Your Name in Lights: PR Best Practices for Local Businesses

It’s easy to forget while you’re in the throes of running your business day-to-day that as a local business owner, you’re part of a broader community.  While you’re spending most of your time building a loyal customer base, you may be inadvertently ignoring another member of your community who can help you publicize your business—the local news media.  This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. In fact, the news media are an important voice that speaks to your customers—both current and potential.

News coverage can raise awareness of your business, help attract new customers and either solidify or transform your business’ reputation within the community.  So it’s well worth your time to cultivate a strong, healthy relationship with the local media.

The first step is to know which reporters and editors are relevant to you. Pick up your local newspapers, watch the local news in your area (cable news stations love to run stories about local businesses) and listen to the popular morning news shows on your local radio stations. 

As a local business, you will definitely want to identify the small business reporters (or business reporters, if you live in a small town) in your area.  You will also need to know which reporters and editors write about topics most relevant to your clients. For example, if you run a spa or fitness studio, you will want to identify the health and wellness reporters in your area.  If your business is a beauty salon, you may want to also identify the local style and fashion reporters. 

Read their articles and watch or listen to their shows! There is no better way to get a sense of how they present information to the public than by regularly monitoring what they say – and reach out when you have something relevant to offer them. 

For instance, if you’re targeting small business reporters, they will likely want to hear about things like grand openings, renovations, business success stories  (e.g., our business beat the odds because…), young and successful entrepreneurs building a business in their community, and/or new businesses with unique offerings, like the first fitness pole dancing studio to come to your area.

Health and wellness reporters also care about unique services or classes and may possibly want to try them. These reporters care a lot about health and beauty trends. So if you offer a new kind of laser treatment that removes wrinkles painlessly and it’s sold out for the next three months – let the reporter know.  

Editors and reporters will also want to hear about and attend any special events, charity fundraisers (especially for local charities), and seminars or special workshops you arrange.  Make sure you invite them and suggest they bring their photographers. If there’s a fee, offer them a “press pass,” which waives the fee for members of the press.  If you have arranged a visiting expert to lead your event, then try to arrange an interview with the reporter either in advance or on site.   

If you are the subject matter expert, offer reporters your opinion on the topic of your expertise.  For example, if you are a fashion expert, offer them your opinion on how fashion trends will translate to your community – “from the main runway to Main Street.” If you have the time and inclination—and have built a good rapport with the editor of a certain news outlet—offer to write a column for them.  Becoming a steady resource for the news outlet will guarantee consistent coverage of you and your business and solidify your position as local expert.

Once you know who your local reporters are and what kind of news they cover, invite them to visit your business and sample your services.  Keep in mind that reporters have certain rules around accepting free goods and services.  So it’s best to find out if they are allowed to accept a free service in advance before automatically comping them.

Whether you offer them a complementary service or they pay for it themselves, make sure you treat them like royalty from the moment they walk in the door. Your staff should be alerted in advance of their visit. Remember, the reporter is not only assessing their own experience but will be observing the experiences of the other customers around them.

Building a relationship with the local media gives you a valuable voice in your community.  It’s your business, so make sure that you build these contacts and personally maintain them.  You’ll find that a good relationship with local media will solidify your strong reputation and help your business grow.

About the Author

Deb Szajngarten

Deb began her career working on product public relations for large companies like Sony, Canon, and Samsung. She then migrated to the tech start-up world where she helped build Vimeo from a 12-person product to a thriving company. She's now Director of Brand & Reputation at Booker Software, where she's helping to build media visibility and grow their social media program. In her spare time, Deb is an avid yogi & martial artist.

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