By Michael Raine
While advertising and marketing can raise a store or company’s profile, there are few things that can generate as much consumer awareness as a positive news story. A story in the local newspaper or evening news broadcast can have an effect that money can’t buy. So say store owners Myrna Sislen of Washington, DC’s Middle C Music and Liz Reisman of the Creative Music Center in Monroe, CT, who gave a joint NAMM U presentation on this topic at the recent show in Anaheim.
“Things that you do inside of your store can go outside of your store and then come back and give you an amazing amount of publicity that you never thought you could get,” begins Sislen. “Sometimes stepping outside of your comfort zone can come back to reward you in major ways.”
Sislen speaks from personal experience. She appeared in an episode CBS’s 60 Minutes after donating 39 instruments to a group of Paraguayan children known as the Landfill Harmonic, who gained international attention because of the outstanding music they perform using instruments made of garbage found in the landfill of Cateura.
“As a result of that, I just got an enormous amount of press; enormous,” says Sislen. “That wasn’t why I did it, but that’s what I’m talking about; sometimes if you step outside of your comfort zone, and this was way outside of my comfort zone in a number of different ways, things can happen that are quite wonderful for you and your business.”
Of course, 99.9 per cent of music store-related events or initiatives will not make it onto an internationally televised program, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to be featured in the local news outlets. But even this is no easy task.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to events and initiatives that could be viewed as newsworthy, and none of them are a guarantee. “There is no formula that I can see,” warns Sislen. “Something comes up and you never know, because what is important to you may not be important to the media.”
Nonetheless, there are factors that make media coverage more likely. Events that involve charities, children, and schools, for example, all appeal to a reporter’s attention. Reporters like events that help the community, but they also don’t want to feel used. Adds Reisman, “If you’re going to profit from it, like I’m going to charge a $10 fee, now it’s not news; now it’s advertising for me. So the balance is staying on the news side of the equation. The minute they sniff that you’re going to make money if they run it, they won’t run it. Then they tell you take out an ad.”
If you do have a newsworthy event, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Know Who To Contact
“What we do is create a hierarchy of media,” explains Reisman. “You make a pyramid… the top is national media – national television press coverage – the bottom, the widest and the biggest impact, is local media.” She adds that as she moves up the pyramid, she becomes more selective, sending many press releases to local media and only the exceptional opportunities to the national media.
Using a spreadsheet, Sislen advises you create a list of every news outlet – radio, TV, newspaper, and online – that serves your local market. For each, have a list of the reporters who cover things like entertainment, personal interest stories, community events, and the like, as well as editors and producers. When making initial contact, start with the producers and editors and work your way down from there. “I think that way you also establish yourself a little bit better,” Sislen adds.
Like so many things in business and life, Sislen and Reisman point out, getting press coverage comes down to connections and relationships. Forming relationships with reporters and others in the media can be very helpful. Chances are that at least a few will play an instrument. Having a relationship with folks in the media doesn’t just help get coverage; it’ll also helps better understand the media – how they work, the things they’re most interested in covering, how they prefer to receive news, etc.
Don’t Forget The Contacts In Your Store
“The clients and customers and students that you have, you want to be sure that you are using them because they want to help,” says Sislen. “Just be friendly and know the people who are in your store every week. In every community, especially if you have lessons, you have parents and the parents are usually people who do things that involve the media in some way.”
Sislen discovered the power of active parents with outstanding results. When Sislen found out a nearby Best Buy had plans to open a music store near her, she just happened to mention this to a parent of one of her students.
“She was an activist in the neighbourhood,” Sislen shares. “I think I mentioned it to her on a Wednesday. By Thursday, she had done a blog – it was way more than I thought anybody would do. By Friday, I had a petition to keep them from doing it that had 400 or 500 signatures on it, and by Monday, Best Buy had reversed itself. All of this was because I went up to one parent and said, ‘You know what they just told me?’”
Create A Quality Press Release
If you are reaching out to media, you are going to need a press release.
To increase the likelihood of press coverage, Reisman notes from experience on both sides of the equation, the goal should be to make life as easy as possible for the reporter. This starts with a well-written press release that provides all the info a reporter may need. Most essential are the who, what, when, where, and why, but there are other elements that will certainly make any reporter happy. “I was a reporter for 20 years and reporters appreciate that you’re trying to make their job easier. Even when I write a press release, I’ll often write, basically, a little story. If they want to cut and paste it and drop it in, they don’t need to edit it.”
To create this kind of cut-and-paste-worthy press release, quotes and photos are needed. “Make up a quote!” Reisman advises emphatically. “Like, for me personally, ‘Liz Reisman said that studying music education benefits everybody.’ Stick that in there and now the reporter doesn’t have to call you for a quote.” As well, if a local official or notable figure is attending the event, include a quote from them. “You can make up a quote for him, too, and call him up and say, ‘Hey, I wrote this, are you good with that?’ So now the reporter has all the pieces, all in one package.”
To save time, it is good to have a press release template prepared. This template includes the store’s logo, name, location, contact info, and a short “about us” paragraph at the bottom.
Coverage Can & Will Come After The Fact
Press coverage does not always have to be something that occurs before or during an event. In fact, most press coverage will come after the fact. If, for example, your store participates in a holiday food drive and exceeds the goal, let the media know. Stories such as, “Local Food Drive Exceeds Holiday Goal by 25 Per Cent” are the kind of thing that local news outlets love. Have a high-resolution photo of children dropping off cans of food at your store, combined with the previously mentioned quotes, and the reporter now has an easy story.
As Sislen said, there is no formula for getting press coverage. There is an unlimited array of events and initiatives that MI stores can be a part of that are newsworthy, whether hosting their own events or being part of something larger. The trick is to keep eyes and ears open for ideas and to have a game plan in place for when such opportunites arise. After all, few things can create brand awareness and the (rightful) impression that a store is an integral part of the community like positive news coverage.
Michael Raine is the Assistant Editor of Canadian Music Trade.