Using the Media: Free PR can pay off

Time after time, editors, producers and reporters run up against walls trying to get information and facts for their stories because retailers, manufacturers and others in the outdoor and fitness industries either don't understand how working with the media benefits them, or are too afraid to even give the interview process a chance. Calls not returned or comments along the lines of "We don't give interviews" or "I'm too busy to talk" are just some of the reactions journalists receive everyday in response to their requests for information.
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By Jenni Dow

Time after time, editors, producers and reporters run up against walls trying to get information and facts for their stories because retailers, manufacturers and others in the outdoor and fitness industries either don't understand how working with the media benefits them, or are too afraid to even give the interview process a chance.
 
Calls not returned or comments along the lines of "We don't give interviews" or "I'm too busy to talk" are just some of the reactions journalists receive everyday in response to their requests for information.

Savvy retailers and manufacturers know that they can and should use the media to their advantage. Media relations (or publicity) is the art of getting free coverage for you, your stores or your products, and it is the single most under-used marketing tool. Think of working with the media as a sales opportunity. You wouldn't ignore your best customer, would you? If you choose to ignore the media, they will either learn to ignore you, turn to quoting one of your competitors or, worse yet, they may write about your refusal to be part of their story. There's nothing worse than the dreaded "so and so declined comment for this story," which never looks good. You can't blame them -- they're simply doing their job to get and to disseminate information.

Working with the media helps you help yourself
Maintaining good media relations will help you sell yourself, your store or your products by adding a "credibility factor" that you can never get from advertising. Here's how publicity benefits you:

  • It allows you to get your message out. You get to answer the questions, provide product samples or comment on industry happenings from your perspective. In the media's eyes, you are the expert. Don't be afraid to tell what you know.
  • It puts you up there with your "better known" competition. Ever heard "perception is reality?" Never was it truer than in working with media. You can better compete against the big guys if media outlets recognize you as an expert to turn to -- someone they can count on to help them get what they need.
  • It raises awareness of and interest in you, your store and your products. Whether you are a retailer or a manufacturer, you have a target market that you want to attract. Print or broadcast stories are seen by your customers.
  • It builds your reputation as an expert. For instance, a local TV show may call your store to get samples of the latest running or hiking gear. Jump at this chance! Provide them with samples, or offer advice. You get mentioned and people in the audience now know you are the expert in that area. People want to buy from an expert.
  • Ultimately, all this increases turns and sales. Publicity drives people to stores. Customers are swayed by editors' and reporters' stories. The stories are seen as implied endorsements, whether this is true or not. There is credibility built into coverage. It is a personal referral that drives sales.

A special note about retailers and trade media
If you are a retailer and are declining opportunities to speak with trade media because your customers don't read trade publications, think again. Trade media want to talk with retailers who know how to sell products and are in touch with the trends. And guess who reads trade media closely? Consumer media. And, quite often, they pull their contact ideas or story foundations from trade media research. Don't you want to be known in the industry as someone who knows how to run a business? You can bet manufacturers want to place products with retailers who know how to sell them, and consumers certainly want to shop at stores known for their retail expertise. Trade media coverage also can help give you more recognition and leverage with manufacturers and possibly increase clout with your customers as they begin to see you quoted more as an expert.

Fear doesn't have to shut you down
Afraid you may say the wrong thing? Not knowing what to say is the second-leading reason people turn down interviews. My advice:

1. Always take a call from a member of the media to see what he or she wants. Maybe you can help them with some quick tidbit or direct them to someone else who can.
2. If the person wants an interview, just don't do it on the spot if you aren't comfortable with that. Your response can be: "Sounds good, let's set up a time. What would you like to cover in the interview?" If you aren't working with a publicist or public relations professional (and I think you should be), find out what the reporter's deadline is and what he or she needs, including asking for some specific questions or general topics. Then sit down and write up your key messages (what you want to communicate -- this should fit your business objectives), some possible questions and answers, and practice beforehand. This will help you get over your nervousness and increase your chance of being quoted correctly.
3. Always let the member of the media know you want to help them. If they need a sample, for example, find out the exact need so you can help them target the right item better, find out a deadline, then make sure you get it to them. If that involves sizes, make sure it's correct.Â

Media opportunities can be used as an incredible conduit to your customer. Let a story in the paper, a trade magazine, or on TV help you sell. Working with the media might just be the most effective and efficient marketing tool you have.

Jenni Dow is the president of Dow Marketing Communications Inc., a marketing public relations and media coaching firm. Dow helps clients transform their media opportunities into marketing successes. She coaches executives and managers to overcome their fears and use media interviews and speaking engagements to their advantage. Reach her at JenniDow@aol.com.

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