Artist Andy Warhol once said, “In the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes.” Well, world famous might be pushing it, but it certainly isn’t unthinkable that you or your business might bask in the glory of the local media spotlight someday.
Gaining favorable press can do wonders for your barn operation. It can put your name in front of new clientele and establish your business as a reputable expert in the industry. Sure, a solid, word-of-mouth recommendation from an existing customer is the best advertising, but if you can get your local media to report on your training, boarding or business practices, you can reach a lot more potential customers all at once.
Successfully pitching your business to the media starts with defining your target market. Who are your potential clients, and how do they stay informed with what’s happening in the community? Which local newspaper do they read? Which radio stations do they tune in to? What local news do they watch?
Talk to your existing clients and ask them what they read, who they listen to and what news programs they watch. Where do they go for information when they have horse-related questions?
Building Relationships with the Media
Once you have established a list of possible media outlets, it’s important to start building relationships with the editors, publishers and reporters before you need them. Says Harvie Jordan of Harvie Jordan Communicates in Austin, Texas, “The one critical element in an effective media relations program is building relationships with news media representatives before there is something to announce, showcase or promote. This includes educating reporters, editors, assignment editors, photographers and videographers.
“It means understanding what they need and want and how to provide what is to be announced, showcased or promoted in a way that considers their constraints—including deadlines—and eases their access to that information,” Jordan explains.
Put yourself in their place. Since horseback riding is largely off the local sports radar, tell reporters and editors why they should care about it. Tell them the?number of people in the area who ride/board/take lessons, and who these people are. Tell them how accessible riding is (most people have no idea), and how inexpensive lessons are (so long as you don’t actually own the beasts). If it applies, dispel misconceptions about costs and elitism.
Editors and reporters love to tell people things they don’t know—that’s news. So show them how easily a 60-pound, 10-year-old girl can control a 1,000-pound horse—they’ll be surprised, and expect their readers will be, too. Make the media understand there’s an entire community of people involved, one that nobody seems to know about.
The Internet is a good place to research who the people are behind the scenes in the media. Most news sources, whether it is a daily newspaper or a television news station, list their contacts on their websites. If you don’t have access to the Internet or if you simply are unsure about whom to contact, you can always call the organization’s main telephone number to obtain the appropriate contact information. Ask who would be in charge of covering horseback riding—is it the sports editor or the lifestyles editor, for example? And be sure to ask for the correct spelling of the person’s name—and email address, if applicable. It’s never a good first impression when news producer Kris Smyth receives a letter addressed to “Chris Smith.”
Defining Your Message
Once you know whom you need to contact, what message do you want to promote or establish about your business? Are you hosting a special event or do you simply have a unique story idea that could draw positive attention to your business? Whatever the “news” might be, it is important to flesh out the concept and research the idea before giving your official proposal to the media.
“The media appreciates interesting stories, not blatant attempts to promote your business,” says Lisa Trahan of Trahan & Associates of Austin, Texas. “Be creative—offer your expertise on an issue that might be of interest to a general audience.”
Consider the trends, misconceptions and problems you frequently encounter and formulate a way to turn that information into something the media would want to cover. For instance, have you noticed an increasing shortage of open land for recreational riding in your area? Perhaps a reporter covering commercial development or open space preservation would be interested in hearing the horsemen’s side of the story.
Think about what differentiates your business from your competitors’ and figure out how you can couch that angle so that it would make interesting news. For example, maybe your barn operates with an eye toward environmental conservation, or you regularly host career days for inner-city schoolchildren. Do your boarders or students have interesting stories to tell? Perhaps you train a young barrel racer who’s on a winning streak. Or maybe you’ve initiated a cutting-edge method for horse training or established a hippotherapy program for people with disabilities. As Moira Harris, editor of Horse Illustrated, puts it:?“We like articles that inform as well as entertain, so any human-interest piece—done well—will get a second look.”
Whatever your story idea, you need to research the media outlet to find out what types of stories are most popular.
Here Comes the Pitch
Keep your pitch simple and direct. Editors love brevity. “If a barn owner can find that unique story that demonstrates the attractiveness of her establishment to new clients, then the pitch should be laid out in plain terms,” says Emily Sopensky, a marketing and public relations consultant and longtime hunter/jumper rider. She says that the proposal should be spelled out in 50 words or less and include information about the barn and its owners.
“Your job is to make their job easier,” says Marika Flatt, national media director for Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists, referring to the media. If you are announcing an event, she suggests writing (or hiring someone to write) a one-page press release with all the pertinent information the reporter will need to cover the story. “The more information you provide, the less work they have to do,” she says.
The press release should include the date it can be “released” for publication; the who, what, when, where and why of the event, succinctly explained in four to five paragraphs; and several ways to contact someone for further information. Nothing is more frustrating to a reporter on deadline than to reach a recording rather than a person who has the answers he needs. Indicate how many people are involved, where they come from, or any other information that gives the reporter a sense of the significance of your pitch.
In addition to the press release, it also is helpful to provide a fact sheet to educate the reporter about your business and the industry. Include brief bios of the integral people involved, suggest sample media questions, and provide a history of the business and the specifics of your operation (business hours and specifics about services, size of operation, trainers, instructors, etc.).
There is no single best way to contact the media and pitch your idea. Harris of Horse Illustrated says she prefers traditional mail to email, but she admits that every magazine is different. “Having a friendly attitude toward the editors and not taking rejection personally helps,” she says.
Flatt recommends sending your press release via fax or email, then following up with a phone call three to four days later. The purpose of the call is to provide the reporter, editor or news producer with further information about the event or story. Give them another reason why the topic is timely or newsworthy. Update them on any developments since the release was sent. Personally invite the reporters to the special event or invite them out to your facility for photo opportunities and/or interviews.
“…show them how easily a 60-pound, 10-year-old girl can control a 1,000-pound horse—they’ll be surprised.”
When to contact the media is important as well. Timing is everything in the publishing and broadcasting industries. Flatt says that for daily radio shows and newspapers, pitch your idea two to three weeks prior to the actual event. Weekly publications deserve more time; three weeks to a month is standard notice. Monthly publications can work anywhere from two to 12 months in advance.
Most news organizations publish writers’ guidelines and editorial calendars, which can be obtained through the mail or found on their websites. Refer to these resources to find out what topics are on tap and when your pitch best fits into the plan.
A word about getting television news coverage: You’ll want to submit your information to the assignments desk editor, but whether or not a reporter will be sent out to cover your story is often a wild card. News producers often make last-minute decisions on what to cover, depending on what is going on in the news that day. Be patient and remember to provide as much information as possible in your initial pitch. This helps the reporter put the story together quickly in the event that your idea is given a green light.
Enjoying Your 15 Minutes
Whatever you pitch to the media—be it an upcoming riding clinic or a horse adoption program—you’re ahead of the game if you are clear on your message and adhere to the guidelines of the people who will be spreading that message. Be consistent, organized and patient. Before you know it, you’ll be testing Warhol’s prediction and reaping well more than your 15 minutes of fame.