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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Build It, And They Will Come...

Okay, so it's baseball season and I just couldn't resist that classic line from "Field of Dreams."  Who doesn't get chills up their spine when they remember that deep, booming voice of James Earl Jones giving the speech about baseball marking the passage of time and telling Kevin Costner to just build that damn ballfield.

I suppose the comment is just about being ready, or about putting your energy out to the universe or about taking risks.  I don't know, and it doesn't really matter.  Because this entry isn't about baseball or James Earl Jones or a baseball field in the middle of some Iowa cornfield.  It's about lists.

The List is the thing:

As small businesses and non-profits build their organizations, one of the first things they do is start building lists.  Lists of competitors, lists of potential clients and donors and volunteers.  They build lists of vendors and local officials and potential partners.

Sadly, one of the lists they don't build, is a press list.  If you've been following this blog, you know the importance of having a press list ready to go whenever you feel like picthing a story or in case anything goes wrong.  And yet, I ask you, have you started to build your press list yet?

If the answer is no, don't feel bad.  You're in good company.  Ask most small business owners and non-profits, they'll give you the same answer.  And it's understandable because building a press list can be intimidating.  But it doesn't have to be.  Here's why:

For most small businesses and non-profits, the more you interact with the press, the more relationships you'll build.  The problem is, this takes time.  But as active small business owner and non-profits, you watch the local news broadcasts, listen to the radio and read the newspaper.  If you do this, you probably have noticed certain reporters that cover certain beats, whether it's business, crime, community, etc.

As you follow the daily news, take note of these reporters and what outlet they're with.  Write their name on a slip of paper, or on your computer, in your phone.  Don't look now, but you've started to build a press list.  Really, it's that simple.

Here's a simple five step program to building a basic, local press list:

Step 1.  Identify your outlets - Regardless of what city you live in, there are local news outlets that you depend on to deliver your daily news.  In Denver, we have one major newspaper (RIP Denver Post), five major television outlets, and two to three news/talk-oriented radio stations.  We have four or five legitimate neighborhood papers, two business oriented magazines and two specialty magazines.  That's 14-15 media outlets in the immediate Denver area that small businesss and non-profits can pitch stories to.  This isn't counting outlets in the surrounding suburbs (neighborhood papers), Boulder, Fort Collins, Longmont, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and a slew of Western Slope towns.  As a small business or non-profit in Denver, I'd focus on the immediate 14-15 outlets and grow from there.

Step 2.  Get the digits - Now you have your outlets identified, the next step is very easy.  Find their websites and note their phone number or email address.  Most media sites have a "contact us" page with this information.  Put the phone numbers email addresses next to the right outlet and you're halfway home to having your first press list built.

Step 3.  Make the call - Now you have the numbers, you have to make the phone calls.  This isn't as hard as it sounds.  You're not making a pitch, you're simply asking for information.  Identify yourself as a small business owner or non-profit and ask for a newsroom phone number and an email to send press releases to.  More often than not, the person answering the phone will give this information willingly.  Sometimes this information is available on the websites, but it never hurts to call and confirm the information.

Step 4.  Send an E-mail - This is like a follow up phone call when making a pitch.  Only you're not pitching a story, you're asking for more information.  Email the newsroom asking for the names of the assignment editor (television), city desk editor (newspaper), Executive producer (TV and radio).  If you don't hear back from the email, call the newsrooms and explain that you need the names of the individuals to send press releases to.  It's likely they'll tell you to just send all press releases to the newsdesk.  Don't give up hope.  This is where your list of reporters comes in handy.  Call again and ask to speak to your reporter, or ask for their email.  The reporter will amost always direct you to their producer or the executive producer.  If this fails, at least you have the information to every newsdesk in the city, and that's a huge start.

Step 5.  Start organizing - I put my press lists in Excel formats with names of the outlets, phone numbers, email addresses and a notation section for comments.  As you continue to follow the news and, hopefully interact more with the media, you'll get individual names and email addresses for reporters producers, etc. More often than not, newsrooms have very structured email addresses.  For instance, at KUSA, when I worked there, the email addy's were first name, then dot, then last name then @ then the name of the station.  In this case, all you needed was a name and you could figure out the email addresses for individual journalists.  Keep adding names, phone numbers and email addresses and before you know it, you'll have a very large and thorough press list built.

It's just that easy:

You can do all of this in a fairly short period of time.  Take one weekend afternoon or a weekday afternoon and you can complete this in two to three hours, four tops.  And believe me, this will be time well spent.

You can even cut down on this initial time investment by simply gathering the newsroom direct line and email address.  This is a fine way to start as well.  One thing to keep in mind is that turnover happens in newsrooms, particularly local newsrooms.  This means every four to six months or so you'll need to contact the newsroom just to make sure the phone numbers are the same and the emails haven't changed.  You can also take this opportunity to ask again for the assignment editor's name, or the Executive producers name.  Hey, it never hurts to ask.

So there it is.  In just a few hours, you can build a press list that gives you at least initial reach into your local newsrooms and give you a step up on your competitors when it comes to conducting your next public relations pitch.

Now go forth and build, my friends, for if you do, they will come.

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