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American Express® for Small Business - Built for Business Owners
Insider's Guide to PR
Few firms know how to get their story told. PROFIT's editor reveals seven
keys to being covered.
Unlimited Access with American Express Cards for Small Business

By Ian Portsmouth

Why isn’t the media telling your company’s story? To answer that question, I’ll echo what I voiced in the previous issue of PROFIT: it’s probably for lack of trying.

I suspect most companies have given up hope after a short-lived, unsuccessful PR campaign—or, underestimating the power of positive press coverage, they’ve never made a pitch at all.

Whatever your answer, it’s a question of strategic importance. Positive coverage of your company or its products can give you credibility among a large and relevant audience, often at low cost and sometimes overnight. A good PR program can also engender long-term media relationships that help you address future communication needs.

Although gaining positive media attention isn’t easy, nor is it particularly hard. Most companies have a story—or three—worth telling; they just need to match the story to the right media outlet at the right time. (Yes, Lady Luck should be a valued member of your PR team.) You also need to avoid the common mistakes that sabotage countless small-business pitches. As I promised last issue to share, here is my best advice for getting your story told:

Target your pitch

Answer this two-part question: Who do I want to reach, and why? For too many businesses, PR is a thinly veiled attempt to get free advertising for their products or services. But a smart approach to PR considers a broader set of corporate objectives, from attracting investors, employees and joint-venture partners to positioning your firm (or you) as an industry thought leader to whom people turn for insight and opinion. Having narrow, well-defined goals for your media-relations effort will help you craft your pitch and determine its targets.

Apply the TRII test

When a PR professional pitched me a story on specialized insurance for seniors, I asked why she thought the story fit PROFIT. “Because a lot of business owners have elderly parents,” she replied.

Her claim was indubitable, but the pitch failed the TRII test: is the story timely, relevant, informative and interesting? You can appreciate the importance of that last criterion. As for the others, the more, the better. Time is precious to the audience of any media outlet, so they prefer stories that tell them something they didn’t already know or remind them of something they’ve forgotten (informative); that matter in an aspect of their lives (relevant) the media outlet is meant to address; and that has application now (timely). That PR “pro” got three out of four right, but failed miserably on relevance. (Many entrepreneurs suffer from shin splints, too. But they don’t read PROFIT to find the remedy.)

Think of journalists as lazy bums

We’re not really lazy, but we are busy enough to create the appearance that we aren’t considering your pitch. Journalists simply don’t have the time to carefully consider every pitch; instead, we make snap judgments. You must communicate the nut of your story in the headline of your press release, subject line of your email or first 10 to 15 seconds of your voice-mail message, preferably with the TRII test in mind (e.g., “Product X cuts small-business telecom costs by 40%”). If your pitch grabs us, we might scan it for more information and get right back to you. More likely, we’ll file it for future review—which may never happen. So, follow up within a reasonable amount of time. What’s reasonable? Within a couple of hours is appropriate if your story is time-sensitive. Otherwise, a few days is probably right. Don’t assume, either, that we’ll while away the hours pondering how to cover your company. Which brings me to...

Think of us as blind, too

Just because you can see the fabulous story in your pitch doesn’t mean journalists will. Help them find their “angle.” For instance, if you’re launching a product, don’t just send a press release composed of dull quotations and an exhaustive list of product features. Expand the horizons of your pitch by articulating multiple story concepts in a concise and compelling manner—tailored, preferably, to each of a handful of targeted media outlets.

If you were approaching PROFIT about your product launch, we’d love to have “micro-pitches” on, say, how tax credits helped you finance R&D, how a new technology cut your time and cost to market by half or your innovative approach to testing new product concepts. Which brings me to another tip: settle for less. Few companies are worthy of a feature-length profile, so stop fantasizing about getting huge play. Instead, “audition” for a supporting role in a story. Micro-pitches have great value in this regard, because they help editors and producers see how you fit into other stories they’re working on.

Avoid “Me, too!” pitches

Entrepreneurs are a proud lot, and that pride sometimes gets the better of them. To wit: the business owner who sees a story on a competitor, then implores a media outlet to do a story on his “superior” company, too. Journalists like to tell a good story, but they don’t like to tell it twice—at least not until the audience is ready to hear it again.

Editors have their pride, too, so questioning their judgment can be counterproductive. Instead, look for a gap in the original coverage you can exploit. It can also be wise to wait a few weeks or even months; if a media outlet has reached its “quota” of a certain kind of story—e.g., “young entrepreneur launches new social-buying service”—it won’t pay much attention to similar pitches.

Avoid “You, too!” pitches

Product differentiation is important to a business. The same applies to the media. Yet a lot of business owners and PR consultants see coverage by one media outlet as a great reason for coverage by competing outlets. If there’s a good chance a substantial portion of a media outlet’s audience has already seen the story, that outlet is unlikely to run with it (see the previous point). Also, it’s a question of branding—every media outlet wants to be seen as a leader, not a follower. They can’t achieve that status through copycat journalism.

TRII, TRII again

Pitching the media is much like job hunting: you’ll be rejected many times before someone finally hires you. Don’t be discouraged. Chances are you have marketable assets, but those assets simply don’t fit this particular hole in this particular media outlet at this particular time. If at first you don’t succeed, TRII, TRII again, refining or changing your pitch to meet the needs of each outlet. And be on the lookout for external events that suddenly make your pitch timely. Sometimes, a little fine-tuning is all it takes to finally land the coverage you crave.

Originally published by PROFIT Magazine, Visit PROFITguide.com.


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