How to Leverage your Local Newspaper

This month, I’m turning the tables on the media. Rather than being the interviewer, I’ve asked Meg Dedolph, Business Editor of our local newspaper, the Naperville SUN, to be the interviewee. Why? Well, one of the many ways an entrepreneur can increase credibility and visibility is through the print media. So I figured I’d go right to the source to get her take on how to make the most of this great resource.

Q: Looking at each of the ways an entrepreneur can use the media, what advice or tips can you give us for each? For example, one way is to pitch an idea and have the publication write an article.

Meg: The key to a successful pitch is to call when you have some news about your company – that includes changes in location, management or key employees, or a change in business focus, for example. Business anniversaries are generally reported as a brief – not with a full story – unless it’s a notable anniversary, such as 25 years.

When it comes to stories about new businesses, I personally find original, independent businesses much more interesting than someone opening a franchise – those stories tend to have more behind them than, “Well, I talked to a franchise broker and figured it was either kitchen counters or dog grooming.”

Another key is to make sure you’re speaking with the right person. Know the publication you are sending your release to. For example, even though the Naperville Sun focuses on the Naperville area, I recently spent some time on the phone with a PR rep who wanted to know why I hadn’t run his press release. It was about a business in Tinley Park with no Naperville connection – that’s why.

Finally, what often happens is, we run an article on XYZ. Then, the week after, we get calls from people in similar situations, or who have done similar things, who say, “Well, you ran an article last week on XYZ, and I’m doing the same thing, so you should write about me.” That makes sense from one point of view – if Bob Smith’s better mousetrap is worth a story, then John Jones’ better mousetrap is worth one too – but for the sake of variety, I try not to run stories on the same topic within a few months of one another.

Q: Another way to get visibility is to contribute an article you’ve written. Can that really be done, and how?

Meg: I use professional columnists, who are drawn from the community and who write on topics including law, accounting, financial issues and career issues. They are not paid. It’s viewed as a marketing opportunity for them. For my own planning purposes, I prefer regular contributors – even if it’s just once a month.

There’s an interesting situation I ran into recently regarding this. I’m aware that people in many financial industries must have everything they write approved by their company’s compliance department. Obviously, that’s fine, but I was approached a couple months ago by someone who wanted to submit articles written by their compliance department with the company employee’s name on top – even though the employee didn’t write the article. I turned them down, and I’ve turned down similar requests since then, because I don’t think that’s being honest with readers.

Columns should be free of grammar and spelling mistakes and should be readable. By that, I mean, writers should avoid jargon that ordinary readers, who are not in their profession, don’t understand.

Q: And of course, everyone will want to know how to get their Press Release in print.

Meg: Most of my press releases are used for my business calendar or business briefs, which are short pieces (two or three paragraphs long) that run several at a time, in a column. Again, the key is to send out a release that provides news about the business – those topics can include a business opening, expansion, closing, transfer of ownership or personnel changes. I prefer releases that are short and to the point. I don’t use quotes printed in a press release.

Press releases about events for the calendar listings, which are free, should always include the date, time and location of the event – including the town. I received one recently for an event at Colonial Café. There are Colonial Cafes in three towns served by our publications. If there is a fee or a registration deadline, the release should include that, and there should always be a phone number or a web site (preferably both) that readers can go to if they have questions.

Q: Any last words of advice for businesses looking to leverage the print media?

Meg: Sometimes I encounter a misperception when I talk with business owners. While an article in the newspaper may bring them more business – that’s not my goal. My goal is to fairly and completely report on the business community in Naperville.

Here’s an example: I had a conversation recently with someone in the financial industry, who was telling me about a new product their company is offering. She suggested I might like to write about it. I said I’d be happy to keep her press release on file as a reference for future stories, but right now, I didn’t think I would write an article about them (especially as their company had recently been used as a source in another article.) She said that Naperville had been a difficult market for them to break into. I said perhaps what she needed to do was advertise the new product, which would allow the company to put its own message out, the way they wanted to do it, on their timetable. She said the company felt it would carry more authority if their new product were written about in an article. While that may be true, it’s not a reason I’m going to consider in deciding whether to do a story about them.

Naturally, your mileage may vary – other editors may have different ideas about the kinds of information they want from their business community. It’s always good to ask.

I’d like to thank Meg, once again, for taking the time to help clear up some of the misperceptions businesses have of the media. Keep in mind that the media are looking for news to print! So jump in and send that press release! It’s one of the simplest and inexpensive ways to create awareness for your business!

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