“We can’t really afford advertising. And I’m not really sure it works all that well anyway. But we’d love to get written up in a major magazine or get a positive mention on the evening news. Any tips?”
Daniel Tisch, Argyle Rowland Communications, Toronto
You’re right! Media coverage will earn you more public credibility than any amount of advertising. However, unlike advertising, in which you pay for exposure and can control your message, in public relations the media has the final say on what’s in the story. To improve the odds of getting coverage, your message must be honest, clear, relevant and, of course, interesting.
As public relations advisors to many Canadian companies, here are some things we recommend to our clients:
Differentiate yourself: Identify what your company offers that no one else does and explain why that matters.
Target the right outlets and journalists: Think carefully about your target customers. Where do they live? What do they read? What do they watch?
Plan your timing: With so many companies trying to be heard, you can increase your chances of coverage by providing information to journalists at the right time. Take advantage of special events or seasonal changes, like the start of camping season.
Know what you want to say, and say it creatively: This is your best chance at getting your message across the way you want. You don’t have control over what the media will use, so take the time to write down important points and be sure to practise.
Provide visuals: A picture’s worth a thousand words. Take the time to choose a photo that tells your story or offers a unique viewpoint.
While the media will decide what they want to cover based on many factors, if you can communicate, in a creative, well-targeted and timely fashion, you’ll increase your chances of getting their attention. Good luck!
Joe Keszi, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines
I work out of the Canada / Manitoba Business Service Centre and frequently deal with entrepreneurs facing a variety of challenges / opportunities … . Having some experience in the area of tourism development and promotions, I offer the following suggestions for the Custom Made Kayak enquiry:
The owner may wish to contact their local / provincial tourism organization to see if they can participate in any Fam tours that may be taking place in the area. Basically, these tours bring writers, reporters, tour wholesalers and other interested industry representatives to an area to try out tours and see what the destination has to offer. A well-crafted kayak will undoubtedly enhance their experience and may garner some international media (print and TV) exposure. Alternatively, I’m sure the Canadian Tourism Commission wouldn’t mind an expert on their team when they host international industry reps. “Custom”, “quality” and “adventure” are their sweet spots these days.
Alternatively, the owner might offer to coordinate (or partner with someone who will) a brief water survival lesson for airing on a local media station. Nothing says “put me on TV” like having a local newscaster / politician / etc. learning to do an “Eskimo roll” (although I don’t think that’s the politically correct term anymore) in a kayak during water safety awareness week. How about a profile on custom made kayaks for people with disabilities (airing during international disabilities week of course)?
Gregg Meiklejohn, The Zen Marketing Group
We have manged a fair amount of PR in the marine industry on the west coast so here are some ideas …
Launch a new Kayak design much like you’d launch a new super yacht. Really hone in on the story: the inspiration to create a new kayak design, the struggles to perfect it and then the end result. Really focus on how the product is different from others in the market then weave it into a cool story.
Bobbi-Jo Lackie, Moncton, New Brunswick
During one of my contracts I did a renovation on a website. Because there was little money for advertising after the completion I decided to have an “open house”. We had a representative from the city counsel [sic] join us for a “ribbon cutting” and everyone was able to come in and be introduced to our website. A simple news release and a food tray or two was all that was required for over 100 people to join us!
Carl R.A. Wood, Thunder Bay Aviation Ltd.
In answer to the folks with the custom Kayak shop looking to create a buzz in the industry. They are on the right track because in a niche business this is the best advertising.
My suggestion would be to write an article or two for the various trade publications that are being read by their target audience. You don’t necessarily have to write the article yourself unless you happen to be a good writer. I bet if they canvass their existing customers they will find a writer who is happy to help them out. This article could be a how-to on kayaking and the experience that the customer had dealing with this shop. It could also be about the great kayaking near you and how you helped someone get into kayaking. Once you start, you will have lots of things to write about.
Sabine Schleese, Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd.
I have found it worthwhile to join various associations in order to meet and network with like-minded peers or guest speakers. I have always managed to come away with at least one valuable nugget of information, one valuable contact, or a suggestion for follow-up. Occasionally, because of the interesting business we are in (as is yours, as a custom kayak maker) I have been able to ‘sell’ the media on a story about us — we have been profiled in the Wall Street Journal because of a reporter I met at a local Venture Capitalist meeting; we have been featured on Discovery Channel because of another propitious intervention — the point is, the media is always looking for an interesting and unique subject. It’s important to build relationships with your trade-specific media — we always bargain with magazines that if we do an ad, they have to do an editorial on us. We now have a monthly column in one of the biggest US trade magazines in our industry which focuses on ‘how-to’s’. Offer your expert advice in a column for free. But you need to go to them — it’s very rare that they’ll come looking to you, except by chance. PR is hard work, but it’s your business — presumably no one has your passion about your business, so who better to sell it? That’s why I handle the PR for my company myself, rather than go to an outsider. Advertising is another matter, so don’t confuse the two!
As a small importer of rechargeable electric scooters for mobility, travel and fun, I contacted the writer of a weekly column in the Toronto Star who is always looking for travel products to write about. Since the scooters fold down to fit in your trunk for emergencies — or on your boat to travel around Marinas — it was a natural and unique product for the column. After I sent a few emails and pictures, the scooter was featured in the paper. The exposure was priceless.
Rudy Hiebert, Amsoil Inc. Dealer
The media, whether it’s the newspapers, local or regional television and radio, love to hear about unique business ventures and the products and the people behind them. Being part of our Chamber of Commerce and working a booth at a trade show were good first steps to getting public exposure that planted seeds for a more visible promotional strategy.
It definitely takes a strategy to make the media want to use your product and venture for their purposes. One of these is primarily selling advertising and keeping the news viewer on the hook to watch every commercial while he waits for your item. You’ve seen them, at the opening of the news, a three second intro on something that the announcer tells you will follow the next item — more crime and something to worry about, then you’ll see a new business with a new product or service.
You can visualize the fun I’ve had to introduce a synthetic automotive lubricant brand. The responses I’ve had from people who should know about the product have said to me, “Never heard of it”. Guess what, you just did, especially if I’ve given them a business card. This leads me to another aspect of the strategy — take out a media person like a radio announcer or journalist to lunch. He sees your card and hears your pitch, it should be a ringer. If he’s part of your Chamber or local not-for-profit club it should be in the bag.