Building Buzz: Pitching Stories About Your Small Business to the Media

Building buzz about your brand should involve more than advertising campaigns and social media efforts. Media coverage in influential national and local publications reinforces your legitimacy and makes people take notice.

So how do you get this coverage? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s never as simple as typing up a press release and blasting it to every news outlet you know (never try that, by the way). Here are some tips from Leslie Jackson, Square Canada’s Communications Manager, for crafting a compelling message, pitching stories, and getting attention from the right people.

dashboard photo

Think beyond high-profile national publications.

As the old saying goes, “All press is good press.” In reality, this may or may not be true, but you should cast a net wider than a few prominent media outlets. When pitching stories about your business, contact local papers, radio stations, magazines, and blogs to have the most impact in your chosen market. Check each outlet’s website for up-to-date contact information and find the names of the news editor, the appropriate section editor or the commissioning editor. Or call the news desk and ask for the best contact — magazines usually have editorial assistants who can help point you in the right direction. Blogs, on the other hand, are often run by one person; connect on social media to build up a relationship, but make sure the interactions are organic and friendly (responding to or complimenting their work is a good start), rather than “salesy.”

Do your research.

Most editors receive a deluge of unrelated, off-base pitches. So why not stand out by doing some research? Take some time to familiarize yourself with each publication, and the editors and writers who work there. If your business doesn’t seem like a natural fit with their coverage areas, move on. Taking the time to understand what journalists cover before you pitch to them results in more success in the long run.

Tailor your message.

Most writers and editors can tell within seconds whether their names have been plugged into a generic, blanket email that has been sent to dozens of other reporters. Instead, try sending a thoughtful, relevant message showing your familiarity with their publication, and let them know why your business is worth featuring.

Pitch stories, not just press releases.

A pitch is a specific story idea, while a press release is just information about your business. Part of the challenge of getting editors and writers to pay attention to your message is showing them why you’re a good fit for their publication. If you pitch a story that piques their interest, they’ll immediately recognize the possibilities. The rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “So what? Why should people care about this story?” A place or an event is not in itself news. There needs to be an angle. Perhaps you’ve opened a new coffee shop and it is the only place in Canada selling a rare bean, or you’ve decided to buy direct trade beans instead of fair trade beans. When pitching stories, highlight what you’re doing that’s unique and show them that you understand the larger context in which your business exists. Become an expert in your industry and journalists will return to you when they need a quote for relevant stories.

Follow up with editors and writers.

If you don’t hear back from an editor or writer within a few days, don’t give up hope and assume they’ve deleted your message. Send a friendly follow-up email to briefly remind them who you are and what your business has planned. They receive tons of email and phone calls, so they might need you to jog their memory. But don’t go overboard — if you hound and annoy a writer or editor, you can be pretty sure you won’t get any coverage.

Make a personal connection.

Meeting face-to-face always makes more of an impact than an email dialogue, so invite journalists and editors to events, or propose a one-on-one meeting over coffee, lunch or at their office — also known as a deskside appointment. Whether or not you’re able to arrange an in-person meeting, follow writers and media outlets you’re interested in via social media and make sure to share their stories with your audience. You can also comment, like or otherwise engage with them there.