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Steven Strauss: Public Relations

December 19, 2012

Question: One of our goals is to get some publicity next year. We have a great business and a solid story to share, but so far, none of the reporters have responded to the press releases I have faxed them this year. What can I do to get some attention?

Answer: The answer lies in your very question:

1. “A solid story to share”: The problem with this is that reporters, columnists, pundits like me, editors, and producers are, for the most part, not interested in your solid story, I am afraid to say. We are in the business of disseminating news and content that is interesting, compelling, and newsworthy.

So your job, if you want to get our attention, is to come up with an angle or hook that is different and unique and which fits the beat of the writer/reporter/editor/producer you are trying to impress.

Tweak your solid story into that mold and you are on the way.

2. “None of the reporters have responded to the press release I have faxed over”: Well, people don’t communicate by fax much any more, and additionally, press releases are not how to get press attention these days, despite what we all may have learned in school. No, today, if you want to catch the attention of the media, ditch the press release, kill the fax machine, and communicate how we all communicate now – via email.

And what should your email say?

I know that personally, doing what I am blessed to get to do here, I receive at least a half dozen pitch emails a day. I say yes to only a very, very, few. The ones I like tend to be personal (the e-mailer knows who I am, who my audience is, and what I write about), and they pitch me a short, snappy email with a great subject line about something unique that would be of interest to my small business audience.

But I wonder – is this true for other reporters, writers, etc.? To answer my own question, I called up a PR pro to get her perspective.

Aimee Ertley is the director of public relations for Sage, North America. You likely know of Sage by virtue of its great small business products like Peachtree Accounting and ACT! customer relationship management software. Sage is laser-focused on the SMB market, and so if anyone understands the importance of, and how to get, small business PR it is the smart and charming Aimee Ertley.

The first thing she mentioned to me, even before we spoke about traditional, media-driven PR, is that small businesses really need to understand that it is easier than ever to connect with the public which is, after all, a main purpose of public relations:

“Social media is an incredible PR tool for the small business person, “ she told me. “Because of it, any small business can now be their own PR person, and have a significant reach in the process.” She added, “The first step is to build a personality for your business, a brand, and relay that in your social media so that you are able to cut through the clutter.” After that, she says, it is a matter of engaging with your audience, communicating with them, and building your numbers so that you extend your reach.

I think this is spot-on advice. I know that when I look to write about a business, one of the first things I do now is check out their social media platform. There I can figure out who they are and what they are about. So let’s add this to the list of reasons why small business needs to be engaged in and have an active social media presence.

Once your brand and social media are established, Ertley suggests that you focus your PR efforts on

1.    What it is about your business that is unique and different, and
2.    A creative story – human interest, community involvement, something – that would pique the interest of the writer.

Rightly, she says, your email pitch “is like starting a conversation with anyone. Create rapport – know what they write about and even mention an article of theirs that you read. And be sure to stand out from the crowd.”

Be unique, create a brand, and start a conversation: Now there are some words of PR wisdom to live by.

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