If you own a small consulting company or are a one-person enterprise, marketing and media relations are one of many things you handle for your business. Getting the right media contacts and maintaining those relationships is critical for your business.

Having friends in the media means you get an occasional mention when peddling a new product or service, and that reporters will call you for quotes, even when your business isn’t the focus of a column or news story. If you’ve made enemies, however, your news releases might get ignored, but any misstep you make might be scrutinized carefully.

Because editors and writers make daily decisions about what to cover and what to ignore, it’s important to have an inside track. The following are tips on who to know and when to schmooze in order to get the publicity you want.

Who’s who on the masthead
A basic necessity of media relations is knowing the names of the people on the publication masthead. The masthead is usually on the third or fourth page of most print publications and includes the names of editors, columnists, and contributing writers.

If you want to pitch a story or send a media release to a particular publication, skip the top editor—that person generally makes strategic decisions and is rarely involved in the day-to-day editorial functions.

So, who do you contact? Because titles aren’t always consistent from one publication to the next, there’s no easy answer. Generally, however, all the real editors (excluding “contributing editors”) work at the publication and get a salary. They spend most of their time managing writers, editing copy, attending vendor briefings, and so on.
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Staff writers cover the industry news and product releases. Freelance writers generally come up with ideas and try to convince editors to buy their pieces.

Columnists are more independent. They have rough guidelines on what to cover, but they insert personal opinions, choose their own topics, and are normally free to ignore topics suggested by editors if they don’t like them.

Reviewers (who may also be columnists) are strictly impartial and as objective as possible when they write reviews. The same person, however, may view the same product differently in a column and in a review because the column includes personal opinions.

Who assigns the topics?
Try to find out who assigns articles at the media outlet you’re targeting. You’ll pitch to that person. If there’s a regular freelancer who covers the beat you fall into—security, for instance—ask for that individual’s contact information. Unlike editors, successful freelancers have many outlets for their work and aren’t married to any particular technology or vendor. In some ways, that makes a major freelancer more powerful than even an editor at a major publication. Here’s a simple example to show why freelancers are important:

  • If an editor gets a news release or a product to review, it can only be covered in that publication.
  • If a freelancer gets it, he or she can sometimes write about it for a half dozen noncompeting publications and, since he or she gets paid by the word, the freelancer has a lot of incentive to convince editors he or she should write about that product or news.

Getting your message out locally
The television, radio, and print media in your town could be great outlets for you to consider. The approach is different for each.

If you’ve pitched to your local daily newspaper without luck, consider the business journal in your area. The American City Business Journals encompass business newspapers in 41 U.S. cities; most will cover companies throughout the surrounding region.

If you’re attempting to pitch a story to your local TV station, keep in mind that the best way to get television coverage is to have an extremely visual topic. That can be difficult in this industry. When making your pitch, you might want to suggest some graphics elements that the report can relay back to the art director. It’s easier to get radio coverage. Local programs typically have lots of airtime to fill. Offer your services as a technology expert, and they may invite you to the studio.

To get an “in” with your local stations, get the name and contact information of the assignment editor in the newsroom. Send your release to this person via e-mail and the newsroom fax. If your local station has a business reporter, you’ll also want to contact that person with the information.

It’s important to remember that you can’t expect TV reporters to understand technology. Explain the topic in layman’s terms, and tell why the average person should care. They need to convey to the audience how it affects them personally or how it affects local businesses. If it’s a feather in the cap of the city, that could also be an angle.

Know also that if a reporter wants to do a story—whatever the medium—you’ll get little advance notice. Be ready for a last-minute call, or you might lose your chance.
What does it take to get the media on your side? Know any surefire ways to get a reporter to cover your firm favorably? To share your thoughts, post a comment below or send us a note.