BY SUSE COON
When you start your own business you have enough to do just doing what you’re good at – making jewellery, mending computers, giving music lessons or whatever. The budget is easily swallowed up by insurance, telephones, premises and in some cases staff. Word of mouth will get you a long way but at some point you are likely to need a bit of a boost. That’s where your local paper or magazine can help – but how do you get publicity without paying through the nose for advertising?
Many PR gurus will suggest editorial (and charge you for writing it), but be warned that Editors receive around 15-20 press releases every day from P R Companies. Some are blatantly advertising in the guise of editorial but hey, you might just be lucky and catch an editor with a space and a deadline.
It’s more likely that Editors like me simply don’t have time to even read them properly. And however sympathetic and enthusiastic we may be about your business, local mags can’t afford to give you space for nothing. Editorial requires research, writing, editing, photography, laying out, checking. Even for online publications the same is true and publications can charge as much (or more) for editorial that they consider promotional, written by a journalist and for advertorial, written by yourself or a PR company, as for straightforward ads.
However, it’s not all improbable and impossible. The Editor of your local mag (usually a she) probably lives round the corner from you or someone you know, picks up her children from school at the same time as you do and worries about the same local facilities as you do. In other words, she is not a remote, glamorous Fleet Street diva whom you are never likely to meet. She loves the area (she may even have launched the paper herself!) and she loves to see local businesses doing well. In fact she is a local business just like you. You are a real person to her. She is on your side. And a friendly Editor can put all sorts of good things your way.
So, an approach which works every time with me, is to be upfront and to negotiate. What you are trying to do is to establish a long term relationship. If she is inflexible, you might pay once but you won’t feel they have really helped you so you won’t be inclined to go back. She knows that. Similarly, she might do you a favour once to get you started. But only once. Show that you want to be dealing with her publication regularly and on a long term basis. You just want to work out how.
Acknowledge that the magazine is important to your success (yes, a bit of flattery always helps) and yes of course you have looked at the rate card but that you are just starting out and, oh dear, can’t afford normal rates right now, so could we work something out?
Show that you are not just trying to get something for nothing. Offer something, such as paying for a small ad, to get a 2 page feature. If you really can’t pay, maybe you can save the magazine money by sponsoring a competition or offering a venue for an event. Don’t be afraid to ask what they need or to make suggestions. And don’t be shy about talking up the magazine in return. Or even paying full price later when you can afford it.
Because some time in the future, your (now) friendly Editor might invite you to try out and write about some new food or kit from one of those P R agencies. You might be asked to represent the magazine at an event where your knowledge is valuable but where you will also be picking up tips and contacts yourself. You might be asked to write a regular ‘expert’ column. These are all publicity opportunities worth gold and you didn’t even look for them.
Unlike national publications, local mags thrive on local knowledge and local contacts. You can be that local knowledge and local contact. If you base your relationship on mutual respect, understanding and support, then you can look forward to a win-win future with a very useful ally. And when you bump into her at the gym, it’s all smiles.
Susan Coon is editor of Lothian Life, a magazines that focuses on Edinburgh, East, Mid and West Lothian. She was a freelance journalist for many years before becoming Editor of, and later publisher of, CompassSport, the national orienteering magazine. In 1995 she launched West Lothian Life and in 2003, expanded this publication to include Edinburgh, East Lothian and Midlothian. In 2006, Lothian Life was one of the first magazines to launch entirely online.