Have you ever wondered how to get your business featured in the local paper, for free? Not through paid advertising. If so, read on. I’ve put together my top tips gained through 20 years of working with the media.
Step 1: Do your research (put those Facebook stalking skills to good use)
As with most things in life, you can increase your chances of getting published in your local paper if you prepare well. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s better that you don’t wing this.
Not until you have some experience, anyway.
Later on when you get how this stuff works, you can pitch a story to a journalist with very little preparation. But for now – play it safe. You’ll thank me later!
Start with some stalking
Think of it like you’re stalking your prey in the wilderness or a potential new boyfriend on Facebook! Use your detective skills to find out the following:
- Who is the editor of the paper? Look in the inside cover for a list of names, emails and phone numbers.
- Who writes the stories? Look at the byline of each story for the names of the journalists.
- Does one person seem to cover the local business stories?
- Can you find the editor and the journalists on Twitter? Just follow them for now.
Check out the style of stories
Once you have this information, start to take a note of what kinds of stories the paper is already publishing, particularly the ones about local businesses. Can you see any trends? New store openings? Special events? Local celebrity fundraisers?
Many local papers now have digital editions online, for example The Community News Group, which makes it easier to look back at past editions.
Otherwise, start to collect a few recent editions of your local paper and get in the habit of quickly flicking through each one as it arrives in your letterbox.
You can also check at your local library for recent copies if you’d prefer to thumb through them.
Looking through the physical paper can give you a sense of where stories are placed. Usually the first five or so pages are deemed the most highly read.
PRO TIP: Avoid pitching a story to a journalist if the paper has already run
something similar in the past month. Wait a few weeks, if possible.
Step 2: Prepare your materials
Before you place a phone call to a journalist there are a few things to have ready. Be aware, journalists think and act fast, they work in high-pressure environments, so if you can be professional and prepared, they’ll appreciate it!
What to prepare:
- A short “backgrounder” on yourself and your business. No more than a few paragraphs. Include some photos of yourself and some that give a sense of your business.
- A media release – which outlines the story, the angle and any timing considerations.
- A short email message – in case you don’t reach the person on the phone, you can start with sending a quick email. Keep it really brief. Bullet points are perfect here.
To call or email first?
It kinda depends on the situation as to whether you should phone first or email first. Personally I prefer to prepare the email with the above information before I pick up the phone. Note … I don’t send it yet.
I phone, see what happens and then send the email. This way I’m ready to say “can I send you through some background information and the media release?” and a few seconds later it’s at the top of her inbox – ready to click.
If you send the media kit and then phone you may drift into saying “Did you get my email?” which is perhaps the worst phrase a journalist can hear. Can you imagine how many times a day they get asked this question?
Isn’t local news on the way out?
A little while back there were rumblings in the industry that local papers would die out due to the popularity of online news sites, however, it now seems the opposite is true. Local papers all over the world are trending upwards in terms of popularity and trustworthiness, giving larger papers a run for their money.
Consider the behaviour of your audience – will they flick through the local paper? You can also check out the rate card or media kit of your local paper. These handy little booklets (usually available on the outlet’s website as a PDF download) are designed to sell advertising, so they usually give you detailed demographics of the paper’s readership.
The media kit also usually provides information on the paper’s reach / distribution and upcoming features or themes such as School Holiday Activities, Mother’s Day Gift Guide and similar. Mark these in your calendar and contact the paper at least six weeks before a feature.
Step 3: Follow up – gently
Journalists get hundreds of emails, overflowing their inboxes every day. Be mindful of this when following up and tread gently.
A good tip can be to put the person’s name in the subject bar and note the reason for the email clearly here as well. Then keep the email brief, for example:
Subject: Hi Sarah – following up re local story – yoga studio adding Bikram classes
A quick note to see if you’ve had a chance to consider the above story. A media kit was sent through earlier this week – copy attached.
We can pull together a great group of smiling faces for a photo at the studio, whenever is convenient for you.
I’ll touch base again on Friday to see how you’re placed.
Thanks for your consideration,
Offer photo opportunities
Local papers are often under a great deal of pressure to deliver bright and energetic photographs that will appeal to their readers, so mentioning here that you can arrange the location and talent for the shoot is ideal.
As always, treat others as you’d like to be treated. This is not the time to get snooty that your email wasn’t replied to or your story was knocked back in favour of the cupcake drive for the local animal shelter. Keep plugging away at it.
To get published in your local paper, you’ll find it’s often a combination of:
- The right story at the right time.
- Catching the right journalist at the right time.
- Having a unique, exclusive or unusual photo opportunity.
- Persistence and patience!
Ask questions in the comments
If you have any questions about how to get published in your local paper, please leave a comment below. I’ll receive a notification and will respond promptly to answer your question.
There’s a good chance someone else has the same question, so please don’t be shy, we’d love to hear from you.
Share your success
If you’ve had success being published in your local paper, please share your story below in the comments. It’s always encouraging for others to hear that it is possible.