A Short Guide to Using Local Publicity and Public Relations to Your Advantage


Although a nice story in BusinessWeek or USA Today is something to celebrate, there are times when you need to grab attention a bit closer to home.

If your business draws its clientele from a specific town, city or region, focusing your energy on getting an elusive national publicity hit may be overkill, especially when getting publicity where you need it -- in your home town -- is often so much easier.

Let's look at some techniques you can use to reach potential customers right where you live, through your local papers, radio and TV stations.

1) Get to Know Your Business Editor.

Unless you live in a very large city, it should be fairly easy to get in touch with the business editor at the main newspaper covering your region. A simple call to introduce yourself and let the editor know that you have some news to share is a good start. Remember some of the golden rules of calling a journalist, though: be respectful of his or her deadline (don’t call an editor in the late afternoon as deadlines approach) and always start with "is this a good time to talk?" before kicking into your pitch. In smaller markets, it may even be possible to develop a personal relationship with a business editor, by visiting the office or taking the editor to lunch. The bottom line is this: keeping abreast of local businesses and finding interesting stories to tell about people in the community is the essential part of any business editor’s job. He’ll be thrilled to hear from you if you can provide something new and fresh in those areas.

2) Keep the Releases Flowing.

Once you’ve built a relationship with a business editor, keep it growing by providing a regular dose of fresh news about your company. Won an award? Hired a new executive? Investing in some interesting new equipment? Scored a big new contract? Let the editor know with a well-written, hype-free release. Don’t feel the need to pump out a release for every little thing but, if it’s something really newsworthy, keeping the editor in the loop will help spur coverage on a regular basis.

3) Write a Letter to the Editor or an Op-Ed Piece.

If something occurs locally (or even nationally) that relates to your business, let your voice be heard with a letter to the editor or a longer "op-ed" opinion piece.

As a businessperson, your opinion matters when the subject relates to your field of expertise.

Write a Regular Column. Many smaller publications (such as weekly newspapers) are on the lookout for ongoing, well-crafted content. You can fill their needs - and promote your business -- by offering a regular column. Chances are, you’ve seen features along the lines of "Ask the Handyman" or perhaps a health column from a local doctor. Can you create a similar feature that taps your knowledge or expertise? If so, craft a few sample columns and present them to the editor of a publication in your area. You might even suggest that you don’t wish to be paid if your contact information (your web URL, number, etc.) is included with each column. You’ll be providing great no-cost content for the paper and generating strong local exposure -- and credibility -- for your business.

4) Conduct a No-Cost Seminar.

Financial planners and real estate pros have known for years that free seminars are a great way to drum up business and get local publicity. Try developing a one or two hour seminar in your field of expertise and offer it to the public. Make it meaty --it can’t simply be a promo pitch. Here's some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

* Remodeling company: "Remodeling projects that do the most to increase your home’s value"

* Doctor: "The latest research on extending your life-span --explained and simplified"

* Stockbroker: "How to retire rich"

Promote your seminar by sending releases to the local media. Keep your release entirely non-promotional. Highlight your seminar as a public service, not as a commercial event. (Tip: have someone videotape your seminar and offer the tape as a free gift for future potential customers!)

5) Connect with Kids.

Local media outlets always enjoy stories that involve schoolkids. Offer to visit a local school and talk to the students about an important topic connected with your business or, better yet, invite a class to come and visit your place of business. (If you choose the latter, make sure that your business is somewhat visual. Kids seeing how sheep get sheared or books get printed makes for a good visual. A bunch of children standing in an office looking at accounting tables doesn’t.) Craft a release beforehand -- this one probably works best with features and lifestyle editors. Suggest that they send a photographer down to cover the event. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with the person at your local school district who handles media relations, as they may prove very useful in drawing attention.

6) Partner with a Politician.

No matter how hungry you are for good press, I can guarantee there’s someone even hungrier -- an elected official. If you can team up with a local politician for a charity, educational or public service program, chances are you won’t have to lift a finger to get coverage. Your friendly representative, state senator, mayor or council member will gladly work the press to generate attention. A caveat: if you’re going to hook up with a politician, it’s probably best to do it with someone who’s not considered a highly ideological or divisive figure, and try to keep the topic as noncontroversial as possible. Let common sense be your guide.

7) Get on the Air.

Radio stations are an underappreciated avenue for publicity. Spend a few days listening to all the stations that serve your area and seek opportunities to get on the air. Look for general interest talk shows, locally-produced news programs and community affairs programs. When you find something that seems appropriate, contact the station and ask for the name of the producer for that particular show or segment. Then, give that person a call. Tell the producer what you have to offer and why you’d make a great guest. And here’s a bonus radio tip: offer your products or services as on-air contest prizes for commercial stations, or as pledge-drive premiums for public radio stations.

8) Make your Website a Local Resource.

Chances are, you’ve already got a website. Why not devote part of it to your community? Set up a local message board to discuss topics relating to your field. Have a local "Ask the Expert" section where community members can get advice. Provide local news, sports or weather. Donate part of your site to a local organization (e.g. offer to post youth soccer scores and news), donate part of a given day’s web-based sales to local charity. The possibilities are endless, so be creative and, oh yeah, be sure to tell the local media about what you’re doing!

Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider", has spent two decades as one of America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for PR-Hungry Businesses, he's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of scoring big publicity. For free articles, killer publicity tips and much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site.

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Tags: PR guide, local publicity, using local PR

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