Many business people are wary of journalists. But if you avoid them, you'll miss out on the chance to get some valuable PR coverage in the press.
For a small business with a limited marketing budget, PR is one of the best ways to publicise your company - not least because you can get results without spending much money.
If you want to get publicity for your company in your local area, you need to build relationships with the media. Get to know the reporters on your local paper, the editor at the local TV news desk and the DJs at your local radio station.
If your business operates in a specialist sector, it is vital that you build a good working relationship with the writers and editors on the trade magazine titles that serve your industry.
There are some key things to remember when dealing with journalists.
First of all, timing is everything. Find out when the deadlines are. Make sure you provide information or pictures well in advance. Don't ring a journalist for a chat when their publication is about to go to press.
Secondly, find out what their requirements are. Most journalists are incredibly busy. Ask them when would be a good time to call back, offer to take them for a quick drink or arrange to meet them at an event they are attending.
Keep in touch with phone calls or emails but don't pester them and don't bombard them with press releases. If you keep sending irrelevant releases, then your big announcements won't make any impact.
The best way to make your PR effective is to find out what journalists want and to provide it. What makes a good news story depends very much on the publication. In the trade press, a sales story, a product launch or a new appointment will often get coverage.
However, this kind of straight business news may not fit the remit of every publication. You may need to give your story an angle or a hook. Does your new product solve a particular problem that everyone can relate to? Or is your announcement part of a wider story about how trends are changing in your sector?
Be as helpful as you can. Provide everything they need, including quotes, pictures, facts and figures and case studies. You may be asked for customer contacts, so make sure you have one or two loyal clients you can depend upon to sing your praises.
Many trade publications plan ahead. To avoid missing an opportunity, you should ask about special features such as event previews or sector reports where the journalist will be actively looking for contributions from companies like yours.
It is also worth cultivating the freelance journalists that write for the publications that you are targeting. They are often looking for quotes, information and ideas. If you help them, they will come back to you for your input. You may even be able to pitch an idea to them for a feature that they can take to the magazine.
Many business people dread doing interviews with the press. Do them well, however, and you will get valuable coverage for your company.
Always be friendly and helpful when a journalist requests an interview. Don't, however, feel pressurised into responding then and there. It's always best to give yourself time to prepare for an interview. You can ask the journalist what questions they have and then call them back when you are ready, deadline permitting.
Make some notes on the key points you want to make and phrases you want to use. You can even ask to respond in writing by email if you are concerned about saying the wrong thing.
Bear in mind that journalists don't have to show you copy before it is printed and they cannot guarantee that your story will be published. If you are helpful and respectful, however, they'll contact you for quotes time after time.