Spring 2007
Get Covered By Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff

Let’s face it: You can have the greatest stock in the world, but it will still sit on your shelves collecting dust if nobody knows about it. Newspaper coverage can be one of the most efficient ways of attracting people to your store.

Remember, a strong public relations campaign can get you measurable results and make a difference in store sales—both during the campaign and beyond. Here are five steps to help you understand the process and land effective press coverage.

The story

First, take a long, hard look at your location. Figure out what’s unique and newsworthy about your store. Perhaps you showcase merchandise that no one else in your area is offering. Maybe you host a monthly speaker series or another type of event. Your store’s anniversary could be coming up, you could be donating to a charity or planning a special promotion for a holiday like Mother’s Day or the Fourth of July. If you have no plans for any special promotion, start making them now. You can only pitch to the media if you have something newsworthy to promote. No editor is interested in a story about a store where nothing interesting is going on.

Oh, and whatever you’re promoting, it’s helpful to have high-quality photographs available of your store or your merchandise. Many smaller publications—especially niche magazines—don’t have the budgets to send out photographers. Good photographs can make the difference between your pitch landing in the “yes” pile and the “maybe” pile.

The lingo

There’s that word again: “pitch.” A pitch is simply a quick summary of what’s newsworthy about your store. It helps retailers to have on hand a store profile that incorporates the pitch and also gives the history of the store and its owners; some background on the type of merchandise it carries; and its location, phone number and web address, if applicable. You can write this yourself on your store’s letterhead, or, if you’re uncomfortable writing, you can hire someone on a per-word basis to do it for you. (The website MediaBistro.com is a good resource to find writers. You can also post a listing on Craigslist. In either case, make sure you get a writing sample before you hire.) Craft a simple, friendly and to-the-point letter that you can mail or email to editors and producers, with your store profile attached. The letter or email (known as a press release) should include the pitch up front. Here’s an example:

Dear Editor,
How are you? I hope all is well. I wanted to let you know about the exciting May events we have going on at Our Store, located on Our Avenue in Our Town. Since May is our five-year anniversary, for the entire month, we’ll be offering a 20% discount on all our merchandise—this includes cashmere by Our Favorite Designer, boots by Our Favorite Shoe Designer, and more. We’ll also be hosting an Anniversary Party on May 5 from 6 to 9 p.m. with champagne cocktails and a special appearance by Our Favorite Band; in addition to the 20% discount to customers on that day, we’ll be donating an additional 15% to Our Favorite Charity. I’m attaching our corporate profile and a photograph; please let me know if you’d like more information or if you would like to schedule a time to talk about our upcoming events. Thanks!

Owner, Our Store

That’s it. Simple, to the point and effective. You don’t need smoke and mirrors in public relations. Editors and producers simply want to know what’s going on. They can make their own decisions as to what they want to cover.

The deadline

The most common mistake that people make in their public relations campaigns is not taking into account that editors and producers have deadlines that are often months in advance. Short-lead publications (such as websites and newspapers) and local television and radio shows work quickly—the turnaround can be within weeks or days—so you’re safe pitching events and merchandise that will be available in the next month. But many national consumer magazines work on deadlines that are three months or more ahead of publication—deadlines for holiday and other special issues can be even further in advance.

This means that if you’re pitching in April, you have to think of merchandise and events that are suited for July, or even August publications. Think Fourth of July, Summer Fun, even Back to School—all “concepts” routinely covered in these summer books. This can be difficult for stores, since your deliveries may come closer to the time when you plan to sell the merchandise. However, if you plan strategically, you can work within these deadlines. Choose two or three pieces that you have ordered for summer delivery. Tell the manufacturers that you plan to pitch these pieces to long-lead consumer magazines, and that if you are successful it could mean strong sales and a quick reorder. Ask the manufacturers to provide you with high-quality images and a few advance samples, and find out if they’d be able to send out samples if magazines request them. If your supplier is difficult to work with, choose another product and manufacturer. Then use the provided images (scaled down to low-resolution, so they don’t crash anyone’s email) in your pitch, and let editors know that you can provide high-resolution images or send samples if they’re requested. Make sure you include a self-addressed return label in the box to increase your chances of getting the samples back—some editors are notorious for “misplacing” samples of items that they like.

The targets

Once you’ve established what you’re promoting and when, take a trip to your local newsstand. The best way of figuring out whom to pitch to is to find the magazines that you think would be interested in your story. For example, pick up all the bridal magazines if you’re doing a bridal pitch, or the parenting magazines if you carry children’s merchandise. Spend some time reading the magazines, to determine in which sections your story would best fit. The next destination is your local library, where you’ll find up-to-date copies of the Bacon’s Media Directory books. These are comprehensive lists of national and local newspapers, magazines, and radio and television shows. You will find contact names, numbers, mail and email addresses—as well as information on how these people prefer to be contacted (by phone, by letter or, more commonly, by email). Create a list of these contacts. An easy method of organization is to use a simple Excel spreadsheet. In addition to the person’s name, title and contact information, include a “history” column to note any communication you have.

The timeline

Now that you’re ready to pitch, pick a date to do so. Pick another date 10 days to two weeks later for follow-up. Make your contacts, convey your information, follow up when appropriate, and then (drum roll, please) get ready to wait. Your contacts will get back to you if the information interests them. A polite follow-up email or phone call may remind them of a pitch they’ve missed or misplaced, but no amount of pestering will get a response any sooner—in fact, it may mean you’ll never get a response. If you do garner some interest, make sure you get the editor or producer exactly what she needs in the time that he or she needs it. If this means overnighting a sample, do it. Don’t be afraid to ask for a FedEx account number to use if you can’t afford to pay for the shipping. Never, ever say you’ll send something and then not follow through—you’ll be on that editor’s blacklist forever if you jeopardize her story.

If you don’t get a response, try, try again. Create a new pitch the following month that highlights a different angle of your store, or a new promotion you’re offering, and follow the formula to get it out there. If you have something interesting and your schedule is in sync with the publication that you are targeting, you will eventually get a response. Persistence is everything.

Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff

Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is president of Sugar Public Relations. Before founding Sugar in 2003, Sarnoff spent 10 years as a magazine reporter and editor, contributing to many consumer and trade publications. Sugar offers a full range of services in addition to public relations, such as brand-building, marketing, product placement and celebrity outreach. For more information, please visit: www.sugarpr.com or call 310.694.0698.

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