How to get media attention when you have nothing to say

How to get media attention when you have nothing to say

A growing startup will likely get their first round of media coverage with two pieces of news: they just landed a big chunk of change from a known investor or they’re bringing something new to the table and it’s worth writing about (which is probably why they got that investment in the first place).

Either way, the media loves a good startup story. But what happens after that first big wave of public attention?

Things get quiet. Employees are heads-down, putting that investment money to work, and in the meantime, leadership wonders how to keep a steady stream of media buzz when, well, they have nothing huge to say.

I suppose this blog’s subject title is deceiving; It should really read, “How to Find What Worthwhile Things You Have to Say.”

Most every company has a story that’s worth telling, but sometimes it takes a little digging to find it.

Here are four ways your brand can score coverage when they’re in between (truly) headline-worthy announcements.

1. Look internally

Instead of thinking about promotional and product-centered stories, think about the indirect ways you’re influencing the world. In many cases, all a company has to do is look inward.

Gravity Payments, a company many people had not heard of because of its niche services (Average Joe doesn’t care about a company that processes credit card transactions), made news when the CEO decided to set the minimum wage at $70,000 a year.

Average Joe cares, because stagnant wages and the rising cost of living has been an issue in his life, like so many other Americans. Instead of limiting communication to an internal memo, Gravity realized that this internal policy was actually a big story—one which is still generating coverage.

People like to read about companies who treat their employees well, and if it’s unique it has even more appeal, like Domo’s $2k bonus that allows pregnant staffers to buy maternity clothes.

If your company isn’t planning on doling out some newsworthy perks any time soon, there are less glamorous cubicle-oriented stories that can earn attention. Maybe your company’s annual poll (or embarrassingly flattering Glassdoor reviews) showed that employees are really happy. What about the company culture has led to that, and wouldn’t that be an insight worth sharing? A good example is this blog post I wrote for Zapier, which looks at how Batchbook—a small, relatively unknown company (for now)—thrives using a mostly remote team structure.

2. Think locally

Never underestimate the power of local coverage to get through the quieter times.

It allows your brand to connect with geographically diverse audiences, and you’re catching readers who are already invested in the story because it concerns their community. It’s an authentic way to create brand advocates and work with other local businesses and investors. Plus, creating relationships with local journalists now means they’ll know you well by the time they move on to places like the WSJ.

Google’s education division has this down to a science. Google is a big name, and will get a journalist’s attention in basically any media outlet (and it has). But if you search for Google Education using the news filter, you’ll see steady, weekly coverage—stories about local teachers who have achieved something great with Google Education, students who are more engaged in their classes at the local school or Google’s sponsorship of some small town-based initiative. It gives a gigantic company that trusted mom-and-pop business feel, creates positive perceptions, and showcases real-life results—all over the world. That’s powerful PR.

3. Speak your mind

Everyone has an opinion, but what makes one stand out is experience and expertise. Those things become especially relevant when they can be linked to a timely discussion, so think of possible guest posts and op-eds that would have a timely or special interest appeal.

One of the reasons Gravity Payments’ $70k move created so many waves is because it fit perfectly into an intense national discussion about stagnant wages, the shrinking middle class, and the rise of CEO pay over the last few decades. Yet at the same time, it was all about the company.

Think about the areas of public concern in which your brand fits—and can legitimately speak to—and get your opinion out there. If you dare, get political as long as people have a reason to care why YOU are taking a stance. That’s what Marriot’s CEO did when North Carolina passed controversial laws regarding the LGBTQ community.

Peter Metcalf, CEO of outdoor gear supplier Black Diamond Equipment, got an op-ed placed in Outside magazine (reaching readers who would absolutely be interested in buying his products) about getting data on the economic impact of outdoor tourism to inform policies on public lands.  The CEO of CommuniGator wrote an op-ed about the data protection legislation in EU. You get the idea.

Another angle outside of anything timely is the advice post. Use executive’s insider knowledge and years on the job to provide tips, predictions and lessons learned, like ClearCompany’s CEO did for Entrepreneur.

4. Go the trade route

From time to time we all get clients who are really excited about an update to their complex (and really boring) software, or thinks a development within their company should be global news when I suspect only a handful of those in the biz would care (“But now the mop head can swivel and pivot!”).

When you do have news but it doesn’t have mainstream appeal, turn to the trades—that’s what they’re there for. If you consistently bring solid stories to the trade media, you’re going to be a constant presence in your industry’s news (and again build relationships with journalists who may cover your beat at a bigger paper down the line).

Take Airbnb for example. A huge company that is constantly in the headlines, but not too many people ran a story on their partnership with Qantas Airlines, which was only relevant to airline members in Australia. But Traveler’s Today, Condé Nast Traveler, tnooz and the Australian Financial Review all covered it.

Look at CBRE. The real estate giant could stop people in the street anywhere in the U.S. and ask them, “Do you care about the sublease we just finalized with [insert unknown contractor here]?” and I’m confident they’d get a resounding “no” from each person. But Commercial Observer, which covers commercial real estate news, publishes CBRE news at least twice a week throughout the year. Skift, a travel news site, writes about Expedia a few times a month. These particular news items that won’t make it into The New York Times are reaching the people who do care about it. That’s PR efficiency at its best.

Feel free to share ideas and examples of loud coverage in silent times. We'd love to hear from you!

Jane Callahan is president of JKC Communications, a boutique PR firm that specializes in helping startups tell their stories and grow name recognition through media campaigns and content creation. Prior to founding JKC Communications, Jane worked as deputy director of communications at Amplify, a News Corp. subsidiary, and prior to that was a freelance journalist. She holds an M.A. in English and a B.A. in communications.

Photo: business via Shutterstock

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