Beyond the Press Release: How Retailers Can Engage the Media

old-time-reporterIt used to be that if you wanted to secure earned media coverage you’d send a press release to local reporters (or national magazines, depending on your reach) for consideration and if the reporter was interested, she would follow up with a request for an interview and/or product. Savvy retailers knew to get the attention of reporters it would help to have an idea of their beats and develop a relationship.

Engaging the media in a meaningful way has changed in the last decade thanks to the fact that we’re now, essentially, competing against them. With every blog post, Facebook post, tweet and Instagram image, we’ve become our own publishers. No longer are we at the whim of an editor who decides whether or not our new collection of necklaces is media-worthy. We don’t have to wait for a television crew to shoot a big event we’re having at the store.

With the click of a button on our smartphone, we can Periscope or Facebook Live our events; we can push out a profile on our blog about a new artisan; and we can post our new collection of necklaces on Instagram within minutes of a package arriving.

Where Does Earned Media Fit In?

Earned media, which means publicity gained through your outreach efforts, as opposed to paid media like advertising, still has a role to play and shouldn’t be discounted. In fact, it could be argued that it’s more important today amidst all the self-publishing noise.

By all means, use the tools available to you today to promote your own content and viewpoints and engage with your customers. Social media has made it easier than ever to create a dialogue with your customers.

Take your marketing one step further and engage with the media. Don’t just send them press releases and hope one of them gets picked up. I can tell you, after two decades of working with reporters and even being a reporter, this is rarely a good approach. At best, it’s a waste of your time. At worst, it’s a great way to annoy reporters so that when you do have something worth saying, it’ll be missed since you’ve all but confirmed that what you’re sending isn’t worth my time.

Ditch the press releases. Here are three ways to secure media coverage.

1) Identify the top 10 and top 20 media outlets where you’d like to see coverage (whether it’s in a gift guide, profile piece or something else entirely) and become familiar with the type of content that is covered and who covers those pieces. I cannot tell you how many people ask me to help them secure media coverage and when I ask them where they’d like to see the coverage I’m met with a blank stare. Further prodding reveals that they don’t actually read any if the newspapers or magazines where they want the coverage.

You need to have a sense of your goal in order to be successful with media placements. It’s not wise to send July 4th product recommendations in the hopes to get into a gift guide when the outlet doesn’t even do gift guides.

2) Just like there are seasonal cycles for retailers, there are editorial calendars for media outlets. Some reporters work under short leads while others work on long leads. What does this mean? A short lead can be anything from 24 hours to 2 weeks. Long leads are usually a month out or longer. Typically televisions and online news outlets work under short leads (because they’re trying to stay on top of breaking news) whereas monthly print magazines work under long leads.

Knowing a media outlet’s lead time helps because you can frame your pitches accordingly. Don’t bother to send a print magazine your cute Halloween pumpkins in early September. They were working on that spread 4 months ago. However, September is the perfect time to send said pumpkin to a weekly newspaper or online outlet.

This is why it’s important for your retail shop to have a marketing plan complete with a calendar. Plotting these lead times/dates in advance will help you stay on top of your pitches so you’re not spinning your wheels at the 11th hour.

3) Have a news hook. In addition to being mindful of a media outlet’s editorial calendar, remember that the news is news because of NEWS. Having a news hook to anything you’re pitching automatically wins you points with reporters because now you’re thinking like them.

For example, World Fair Trade Day is coming up on May 14. That can be a news hook, especially because it’s a global event. How does your retail shop support World Fair Trade Day? Are you doing anything around the date? What kinds of products in your shop are fair trade? Why is fair trade important in your community?

If you can go beyond the obvious and be more specific, the better. Do you work with an importer who is part of your community? Can you pitch a radio or television producer a story around a specific artisan whose products you carry in your shop and why customers in your community are drawn to the product and story?

Can you talk about fast fashion and conscious consumerism? Why fair trade is an important component for managing climate change?

Working with reporters can be very rewarding from not only a branding standpoint but also a sales standpoint. There is a ripple effect when it comes to working with the media. As a independent retailer, once you start getting noticed in the media, other reporters will find you, too, and you’ll start getting calls. Being reactive is just as important as being proactive.

Do you have any media coverage success stories? We’d love to hear them!

Megy Karydes is a Chicago-based freelance writer and marketing consultant. Learn more about her and her work at

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