Is your business newsworthy?: A simple rule to follow

At a recent business networking event a nice gentleman (with a business that helps parents fund college educations without, as he said, “going broke”) approached me and pitched his business in the hope that I might get him coverage in the paper. Trying not to embarrass him, I explained I am a columnist (as opposed to a reporter) and have no influence over the type of business stories that get covered. I listened politely and thanked him for saying hello. But on the way home I realized that, although I couldn’t officially help him get his story in the paper, I could help him pitch his story in a way that might get results.

At a recent business networking event a nice gentleman (with a business that helps parents fund college educations without, as he said, “going broke”) approached me and pitched his business in the hope that I might get him coverage in the paper. Trying not to embarrass him, I explained I am a columnist (as opposed to a reporter) and have no influence over the type of business stories that get covered. I listened politely and thanked him for saying hello. But on the way home I realized that, although I couldn’t officially help him get his story in the paper, I could help him pitch his story in a way that might get results.

This week’s column, therefore, is focused on just that.

For businesses that want to see their names in the media, the most important question to ask is: “What is my business story hook?” A hook is the angle or slant of a press release, or story pitch, that catches an editor’s eye (so they will publish it) as well as the publics (so they will read it). And every business, if you take the time to look, has a hook.

Take, for example, a recent story in this paper about Chuck Henry (“Eastside Prep teacher flushing kinks out of green toilets,” April 30, page 15). You might not have realized it, but this was actually a business story. It focused on a local man who invented a product, started a business and makes money from it — right? But that’s not why it made the paper.

Chuck’s business story has a compelling hook — several, in fact. First, Chuck’s product is a composting toilet. With today’s focus on “green,” this made a compelling hook. Second, several of Chuck’s toilets are now in Ecuador, where they’re used by tourists visiting a local beach. Third, Chuck does research at UW – Bothell, which is local and is closely involved with licensing his invention. When royalties roll in, Chuck splits them with various departments of the university. Hook, hook, hook! With this many hooks, is it any wonder that Chuck’s story ended up as a feature article in the paper?

If you want to end up as a feature article in any media outlet, you need one or more hooks. And to find them, you simply need to shift your focus from being a business owner to a business reader. Why? If your story is of interest to another business reader, it is most likely of interest to the media, too. And although you may find your products and/or services newsworthy, most likely this isn’t enough to gain the exposure you want.

Readers want interesting tidbits about your business and you. Why did you start your business? What did you hope to achieve? Who are your clients and how are you impacting their lives? If you’ve been in business longer than a year, I guarantee you something you are doing is impacting your client’s life, or your doors would be closed.

Readers also want a glimpse of your personal life. Are you a member of a civic association like Rotary? Do you volunteer for community events, at your church or for a nonprofit? Do you have an unusual hobby or enjoy an activity that others would find interesting? Many elements of your personal life are also potential business story hooks.

If unsure if your stories are interesting enough to garner media attention, pitch you stories to your friends, business associates, clients and even strangers. If they ask for more details, or have questions about areas you may have omitted, write them down. These are the same details the media will expect in your press release or story pitch.

So, to the nice gentleman who hoped I could help him procure a business profile in the paper, I can help you with this bit of hopefully helpful advice: Before approaching the media for exposure, first ask yourself “What is my story, and what is my hook?

Susan Burnash owns Purple Duck Marketing in Kirkland. Her company focuses on marketing, public relations and video production for businesses and nonprofits. Visit her Web site at www.purpleduckmarketing.com. Contact her at (425) 896-8959 or susan@purpleduckmarketing.com.

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