annnoder.jpgBig brands spend millions each year on managing their presence in the media through public relations. For small startups, that expense is simply and sadly out of reach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t launch into the press spotlight. And you should!

Like no other form of marketing, editorial media coverage gives companies an implied third party endorsement that can drive recognition and sales. Today, more than ever, media outlets are keen on outside content and sources as they deal with a 24/7 news cycle that requires a constant stream of fresh stories.

Here are five ways businesses can leverage opportunities with the media and land feature stories without spending a fortune:

1. Release the Release

Forget what you’ve been told about the perfect press release. Those should be strictly reserved for formal company announcements, such as financing. Even then, they are rarely effective at getting the media’s attention. Instead, engage reporters on an individual and less formal basis with a tailored and specific ‘pitch’ based on the types of stories they cover. Do a little research to make sure you are connecting with the best contact at the media outlet you are targeting. Today’s digital and social media world makes it easier than ever to track down the right journalist. A good pitch can be accomplished through email, or even LinkedIn. Just make sure to keep your teaser short (no more than two paragraphs.) Remember, you are trying to grab a reporter’s attention, not tell your whole story. Through this type of tailored pitching, we’ve secured coverage for an array of companies in top tier media outlets such as USA Today, Real Simple magazine, CNN, The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, and more. No press release needed.

2. Find Your Story

You don’t need to spend major dollars to define and refine your messaging. When it comes to getting your company editorial coverage, it comes down to one simple question: Why would anyone care? Answer that, and you have the basics for a story pitch. Does your company offer a solution that doesn’t exist elsewhere? How is your business different or better than others? What’s unusual or interesting about your story? Take a look at your story from an outside point of view and you’ve got the makings of the right message. Reporters want to cover stories that have viewer/reader benefit to their audience. One of our entrepreneurial clients, Michele Welsh, inventor of SafetyTat, had the opportunity to be on the Katie Show with Katie Couric when we focused the news angle on how her invention helps parents ease anxiety at public places. The SafetyTat serves as a temporary tattoo in case the child is lost. It’s a problem many parents can relate to and that problem-solution pitch was enough to catch the attention of national producers.

3. Give, Don’t Receive

Ask not what the media can do for you, but what you can do for the media. One of the best ways to get national exposure is to position yourself or someone within your company as an expert. Can you offer insights into a timely news story? Reporters are always looking for good sources who can provide interesting quotes or perspective on various stories. This is an easy way to get your company editorial exposure and it puts you in a good position with making contacts in the media. An author client of ours, who wrote a book on customer service, made himself available to reporters each time there was a customer service mishap story in the news and he landed national exposure with Fast Company, Forbes, Boston Globe, Entrepreneur and others. Plus, you can go a step further and assemble content which press outlets can easily run; either specific tips or a full bylined article that credits you and your company as a source.

4. Go Global, but Think Local

A feature in The Wall Street Journal or on Good Morning America is fantastic, but not likely right out of the gate if you’re doing things on your own. Your local market, on the other hand, provides a perfect opportunity for exposure. TV stations typically have morning and midday lifestyle shows that can be the ideal venue for a feature segment. Local newspapers are likely to be interested in your business startup and entrepreneurial story. Again these media outlets are looking for good stories; all you have to do is reach out! A local story can extend well beyond your local market. The inventors of a reusable grocery bag were featured in their local Denver newspaper, which then was syndicated and ended up running in newspapers around the country. Another client was showcased in a Seattle TV segment which caught the eye of a national producer and led to a feature on the Today Show.

5. Timeliness is Next to Godliness

Plain and simple, if you don’t attach a timely angle to your media pitch, it’s not news. If your company is brand new, that can be a well-timed angle in itself. If your company has been around a bit, then look for other ways to make your company relevant NOW. That may mean connecting to other current stories and trends in the news, or perhaps there is seasonality to the story that makes it more relevant now than say six months ago or six months from now. Think in current and timely terms and you’ll increase your chances of media exposure.

Ann Noder is CEO of Pitch Public Relations, LLC, a boutique agency specializing in national media coverage. The firm works with major brands and startups with a focus on outstanding media relations.