How Can a Small Business Get Local Publicity for an Event, Even if They Don’t Live There?

How to get publicityI was recently hired by conference organizers from another city to help promote a conference they are bringing to Philadelphia, PA. They had sourced a local press list, and had sent an initial release out, but had gotten no stories. Through word of mouth and social media connections, they contacted me. One way to answer the question of how an out-of-town small business or organization can get local publicity is to hire a local PR or media relations professional. Look for someone who has local contacts and knows the best publications for your event.

For example, this conference is of interest to families and tweens/teens, and I knew that the two children’s publications in the city are monthlies, with early deadlines, so my first release and call went to those two editors, confirming that we just barely could make the July issue, but really should have pitched them in late May to get into the hard copy June issue that is distributed free in the region. However, their online issues have an online submission form, to which you can submit at any time.

But What if You Have More Time than Budget?

If you’ve looked into hiring a PR pro to help promote your event, and the budget just isn’t there. There are DIY options; it can be a lot of work, but it can also be rewarding.

  • Do an internet search for newspapers in the metro area. Sort through the information to find the bigger daily papers and the smaller weekly papers. But don’t ignore that second category, these smaller papers often have a loyal following, and are hungry for interesting stories, but there are no guarantees in PR.
  • Don’t forget to use sites like Twitter or Facebook, if you are active. Especially on Twitter, reporters are out there, looking for stories or promoting their stories. You might be able to make a connection there that will lead to a story.
  • Many newspaper websites list the general email address for stories online – often features, editor or calendar at newspapername dot com.  They also often list contact phone numbers, believe it or not. Look for the contact us button at the top or bottom of the page. Sometimes they just list the main number, you can call and say – who handles events of interest to kids, or who handles technology events or info, or who covers cool new business events? You should be able to get a name, email and maybe even a phone number.
  • Once you do, do a search of the paper for their stories – see if you can find any connections that can help you pitch them. Pitching the right editor or reporter can be to ticket to a great story being published.
  • Contact the regional convention and visitor’s bureau and/or the state tourism office – both can be found via an internet search. Many CVB’s, as they are called, are tasked with filling their city or region’s hotel rooms. Just the thing that a local conference will hopefully do. They may be willing to either share a basic press list with you, send your release out to some of their contacts, or at least clue you in on which publications are most well-respected, and note more targeted publications for your event, like those kids publications above.
  • Once you have secured your local venue or conference location, ask them for assistance – either a local press list, or which papers are most important, and even if they might be willing to promote your event themselves.
  • Be bold, but polite and reach out to the local media yourself, once you’ve sent the release. I’ve had another out of town client say, I know who to call and how to connect with my local press here in my city, but I haven’t felt comfortable doing so in another city. As menitoned above, many newspaper sites have either a general contact number on their websites, or even the editor’s number, use them judiciously.
  • Be polite and concise, reporters are very overworked, their staff has been cut to the bone, and are often working on deadline. I’ll often start a conversation with, “Hello, I’m Cathy Larkin handling some regional PR for xyz event. Are you on deadline or do you have a minute to talk…” If they respond that yes they have 2 minutes, make your pitch fit their time. “I just sent you a release on xyz conference earlier today, I’m hoping you received it, and wanted to know if you had any questions. Also I just received the high resolution head shots of several local speakers. Would those be of interest to you?” They will probably be non-committal, but say sure, send in the images.
  • By the way, many newspapers are working on older machines. They want a 300 dpi image 4 x 5” or so. Don’t send them the 32K version of a head shot copied from a website, but don’t fill up their swamped email box with a 1600K or 1.6 mb image either. Get someone to re-size it – 300 dpi – a 250k-400k file size should work fine. I just had a reporter say, yea, make it a bit smaller 1.6 mb sounds too big, we’re still working with Windows 98 machines.).
  • Tip: resist the urge to call 4 times and make a pest of yourself, or to email 6 times. I’ve seen it happen; I’ve heard stories. It does not make them more likely to run your story, it makes them LESS likely to do so. Get in, say your piece, and get out. Sometime they’ll say, yes, it’s in the story file, we’ll let you know if we need anything else. Or “I can’t seem to find it, can you send it to me again?” – that’s a good sign, something you said caught their interest. Have it cued up and ready to go.
  • With events, head shots and images of local speakers, or nationally-known speakers can make the story work. If you have a good image and someone else doesn’t your story might get highlighted. It can sometimes be crucial to getting into the smaller weekly publications. So find out where your speakers live, especially the ones local to your conference. Ask them what is their local newspaper, what’s their town and in what county do they live (often newspaper names and coverage is tied to a county). Send the release with the image attached, and include a short 2 sentence photo caption that mentions conference date, location & speaker’s name, town or county and the title of their talk, or “will speak about web design.”
  • Make sure to send the event release to the local and regional AP (Associated Press) offices. If they decide to pick up on your event, it can get sent to many other papers. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is a very good thing! Call them, let them know what you are sending and why it is interesting/unique etc. The AP website lists the regional offices contact info online.
  • Also don’t forget the local assignment desk / assignment editors of the local TV stations. This can also be found online. Tip, try calling them in the evening, after the 5-6 pm news and before the 11 pm news. Often the are there and not busy then the way they might be during the day. These folks are the ones who select which stories get pitched to various reporters. So make friends with them. Be sure you have someone local, who is comfortable on camera who can talk about the conference, or if you are not far away, make yourself available.

When writing your release and pitching it to local media, go the extra step to find the local angles, or what’s the one thing that makes your event unique, or is there a national trend you can tie it to. This can help set your release and event above others and get the, “yes we’ll run a story.”

And don’t forget to say thank you. If a reporter runs a story, send a thank you email. or Say thanks on social media. Thank you emails are few and far between from what my reporter friends say.

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