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Media relations 101: Getting your business out there

Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

Marketing can be an expensive exercise, but knowing what the media is after can go a long way towards getting your name out in the local community.

Public Relations is the age-old art of managing information between a business and various people – investors, government agencies, the general public and the media. Government agencies employ hundreds of them, as do massive corporations, but the lessons PR practitioners can teach small businesses are many – particularly when it comes to working with journalists.

So if you’re looking to get your face (or your business name) in the paper, create a better brand reputation or tell the world what you’re up to, what do you need to think about before you pick up the phone? 

a stack of newspapers close up

Tell a story

“Journalists aren’t paid to think about how to sell your product,” says vice-president for Asia Pacific region at Mulberry Marketing Communications, Paul Manser.

“They’re paid to deliver stories to the public that are informative, entertaining, ground-breaking or relevant. That’s their main focus.

“Have a read of the paper and look at the sort of things they report on, then whether you could create something that would be interesting enough to stand alongside them without standing out.”

The secret to selling a story, he says, is by focusing on the narrative first and foremost, and then looking at how your product fits into it.

Be interesting

The old saying “Dog bites man isn’t a story, man bites dog is” rings true, regardless of who you’re pitching your story to. Media outlets have a number of different considerations when it comes to determining whether something is newsworthy, including local relevance, timeliness, conflict and how new the news is.

“When it comes to working with local media in particular, making sure it’s relevant and local should be the first consideration,” says managing director of community engagement PR specialists, PR Edge, Fee Townshend.

“And the key is to focus on the news – the benefit to the local community.

“If you’re sponsoring local groups, gifting something to the local community or really doing something ground-breaking for your region, that’s going to be of more interest than new products you are offering.

“Knowing what matters to your local area is going to go a long way towards making sure you’re sharing something interesting.” 

Don’t oversell it

A pet peeve of journalists is overusing fluffy language, and while you might think your product is ground-breaking, brilliant, exciting, leading or a game-changer, be wary of using these kinds of adjectives unless the product truly will change how people live.

Journalists are trained to take the information on its merits, and they’ll see through your claims if they’re hyperbolic. 

“Never use 10 words when you can use five, and never use five syllables when you can get away with two.”

– Fee Townshend

Understand who you’re talking to

Journalists are busy people, so understanding who they are, what they write about and how they work can go a long way to getting your story read. Even by asking basic questions like whether they have time to speak, shows consideration for the intense time pressure they’re under and can help you get a more considered hearing when you next call at a more convenient time.

Paul also encourages you to change how you approach journalists based on who they work with.

“The local paper’s going to want local relevance, but a business to business magazine’s going to want what the implications for the industry are,” he says.

“Similarly, the tone that the Financial Review’s tech section takes will be different to the tone that the Herald Sun’s entertainment section takes. Know your audience, and know who’s on the other end of the phone or email.”

Be concise

“Never use 10 words when you can use five, and never use five syllables when you can get away with two,” says Fee.

“The aim is to get the message across as efficiently as possible, with the most relevance and in the right way. If it takes more than a page to get your message across, you may be trying to fit too much in. Try to keep it condensed.”

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