or angle may give an editor ideal material for a report. The trade term “Give me something to hang my hat on” is still desired by editors. The less rewriting and thought needed, the better an editor likes it. Editors don’t have time to do your thinking for you.
Not all your store news or ideas are material for news reports. A store sale is not news; it’s just advertising material and will be referred to the media’s space or time salespeople. Superlatives about your super products and service will be deleted also. Only factual, reliable and honest information is wanted.
• Photography—It’s a good idea to include a photo if you have a good one. Most editors now prefer to use a five- by seven-inch photo. It saves you money and saves filing room. If editors prefer a color photo for a feature story, they will request one from your contact person for availability. Always include accurate caption information, especially names, even for group shots. It’s very important—everyone wants to see his or her own name, and even the name of somebody he or she knows on the news.
Most veteran editors won’t use a possible photo when caption names aren’t supplied. He or she probably will not run the release at all. Also, double-check those names. Nobody is happy when a name is misspelled in public, even if it has a dozen letters in it. They make nasty calls to editors immediately. An editor must take the blame, but he may hesitate to use your unreliable data again. Believe me, my ears still ring from calls I received 30 years ago.
It helps to use flattering personal photos, too, if at all possible. People all think they are attractive, even when it’s very obvious they are wrong. So make them all as beautiful as possible, even consider paying extra for a good professional photographer. Later, maybe for years, you’ll be glad you did. (I could write a long story about that topic.) Just remember, people are all unique, good looking, smart and proud—and they don’t want anyone to think otherwise, period.
I digress and I’m out of space, so I must close. My objective has been to emphasize the importance and economic value of telling your story in your local media. It’s not too expensive and, if done regularly on a long-range basis, it’s very much worth your time, expense and effort. Nor is it as difficult, fearsome or laborious as you may think to set up and benefit from an on-going media marketing campaign. Just get started and good results can follow.
Next time: More ways to spark media coverage with space and airtime for you and your business in all areas of your market.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies &
Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience
in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and
retail advertising programs.
Window Treatment Advertising is a regular feature in Draperies & Window Coverings examining many ways in which retailers can make the best use of their time, efforts and resources to create effective marketing and promotional campaigns. Past articles dating back to 1996 can be found on D&WC’s online archive categorized by author and subject: www.dwconline.com/DWC/ ArticleIndex.html.