Whizzing down the Interstate 17 highway on my way home, I just flashed past a sign for Big Bug Creek. Two seconds later, it was gone.
I’d venture a guess that this small community has less than five hundred residents. It’s one of those “blink and you miss it” towns with a fascinating history dating back to the Gold Rush era, Daniel Boone and a “Battle of Big Bug” skirmish between miners and Apache Indians. There is even a connection to cannibalism, since the founder’s father actually traveled with the Donner Party. It isn’t clear if he was a survivor of that snowed in winter or if the timing was mercifully off. Let’s hope the latter.
Did you know that more than half of the Donner Party survived? I didn’t.
Forty-eight people staggered out of the Sierra Nevada’s that Spring, rescued FOUR MONTHS after being snowbound. It wasn’t one family in a cave, as I’ve always imagined it; the nightmare started with 87 people.
… Back to Big Bug Creek. Abandoned in 1910 and now considered a ghost town, a few families still live there. (The older I get, the more appealing a tiny town like this becomes!) Thinking about living in a small town like this one naturally makes my mind turn to small town media.
Big Bug Creek might be small, but it is large enough to support a community newspaper: Big Bug News.
How many times as a new PR pro did I include that poor editor in my mass blastings of press releases? Probably more than once. Ack. It sticks in my throat like a bad hairball. Since my training was nonexistent, I wouldn’t have known any better.
If it occurred to me at all that it might not be a great fit, no doubt I rationalised that my news was THE PERFECT BIT OF EXCITEMENT those people needed and that the editor would be instantly captivated! Of course they cover fantastic news from Phoenix – it’s only an hour drive away and the closest major city!
Ahhh, the naivete of the young and innocent…
The publication is more likely to cover stories like “Rat Caretaker Faces Charges” than Phoenix-based news. If it isn’t happening in their community, they could care less. And rightly so!
But I wouldn’t have known this as a noob. Now I know better, sure, but who works with newbies to craft the perfect media list? Training is rare, even today.
We learn through trial and error: crickets, scathing emails from pissed-off reporters and whatever self-education we can squeeze in. It’s hardly ideal.
Sometimes I wonder if media lists are often the weakest link in securing news, when it comes to the sum total of all that we do as public relations professionals. When done right, they should be the most powerful tool available, because we are reaching out to only those reporters and media that are the most perfect fit for our news. Nobody else, just those who are most likely to be interested in it.
It doesn’t matter if we are sending a press release or a pitch – it’s perfectly targeted.
If that were the case, can you imagine the shift in our success rates? We’d be landing placements left and right. #HappyDance
Perhaps PR isn’t getting more difficult, as everyone laments but, as agencies and individuals, far too many of us aren’t improving our skills.
If what we send isn’t markedly better than what an entrepreneur or business owner with no PR expertise sends to a publication or reporter, are we any better?
It shouldn’t take twenty years of experience to have a clue how to do our job. Independents aside, it should be the role of our agency supervisors and leadership to give new PR professionals the education they need to be fantastic right out of the gate.
Today, a little bit wiser, I would dig deeper to evaluate a publication before including it in a client media list. I would put aside inexperienced hopes of getting maximum coverage via a shotgun blast approach and think about THEIR needs, instead of mine.
Who is their subscriber audience? How big is their coverage area? Do they have metro news on their website from outside their community, or does it only include small town news about residents and businesses located in a five-mile radius? Hmm. That makes a major difference.
Tips From Another PR Pro
To shake things up a little bit in today’s blog post, I’ve included some tips from Zach Solomon-Beloin (@ZachSB), former community manager for Allstate who happens to have a PR background. Here’s what he had to say.
I’m Zach Solomon-Beloin, a community manager with a public relations background. Part of what I did at Allstate Insurance as a community manager on the Corporate Relations team was pitch community newspapers with any nonprofit or community work they participated in, such as events to raise awareness of teen safe driving, customer service awards and their business anniversaries.
- When you’re working with a local small business, they often have a friend, or a second degree connection that works at “the” paper. Although they aren’t versed as media spokespeople, leveraging these existing relationships is extremely beneficial. One agent had a strong relationship with a local reporter, but was unaware that we could tell his business’ story and provide value to the local community, so it was a perfect fit to partner tactically in public relations.
- Unlike a daily newspaper, where you’re going to find several editors and a reporter for almost any beat – a community newspaper often has only a handful of full-time staff. Ask yourself these questions: how will my story idea contribute to the community and why would this one person want to pick up my idea instead of the business next to me? What am I doing that is in line with the community’s direction and values?
- I found that often editors for community newspapers wouldn’t respond to my press releases or phone calls, but often would end up writing up the story by going directly through the business owner. If you’re working with a local business, for example, be sure to train them on speaking points and any relevant key messages so they are providing messages that align with your company and story. Keep in mind that people who read community newspapers are more likely to do business with one that they perceive as trustworthy, and recommended by their neighbors. Always build those human-to-human relationships.
One thing I learned is to BE PREPARED.
Make sure you have high resolution pictures, the business owner is completely on deck and available to take media inquiries (interviews), and has a clean office.
The minor things make a major difference, and nothing is more embarrassing than landing an interesting reporter and not being ready and organized. Even for the smallest stories, not having the picture(s) they ask for can ruin any chance of landing a major story down the line.
And most importantly for your client/employer relationship, let them know exactly how the process works. It’s not an advertisement, it’s earned media, so nothing could happen this time due to editorial calendars and things of that nature.
Nice tips, Zach, thanks! Anyone else have tips or experience to add – specifically related to pitching community newspapers and small town media relations?