As a small-business owner, enticing a reporter to cover your business is no easy task. Their email inbox is more crowded than Route 1 on a Fourth of July weekend. One local newsperson estimated that she receives more than 300 messages daily, just about story ideas. Even when your business has a great front-page story to tell, it still may get overlooked. But with a little patience, persistence and preparation, you can not only land an interview, but also nail it. To snag the reporter’s attention and make the conversation count, consider the following do’s and don’t's.
Pitch to the right reporter. Never email a story about your new restaurant to a sports reporter. Go through the reporter’s previous work. Visit his outlet’s website and sift through previous topics until you find a match.
Be prepared and easily accessible. If a reporter agrees to discuss your story, prepare yourself for the interview. Know your topic thoroughly. Reporters have strict deadlines. Time is as valuable to them as it is to any small-business owner, so never waste theirs. If the reporter’s schedule changes and she can’t do the interview, have alternative time slots already in mind.
Brainstorm. Narrow down the three most important messages you wish to convey. This step is crucial, yet often ignored. Anticipate the reporter’s questions and outline your answers beforehand. Spend time slotting your key messages into the responses. Every answer should include one or more of these messages. Repeating the messages in the interview increases the chances that the final story will also include your key points.
Quantify your story. Whenever you can, give the journalist some hard numbers to report on. For example, how many guests will attend your event, or how many customers visited your new store last month? What statistics about your business do you find interesting? The reporter’s audience probably will feel the same way.
Listen to yourself beforehand. Grab a video camera, cell phone or tape recorder and interview yourself. No recording device? Call your own voicemail. Listening to yourself can be an uncomfortable process, but the rehearsal will help clean up your answers. Listen for how many times you hear your key messages. Each answer should have at least one.
Pitch unnewsworthy stories. Remember that overflowing inbox? A reporter only pays attention to stories of substance. Ask yourself: Is the story relevant and timely, and does it impact the outlet’s audience?
Bring up the competition. When speaking to a reporter, don’t tell him, “Publication A is picking up our story, so you should, too.” It won’t help your case. Stay focused on that reporter or outlet.
Be long-winded. When responding to questions, make your answers succinct and stick to your key messages. Most of the outlets you are reaching out to probably do daily, shorter articles. They have no room for block paragraph quotes, long lists and extraneous details.
Overreact to mistakes. If you misspeak, correct it during the interview. If the reporter misquotes you in the story, contact her promptly. Most outlets will gladly correct any significant errors.
Forget your three message points. Don’t sit down for the interview unless you have your messages down pat. These key points should be less than 10 words apiece and easy for the reader, viewer or listener to understand. The No. 1 interview mistake is going in unprepared. Your goal is to get your messages across in the final story. Only thorough preparation will do.
Successfully pitching your business to the media can be a lengthy process. If you can’t spare the time, reach out to a public relations professional for assistance.
Lana O'Hollaren does business development and account management for Aloysius Butler and Clark and manages the agency’s southern Delaware office. She can be reached at 302-249-4438.