Long before the Internet gave businesses an easy way to sell themselves directly to customers, a business owner might best find their name in print by building a relationship with a reporter for the business section of the local newspaper. If the reporter was working on a story about the economy, for example, they may call the business owner for their take on it.
It's a lot easier now to promote your business online. You can reach customers from your website, where you provide content that they'll want to come back to again and again.
Or you could be cited as an expert source in a news story to run online or in a newspaper by answering a query on HARO — Help a Reporter Out — a site that connects reporters with sources. Other sites do this too, though I think HARO is the best out there.
However you connect with reporters, being seen as an expert source in your field can go a long way in giving your business free publicity.
A message gap
As a journalist, I've had the help of many sources throughout my career. As a freelance writer since 2008 who specializes in online personal finance content, I've found that most sources prefer a link back to their website in exchange for helping me as a source. I'm happy to provide the links (though that decision is in the hands of my editors), and I'm thankful for their help.
But too often, people who want to help as sources don't do the best job providing the best information in the best way possible. There's a gap between what they want to say and how they say it.
To help potential sources deal with that so that they're quoted in the media and make the most of such opportunities, I've written a short book called "Sources Say," with my best tips for being a great source.
Here are a few ways to be a great source and have reporters call you often:
Know your business like a pro
Everyone is an expert in something. If you're an auto mechanic, then you can offer a lot of information about cars. If you're a teacher, you're probably a great source on education and changes in the field. Whatever your profession is, you probably know it forward and backward like a pro.
If you want to be a great news source, you read the news every day and keep updated on the latest happenings in your field. You spot trends in your area of expertise long before they happen, and have an idea when the conventional wisdom in your field doesn't make sense anymore.
Reporters are on the lookout for great quotes when they interview people. A great source will be pithy and say something in such a short and sweet way that a reporter can't help but use their quotes in the story. If you can say something much better than a reporter can write it, you're gold.
What you don't want to be is boring. Talking too long so you can hear yourself talk, or responding with a long email that doesn't get to the point, and you may never hear from that reporter again.
More important than any of this, however, is the ability to speak expertly about your field and to be accurate in everything you say to a reporter. If you're trying to wing it, then stay home.
One thing that sources — or their public relations company — do that can be successful in promoting their business is to reach out to reporters and suggest story ideas based on recent news.
Pointing out a legitimate survey that your company just completed on a newsy topic could get a reporter's attention. If the stock market is falling fast and you're a financial advisor, you could come up with a tip sheet on why investors shouldn't panic.
One downfall in this that I've seen often is when potential sources or PR people either send too many followup emails or call a reporter to see if they're going to use the news tip. Reporters, like many people, have a full schedule and a full in-box, so responding to such questions could take up hours of their time each day.
If they haven't gotten back to you within a few days of your query, chances are they're not going to do the story.
If you're smart in how you reach out to reporters and provide worthwhile information in a unique way, then it may not even seem as if you're promoting your business by being an expert source. Promoting your business may turn out to be a byproduct of your desire to help a reporter out and help explain to the public how your industry works.