PetAge_Cover_Oct14

You Are the Expert

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Publicity can benefit a pet retailer for a lot of different reasons.

For one thing, you don’t have to pay for coverage in the press, and second because people know you didn’t pay for it, it carries an air of legitimacy insofar as members of the media decided something you were doing was newsworthy.

And, these days, because of the prevalence of stories online and social media, it’s much easier to share a story that’s been written or broadcast about you than it was 10 years ago.
But as valuable as publicity can be in getting the word out about your store, it’s not the easiest thing to get without some knowledge of how news reporting works, and of why journalists choose the stories they do.

Many small businesses make the mistake of thinking that just because they send in a press release or call a reporter, a story will be done about them. Others assume that if they buy advertising, a media outlet will look more favorably on the idea of doing a story about them.

Erin Terjesen, of Propel Communications, suggests owners do a little research about who exactly they are sending their press release, too.

“Journalists often have niche topics of interest. Find out what publications and specific journalists have covered stories about your competitors,” Terjesen, said. “This will help you identify the best audience for your pitch. When reaching out, make it clear that you have read previous articles that lead you believe your story would be of value to the writer.”

There is also a fair amount of luck and timing involved with persuading the news media to report a story about your business. You need to understand what makes something newsworthy, but it also helps not to be calling them when they’re on deadline or just swamped with other work.

While you can’t control all of this, necessarily, the more you know, the better you can work the system to your advantage.

Vicki Lyon, president of Exton, Pa.-based LyonShare Marketing, suggests a variety of approaches by which pet retailers can offer the media news angles. In addition to letting them know about special events at the store and promoting products, Lyon says pet retailers can also tout their own expertise.

“Consider, for example, the benefits of micro-chipping pets,” Lyon said. “A pet retailer could become the publication’s expert on all pet-related issues, and possibly even persuade them to run a special column each month that focuses on something different, such as the differences between one pet food and another.”

Other topic ideas Lyon suggests includes the benefits of having pets for children and the elderly, or how to care for pets in different seasons. The more topic ideas that can become seeds for enws stories, the more opportunities pet retailers can create for themselves to get publicity.

Kerry Sutherland, founder of Irvine, Calif.-based K.Sutherland PR, stressed the importance of relevance in news angles.

“A new line of dog food in your store, or sale isn’t really enough for a journalist to tell a compelling story,” Sutherland said. “That’s really more of an advertisement. Find something that’s relevant in your community, or timely in general and offer up more of a comprehensive idea that really tells a story and is interesting. The fact that you’ll be a quoted expert on the topic, and your store is being filmed/photographed for the story will position you as the leader, above the competition.”

It is possible, however, to make a product part of a compelling news angle, even if the product itself might not make for one on its own.

“The fact that you’re offering a new product, say ThunderShirt, isn’t really news,” Sutherland said. “But, when connected to Fourth of July, and the fact that it’s the day more dogs end up in shelters, running away from the scary sounds and booms from the fireworks makes your new product a real story in the eyes of media.”

Ann Willets, CEO of Howell, New Jersey-based Utopia Communications, urges pet retailers to create themed events that can become news stories.

“You can team up with a local vet to offer a rabies vaccine clinic in your store with discounted pricing, or sponsor local events such as charity dog walks,” Willets said. “Make sure you put out a press release and note it on your social media sites, and send a media alert to the local newspaper calendar editors.”

When it comes to reaching out to the media, precision and persistence are keys to success.

“The most tried and true method is to interact directly with the editor/writer of the publication to pitch your story,” Lyon said. “Pick up the phone and leave a message if they don’t answer. Then follow-up in an email with more detailed information.  And be sure to provide specific reasons why their readership would be interested in your news.”

Knowing a journalist’s deadlines also helps. If a reporter’s stories are due at 4 p.m. every day, it’s wise not to call at 3:45 p.m. If you’re not sure how well a cold call will be received, you can always e-mail first and then consider a followup phone call if the e-mail doesn’t get you a quick reply.

Gini Dietrich, CEO of Chicago-based Arment Dietrich Inc., suggests creating a connection with journalists before you even have a story to pitch.

“One of the very best way to gain attention from bloggers and journalists is to read – and comment on – their articles,” Dietrich said. “First, choose the top three publications or blogs where you would like to have coverage. Then, each morning, read and, when appropriate, comment. Soon the journalist or blogger who will want to know who this extremely intelligent pet store owner is that is taking the time to carefully craft a response to his or her content. Soon you will receive an email or phone call to be a source for a story that is being written. It takes time. It takes some work. But it works.”

The better you know reporters, Sutherland stressed, them more effective you can become at pitching stories.

“When working with the media, a personalized approach is going to earn the most successful outcome,” Sutherland said. “You can’t send one press release to every media outlet in your city and expect that they will all pick up and run the story. Take the time to get to know the media in your community. Read the newspaper, watch your local TV broadcasts, and follow the most popular online news websites. Over time, you’ll start to see trends and understand individual/reporter preferences, and ultimately your pitches will be more focused and specific to the media outlet.”

- Dan Calabrese

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