Your local newspaper may be your hardest to crack, and least relevant, media outlet

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By Leo Valiquette

I remember as a boy the time one of my uncle’s chickens laid an egg shaped like a squat bowling pin. It was quite the thing — it got him a picture and a cutline in the local paper. My mother still has that worn and yellowed clipping in a photo album.

Of course, the question is whether that one-off bit of media attention would have brought new business to the door if my uncle had been a commercial egg farmer trying to grow his market share. There is seldom a downside when serendipitous events entice the media to come knocking with little or no effort on your part. But when you are undertaking a formal PR program that requires an investment of resources, time and money, a stack of media clippings are of little value if they didn’t put your story in front of an audience with the potential to grow your business.

Growing technology companies are not farmers and they’re not bringing eggs to market, but I have encountered many that take their first baby steps toward a robust PR strategy by focusing first on their local market for media exposure. This is all well and good if you are a company in a city such as Toronto, which is home to national dailies, wire services, and business and technology trade media in addition to the usual assortment of local radio and television stations and community newspapers. In this instance, a local PR effort still has national scale by default.

But if you are in a smaller market such as Ottawa, Calgary, Kelowna or Halifax, you must consider what benefit you hope to obtain by putting resources into a local media launch. If you are technology play of any sort, there is at best only modest revenue to be had from your local market, perhaps even from your entire national market.

In my experience, there are three valid reasons for a growing tech company to focus a PR effort on its local market. To wave the hometown flag and use itself as an example to demonstrate that entrepreneurship is alive and well in the local community. To promote itself as a destination employer. And to promote itself to potential partners and angel investors.

Fighting the lowest common denominator

The challenge, however, is that a “Here we are” or “Here’s our fantastic, world-changing gizmo” media pitch can be a hard sell with local media unless you are in fact announcing a major hiring spree or a VC investment or a contract win that gives jaws reason to drop. I have had assignment editors for local television stations tell me that stories for the six o’clock news must have broad consumer appeal and obvious consumer relevance. They didn’t use the term “lowest common denominator,” but it was certainly implied. If you are a B2B play, the need for the story pitch to be tied to Some Big Number is even more critical to garner any level of interest.

Which brings us to the chief consideration that should drive any PR spend: Who are the media that should have an interest in your company’s story and have the potential to move your market by virtue of their audience demographics?

Depending on where you are headquartered and on what your product or service is, there may very well be a few media in your local market that fit the bill. But most often, the trade press for your industry if you are a B2B play will be located elsewhere. The most important outlets for you may be spread across North America, with the majority located in the U.S., and some may even reside in overseas markets.

Identifying, researching and reaching out to these media is a far more time consuming and costly exercise than a local media launch. Why? Because developing and executing an effective PR program is brain-sweating hard work, that’s why. Many executive teams of early-stage companies choke when confronted with the budget requirements. That’s fair. It is a big expenditure, and a company must have progressed to the point where it does have a strong story to tell, ideally supported by testimonials from enthusiastic customers, before it engages in such an effort.

With any expenditure intended to help bring new business to the door, you must weigh the upfront cost against the likely ROI. The old adage that “you have to spend money to make money” is a cliché because it’s true.

Image: The Antiques Diva

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