Small Business

Playing to the Press


By Karen E. Klein Q: My company is releasing a digital collection of ancestral history. How do I reach the proper media about it, and what's the best way to grab their attention so our press release gets noticed and published?

---- K.H., Kamuela, Hawaii

A: If your product is another iteration of an already-existing technology and not really newsworthy, save your efforts for industry trade journals. If it is a breakthrough and deserves wider attention, publicity can be an excellent marketing vehicle. You'll want to make sure you properly plan a PR campaign and carry it out over the correct time frame, experts say.

First, identify your target audience by clearly understanding your product-distribution channels. Are you going directly to consumers or will the product be sold through retail outlets? If you're marketing to consumers, will you sell through a direct-response program or utilize your Web site?

If you sell through retail outlets, will you go straight to store buyers or sell first to wholesalers? In all cases, you want to tell the story of your product to the end user -- the consumer -- but you may also need to reach retail or wholesale buyers.

"TARGET YOUR LIST." Once you've established who needs to hear about the product, you can determine how to reach them. "Your product most likely lends itself to a broad array of media: newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, Web sites, and e-zines. Media outlets that offer national circulation, i.e., news syndicates, news wires, and national magazines, are the quickest ways to spread the news -- but often the most difficult to entice," says Hilary Kaye, a public relations specialist with Hilary Kaye Associates in Tustin, Calif.

"The more you target your list, the better your results will be. Since it sounds like your product crosses over diverse 'beats' -- areas that reporters are assigned to cover -- you might choose reporters who cover software or family life, as a start."

If your product is available only regionally, don't solicit national coverage: Potential buyers across the country will become frustrated if they can't purchase the product and any later bid to get publicity in other regions will be shot. If it's available nationally, don't be so narrow as to focus just on your local region -- go forward with a national publicity campaign.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. A word on timing: If it's not available yet, don't start publicizing the product prematurely. But if you want to solicit product reviews in various publications, Kaye recommends starting a "product evaluation" program as early as six months before the release date. "Identify key publications for your audiences and offer those reporters an evaluation copy of the product," she says. "Their reviews will be invaluable, assuming they like your product."

Finally, when it's time to write and send out your press release, don't just mail out sales literature. Write the release objectively, refraining from hype and attempting to copy the writing style used in the publications you're targeting. Also, hold the industry jargon -- it's a pet peeve of most reporters and a frequent trigger that gets a press release discarded before it's been completely read. "Be compelling, rather than boring, but let the product speak for itself," says Kaye. "Be sure to differentiate your product from everything else available."

Another suggestion you might consider would be creating a tie-in with a nonprofit organization that targets your audience. If you can work out something credible with an established and popular group, that may get you automatic publicity.

For more information and media directories, check out: NewsDirectory.com and Assignment Editor. Kaye's site, EmergingTechPR.com includes an overview of how small companies can do their own PR. Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 6th Floor, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.


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