Whether you are a Main Street merchant, a business-service provider or an independent contractor, positive media coverage can provide a major marketing boost for your business. There’s a lot more to “earning media coverage” than blasting out a press release every month. Here are 10 tips that can help you break through with reporters and get your business noticed in a positive way.

Last year, we provided some suggestions for becoming a “thought leader.” Being a thought leader is hard work, we said. And even more challenging, it requires you to actually think. Moreover, being a thought leader is something you can’t outsource or use as a title to describe yourself: Like “guru,” or “rockstar,” or “serial entrepreneur,” an actual “thought leader” doesn’t use the term “thought leader” as a title on a business card or social network profile.

Fortunately, the people who reporters (or bloggers) like to quote or write about aren’t necessarily thought leaders. Rather, they are available and quotable and knowledgable.

But, alas, becoming a go-to source of information for reporters is a long-term process. Fortunately, it comes naturally for most small business owners who are passionate about their company. Much of the following advice revolves around using that passion to help a reporter do his or her job better, not about hyping your business.

How to Become a Small Business Owner
Reporters Love to Write About

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Photo: (Circa 1985) Florida State Archives via Flickr, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Lucy Morgan. Flickr Commons.

1. Define (and narrow) your target audience.

While it might be nice to be covered by the New York Times, most small businesses are likely to benefit more from coverage in their hometown consumer media, or in their industry trade media. Aim for where you customer is found.

2. Be helpful to reporters, even if your help is not directly beneficial to your business.

Let’s say you received a cold call from a salesperson you don’t know, offering you something you’ve never heard of, what would you do? “We’re not interested,” most likely. Imagine getting such calls and emails all day long and you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to be a reporter. Rather than sending them press releases or asking them to cover the 1/2 off sale you are planning, try these things instead:

  • Email them about stories they write that you like. Tell them why.
  • Add articulate and smart comments on articles they write.
  • Click the “like,” “retweet” or “favorite” buttons on social networks.

Do those things, and later it will seem natural when you suggest to them a story idea that might involve you. Stories pitched after you’ve established a connection have a much better chance of being considered. More likely, they’ll seek out your opinion if a story they are working on has something to do with your industry or profession.

3. Develop a special expertise.

Have a specific geographic or business topic that you study and track constantly. Be the person who is always aware of what’s taking place related to that niche.

4. Just say yes.

Business owners are busy people—but so are journalists. If a reporter contacts you for an interview, say yes on the spot and agree to speak with him the same day—even if you’re traveling, on vacation or working under a huge deadline. In most cases, reporters need a quote now, and they’ll move along if you’re too busy to talk.

5. Know the difference in real news and puffery.

For your pitches to be taken seriously, you have to understand what news is and isn’t. A standard press release about a new product or service you’re unveiling won’t get noticed as much as a story idea about how your product or service can help people solve a problem. Reporters love real people, so include customer testimonials and use their names. It also helps to include high-quality photos of people using whatever you’re selling.

6. Be concise.

Boil down your pitches to a few sentences or a short paragraph—no one will read much more. Learn how to write, or find out if anyone on your staff is good with words. Bad writing won’t win you any coverage.

7. Be a storyteller.

A good story is not made of facts, figures and bullet points about how great you and your company are. A good story starts with the words, “Let me tell you a story.”

8. Blog and share.

Instead of pitching stories, blog them. But don’t just write about about your company’s accomplishments. Write about the things  journalists covering you are interested in. On Twitter, become a curator for links you believe a reporter in your industry would find helpful. Often, reporters will check out the profile of people who retweet (RT) them. Make sure you have a concise profile and links to your business and blog.

9. Become a metaphor master.

Reporters are always looking for ways to make news stories easy for the reader to understand. Providing quotes in the form of metaphors will help the reporter do this. “The debate over the new business park is like a baseball game that has gone into extra innings,” is more likely to make it into a story than, “The debate over the new business park has gone on too long.”

10. Be discretely thankful.

Reporters like to be appreciated for what they do, however, they want to be considered good reporters who are impartial and objective. So don’t say, “Thanks for quoting me and sharing my opinion.” Rather, say: “I appreciate the way you covered the story and am glad you were able to be so thorough.”

Photo: ThinkStock

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