Podcast 50 Transcript: Building Media Relationships

Written by Ian Portsmouth

Ian:  Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses.  I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine and we’ve developed this podcast in cooperation with BMO Bank of Montreal. 

For celebrity starlets like Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, any publicity is good publicity.  But for your business, the only good publicity is, well, good publicity.  Joining me to discuss how your business can build relationships that can lead to positive media coverage is Susan Sommers.  Susan is the president of Susan Sommers and Associates, a Marketing and Media Relations consultancy based in Toronto.  Her new book is entitled building media relationships and it was published in 2008 by Oxford University Press.  Susan, welcome to the Business Coach

Susan:  Thank you.

Ian:  So Susan, what exactly is the value of media coverage to entrepreneurial companies?

Susan: Well, I think the value is that it helps to build credibility and trust with your key markets including current and potential clients, so people who are already inclined to feel better about you, obviously generate revenue.  And I think the key thing is to position the company as a leader in its industry.  Also media coverage helps because you can expand nationally so just by changing your media list, you can actually expand the scope of what you are doing and opens new markets.  It also dispels misconceptions so by finding out what’s out there and addressing it in a media campaign and getting media coverage, you can actually do that.  And it leads to other media coverage because when the media see something, they want to then pick up on it.

Ian:  Well, we are a lazy bunch that’s for sure.  Can you provide a good example or two of companies that have thrived due to media coverage?

Susan: Yes, there was a Canadian company that had the exclusive distribution of a new line of shoes that were from California.  And they pitched to the City Line and the segment host liked the shoes and did a segment last April.  That was broadcasted across Canada.  Then Canada AM picked it up in May.  Within two days of the broadcast on City Line, the fashion editor of the National Post did a feature article and suddenly consumers saw the shoes on TV and in the newspaper and then went into the stores and they started to ask for the shoes.  So then the retailers of this company has contacted the distributor and sales increased immediately by 30%.  Sales who had called from retailers who they had not approached to order the shoes and finally online media blogs started to write articles about the shoes and the company continues to promote through the media coverage that it got.

Ian:  Now, what does that mean to have a relationship with the media?  It’s more than simply having a list of people you can contact.

Susan: Well, I think it’s really crucial because then they contact and rely on you on an on-going basis.  So, I see it going two ways.  One, you become a resource to a writer or a producer when they are looking for a quote or an interview and two, you can pitch stories to them on an on-going basis.  So I see them coming to you and then you be able to go to them.  So that’s why I think it’s really important.

Ian:  How do you cultivate a relationship like that?

Susan: Well, I think that you deal with them openly and honestly, you do things like responding immediately in a crisis and I guess the main thing to start that is to do your research.  You know, find out who are the best media outlets for your company and understand their needs, their formats, their deadlines and their pet peeves.  And you know, I say when I teach, understand what they think is news worthy.  So the question that they ask is, is this really important to my audience?  If I do it, will it help them?  If I don’t do it, will it matter?

Ian:  Yes, and I want to get to some of the misperceptions that business owners have about media.  As a journalist, I know that I get a lot of pictures from companies and from entrepreneurs who think that their product is the greatest thing since sliced bread and the entire world has to know about it.  But, us journalist often disagree and sometimes, they get a little bit perturbed by that.  So what should a business owner expect from media outlets that they are trying to develop a relationship with?

Susan: Well, I think that they have to keep the flow of traffic going both ways openly and honestly and contacting them on an on-going basis and letting them know that you are available when they contact you.  Because I think the key thing is often they contact you, you don’t get back to them immediately, especially for TV for example that could work on a one day deadline and you’ve lost that opportunity.  So, really just being aware that you have to be right there to help them and work with them.

Ian:  Now, if you can continually get rejected, that’s probably a good signal that you’re not communicating your idea effectively.  So would you advise people to keep on trying and to refine their picture until they get a bit?

Susan: One of the things I suggest is if you can get an information session with somebody, somebody who is from a key media outlet and find out, you know, to find out a little bit more about how you can work with them, that’s excellent.  But you really have to do the research to find out what they’re looking for and if you are not getting there, then, you know, you either have to find another resource or exactly change your approach, change the things that you are pitching.  But knowing what they want is really the key to pitching to them.

Ian: What important thing for companies who want to be covered by the media is choosing the company spokesperson, so how important is this role and who should be your company spokesperson?  Is it necessarily the owner of the business?

Susan: Well, it’s interesting because I think ideally it is the CEO, as long as he or she is comfortable in the role and they must want to work with the media so if they’re not comfortable, they should get media training.  But having said that, I do think they could be more than one spokesperson.  So there is the CEO but I think there can also be someone who is a technical expert, a legal expert, a communications expert.  You can have those people available to you.  But the role is crucial for credibility and trust, it is the face of the company.  So if I see a CEO who looks awkward or dishonest, that tells me something about the company.

Ian:  Now, let’s say that I am a business owner, I have never approached a media to obtain any coverage.  What are some of the low hanging fruits, what are some of the ideas that I should try to pursue initially in order to get my first hit on the media?

Susan: Well, one of the things I say is some of the topics that you can keep in mind is tying with something I call “outside in”, a problem trend or issue that’s out there.  And then try to figure out a way that you can tie in with it.  Another way would be to do a profile, to pitch a profile of someone or a success story.  But there are definitely some kinds of media who are more opened to pitches and know what to include.  For example trade medias in your industry are a good place to start, freelance writers and now because as you said, medias are, there has been a lot of cut backs so there are a lot more freelance writers.  So try to hook up with a freelance writer, you can find them on the internet and they often write segments for different medias, online medias, community medias, so community newspapers or TV shows is a good place to look, 24hour news stations with lots of time and space to fill, multicultural medias, they are looking for success stories within their community and finally, I love newsletters.  I think they’re real opportunities for newsletters, association newsletters, politicians who have newsletters and are looking to look good in their community.  So, looking for those kinds of things, opportunities I think make the difference.

Ian:  That’s a great list Susan.  So thanks for that and thanks for joining the Business Coach Podcast.

Susan: Thank you.

Ian:  Susan Sommers is President of Susan Sommers and Associates in Toronto.

That’s it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast.  Be sure to check out other episodes which you can download from, and iTunes.  If you have any comments or suggestions about the podcast, please send them to me at

Until next time, I am Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine, wishing you continued success.

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