News Media 101 for Franchisees
While there’s been negative publicity around a few franchise systems lately, it’s important to know that as a franchisee, the news media can be one of your closest allies when it comes to growing your bottom line. Why?
As a franchisee, your market is likely to fall within a well defined area that is covered by local media. That means that reporters from those outlets are constantly looking for news stories from your area to fill the pages of their newspapers and websites.
As a former reporter, I can tell you this is tough. Did you know that some community newspapers have just one reporter? Imagine how difficult it is for them to constantly come up with interesting stories that will satisfy their audiences. Believe me, it can be a difficult and stressful job.
That’s where you come in. You can help them out by offering interesting story ideas that benefit you. Did you know that if you pitch an idea to a reporter and it gets used, you don’t pay a cent? It’s 100 per cent free and media outlets all around the world are looking for story ideas. You just need to know how the system works. We’ll get to that shortly.
Did you also know that a mention in a news story is considered seven times more effective than an advertisement, even though it’s free? That’s because it’s not only good to promote your franchise, but it also grows your credibility in the community. People featured in news stories are automatically considered responsible and trusted experts in their field.
As a former reporter, I can tell you that good story pitches are welcomed. As a franchisee, you also have a major advantage. If a reporter has no idea who you are when you pitch, or there is no proof that your business is responsible and genuine, it’s harder to get attention. But as part of a franchise, you’ve already ticked that box. Even if your franchise isn’t a household name, the fact that you are part of a franchise means that you pass this test with flying colours.
Before I go further, I need to point out that your ability to attract this publicity will depend on your franchise agreement. However, I haven’t seen a franchisor yet that doesn’t encourage franchisees to use specific tactics to grow their bottom lines.
So what do local media want?
Some people believe that all the news media want are stories around sensationalism and conflict. While those stories do exist, they are not as prevalent as you may think. They are also focused mainly on metropolitan and national media. But remember your focus will be local and focused on a small community. Media in these areas are far more positive. If you’re not convinced, have a look at the next few copies of your local newspaper.
The number one thing all media want are story ideas that relate to something that’s already newsworthy. For example, they will be more interested in war veterans around ANZAC Day, and more interested in romance around Valentine’s Day. You get the picture.
Let’s look at this last example. If you were a franchisee florist, you could pitch a story idea about some interesting marriage statistics and how they show the importance of spending more time with your spouse. If you gave this to a local newspaper just before Valentine’s Day, there would be a great chance of success. Imagine what this would do to your business. The story would be read by thousands of people within driving distance of your store with advice that could compel them to buy flowers from you either now or in the near future. Also remember that you wouldn’t pay a cent for this exposure. Remember that this idea wouldn’t work at another time of year. There are countless examples like this and there will be many in your industry.
There are also ways that franchisees from across the country can supply the same material to local media in their specific patches. That way, they can all get masses of free publicity with very little work. That’s outside the scope of this article and a conversation you would need to have with your franchisor. Here we are talking about how you, as a franchisee, can generate your own coverage in your area.
Things out of the ordinary
Another favorite of the media are things that are out of the ordinary. For example, a man in the US a few years ago couldn’t get anyone to come to his restaurant on Tuesday nights. He decided to make dining free for bald people on Tuesday’s and contacted local media. From then on his restaurant was full with both bald and non-bald guests.
That’s just the tip of a massive iceberg when it come to finding story ideas. There are other areas where the media like to focus, but I don’t have time to cover them all in this article.
Once you know what local media to target, it’s about making contact with them. One thing I always recommend to my franchise clients is the value in meeting the people you will be pitching before you actually pitch anything. Offer to buy them a coffee at a café of their choice. Then have a friendly chat and ask them about their job and how you can help with possible story ideas.
This step is important because the best way to get valuable attention is to help the reporters get good stories. If they know you are trying to help rather than just ‘score some free coverage’ you’ll do far better. You’re also likely to get ongoing publicity.
This is no different from any other business relationship. If you see an email from someone who clearly has no interest in helping you but just wants something for free, you’re probably going to delete the email and all future ones. But if you see it as a mutually beneficial relationship, everyone can win.
Do I need to write press releases?
If you want a one-word answer to this question, it would be no. All you need to do when you pitch a story idea to a local reporter is sum up the idea in a few sentences and say why you think it would be of interest to their audience. This is the one criteria they use when deciding. It also shows again that you are interested in their needs. This email would ideally be about 200 words and have an enticing subject line. Remember that reporters are busy people and don’t have time to read through every email they get. So make yours stand out.
I will qualify the question around press releases. Firstly, if you don’t know what a press release is, it’s basically a news story you write yourself and send to the media. It is written in the exact format that reporters use to write news stories. This means that in some instances, they are cut and pasted into a newspaper or magazine without the reporter having to paraphrase or edit.
This can be attractive to local media outlets that are understaffed, but they are still unlikely to use a press release without editing it or contacting you for more comment.
In a nutshell, if you have time to learn how to write them, by all means do so. But if attracting media publicity will be something you can only dedicate a few hours a month to, an email pitch is fine and usually just as successful in my experience.
What about negative media attention?
In the unlikely event of your franchise receiving negative media attention, that would be the focus of the franchisor and another topic entirely. There are many ways to mitigate that possibility and limit any damage.
But your focus as a franchisee should be on attracting positive media attention because it’s such a huge opportunity. I’m always surprised how few people take advantage of this at a local level when the equivalent coverage in newspaper or other local advertising would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars without the added credibility that editorial coverage generates.
As a franchisee, you are in the perfect position to take advantage of this. But the only ones to reap the benefits are the ones who take action.
Pete Burdon is founder and head trainer of Franchise Media Training. He is a former journalist and government press secretary. This gives him a thorough understanding of both sides of any media interaction. He presents both on and offline courses and workshops specifically for franchises.
Franchise Media Training prepares franchisors to protect their bottom lines against future media attacks and how to grow those profits by becoming proactive with media.
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