Free Media is a Gift. Make Sure You Can Be Reached


Get Shift Done: Management

The most persuasive kind of publicity is media coverage. Free media is more valuable than almost any kind of marketing, except word of mouth, because it lets you tell the world the value of your offerings, and it comes with the validation of a third party (the publication). Nowhere is press coverage more crucial than for a budget-constrained start-up or small business.

And yet, mystifyingly, startups seem to go out of their way to make it as difficult as possible for journalists to contact them.

Trust me. As a veteran technology journalist, if a company makes it difficult to be reached, I will only chase them so far. (Note: Once journalists can find you, you want them to see your execs as thought leaders. Just pitch it the right way.)

Want to make it easy for journalists to write about your company? Here are a few easy tips:

Select someone on your team to be the company spokesperson. The individual needs to intimately understand your product/service, with the ability to explain it in detail. It can be the CEO, the chief technology officer, or anyone else you choose.

Select someone to act as the primary media contact if your chosen spokesperson is not readily available at most times. The media contact may have another title (marketing execs often manage press relations, too), but what’s important is that the person is extremely accessible and can connect with your company spokesperson easily and quickly.

Speed is critical. A reporter likely is reaching out to you on deadline, which means he has mere hours — and sometimes minutes — before he has to file the story. If you want your company to be in that story, the speed of your media contact’s reply — along with how quickly he or she can deliver the company spokesperson — often determines whether your company gets included.

More precisely, that speed determines whether your company spokesperson even gets the chance to argue why your company should be included. I have written many stories wherein many of the people quoted were included not by being the most articulate or insightful, but because they returned my calls the fastest. A genius spokesperson won’t get quoted if she gets back to me two days after the story has published. Again: Time is critical.

Make the contact info easy to find. Here’s an easy test. Pretend you know nothing about your company. (Better yet, find someone you trust who truly doesn’t know the company website.) Then start a timer. Visit your official company’s homepage, and see how long it takes you to find the media contact’s e-mail address and phone number.

A real e-mail and phone number, yes. Remarkably few reporters on deadline ever consider filling out a web form to be contacted later. They want to call and get someone on the phone now, or send a quick e-mail; then they move on to the next company. In most cases, the first qualified people to respond are the ones included in the story.

Your homepage should have a prominent link that says, “Are you a member of the media? Click here to reach us.” Have a link that says “newsroom” and include your news releases. And — this is critical — make sure each and every news release has the full contact details for your media contact, if not directly for your main company spokesperson (or both). Never ever delegate this task to someone working for a PR firm, unless that person is easily contacted and knows your offerings intimately. The published contact should be one of your firm’s employees.

A ludicrously high percentage of companies do not do this. Last week, I wrote a column that referenced nine companies that were active in a specific tech segment. Not a single one of those companies posted any media contact information. I spent 10 minutes on each site trying to find someone to talk to, even calling some companies’ main phone numbers in a futile attempt to get somebody on the phone. And did I mention I was on deadline?

After these kinds of articles run, I invariably hear from companies asking why they weren’t included. I tell them that they made it too difficult to be found.

It costs nothing to include a prominent contact link, and it could deliver coverage worth quite a bit.

The good news? Because most of your rivals are not doing this, it’s an opportunity to take a competitive advantage. You’ll suddenly get quoted in articles that neglect your rivals.

Think that’s worth the five minutes of a site designer’s time to post one link on your homepage?

Photo credit: [JP] Corrêa Carvalho - يوحنا بولس via / CC BY

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