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How a small business can generate positive press coverage

When new shoe brand 18 Hour Heels featured in a full=page of editorial in the Daily Mail in May last year, the company was amazed by the public response.

“We sold out of shoes in one day,” said founder Shaherazad Umbreen, “and we received orders from nine countries including the US. We recorded an astonishing 7,480 visitors to our website, with a reach of 567,000 on Twitter and 652,000 on Facebook.”

Best of all, the company had not paid for any advertising. It had responded to a request from a journalist looking for fashion with a twist, been interviewed, and the rest – for them – was retailing history.

This kind of public response to seeing products being featured in editorial – as opposed to advertising – is not new. When a £17 Boots anti-ageing cream was featured on BBC2’s science programme Horizon, sales rocketed by 2,000 per cent.

Delia Smith called a specific brand of omelette pan a “little gem” on her TV show, prompting sales to leap from 200 a year to 90,000 in four months.

But it never loses its worth. Publicity consultants typically place a value of between three and 10 times the cost of advertising on good quality editorial mention. After all, who doesn’t value an impartial yet glowing recommendation?

And it’s never been easier to do. With the expansion of the media, journalists and content creators are crying out for interesting stories. So how can you get your business or yourself into the national media without spending a fortune on publicity and PR?

Here are some simple yet effective ways to get noticed:

Be strategic

Decide where you would like to see your business featured (whether online, in a B2B magazine, or on radio, for example) and note down journalists who regularly cover this topic. Follow them on Twitter and begin some friendly interactions. That doesn’t mean tagging them advertising your product, but waiting to see their tweets which suggest these writers are working on a story to which you could contribute. Then just join in the conversation.

Be prepared

You may get asked to send over more information. So write up a press release – a description of what you do or who you are. The best pitches possible are short and simple. Include one special fact. You might say: “I sell wedding hats. All hand-painted.” Now add in another fact that makes you unusual. “I’m the only person to do this in Yorkshire.” 

Add a good quality picture of a hat, your price range, web and social media details, list of stockists, and a contact name and number. Your competitors may also be emailing this journalist so your pitch should stand out for being short and factual, with a low-res pic.

Employ lateral thinking

You are not just a business, you are a collection of human interest stories. Are you happy to discuss your family life to promote your business? Do you have an unusual health story or hobby? You can leverage publicity for your business from any of these other topics.

Check out media requests online

The hashtags #journorequest and #mediarequest (and #helpareporterout in the US) can get cluttered; too many businesses think they can advertise themselves to a journalist by adding on this hashtag to a tweet. Trust me, journalists don’t scour this timeline looking for stories. But we do use these hashtags if we’re having trouble finding a case history or are in a hurry, and know what we want. It’s also worth remembering that this is a two-way street.

Before you respond to a #journorequest, read up the tweeter’s bio. Many are posted by students or bloggers. Be strict with your time – only respond to journalists with bona fide credentials.

Join a media introduction agency which suits you: Miss Dashwood’s Register specialises in small business and start-ups, Expert Sources lists professionals who want to be opinion-formers, ResponseSource handles large companies and clients with PR agencies. 

Find a community

Mumsnet and Netmums both have media request sections on their forums where journalists post alerts when trying to source stories. Journalists often search in Facebook groups too so join those relevant to what you do. And look out for targeted Facebook groups like Feature Me! which make direct appeals for personal case histories and offer the chance to promote business. 

If you have a health or cause-related story, find the appropriate charity website and email their press or communications officer to offer yourself as a case history. You’ll get training and free advice too.

Victoria Lambert is a freelance journalist and founder of media introduction agency Miss Dashwood’s Register