Getting attention for your business in the media – television, newspapers and Web publications – is the stuff of entrepreneurial dreams. But what does it take?
Article, the Vancouver-based maker and online seller of modern furniture, has scored great press in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Maclean’s, Architectural Digest, even the New York Times. But Andy Prochazka, co-founder and chief marketing officer, says that his bootstrapped startup, which launched in 2013, initially invested little in media.
“We felt strongly at the beginning that we weren’t going to focus on media out of the gate, but on values,” says Mr. Prochazka, who is an engineer like Article’s three other co-founders. “Everything starts with building a great product.
"Some companies go out and raise enormous amounts of venture capital and within a few months they’re chasing media and building out a big team. We didn’t go that route. We worked hard to get the value side of the business in place. Then we went to market and started selling. At that point, we reached out sporadically and conservatively to media organizations.”
Their first media bump came in October of 2014 when the company’s chief executive officer, Aamir Baig, appeared on a U.S. TV show called Power Pitch, on CNBC, where he delivered a 60-second pitch to a panel of business experts, including Maxwell Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy, a publishing firm focused on home decor.
As soon as the program aired, Mr. Prochazka and his co-founders watched their website traffic surge. That media coverage led to more.
Once you gets your foot in the door, you can leverage that, says Mr. Prochazka. “Early coverage was pretty difficult to land, but once a large national organization picked us up, it was an easier sell.” The fact that Article was selling a lot of sofas also brought media attention, Mr. Prochazka says.
For Article, magazine-quality photography was a key weapon.
“When you’re selling anything on the internet, particularly furniture, because you can’t see it, touch it and sit on it, you need to make the intangible tangible somehow,” he says. "If you’re a style publication, really high-quality photography is your bread and butter. … It helps us get coverage.”
Photography-based Instagram has been a fantastic tool for the company as customers often post pictures of the furniture in their own homes.
“There’s an organic effect,” says Mr. Prochazka. “When people are talking about your product online, it increases the underlying credibility of your company and exposes you to audiences you wouldn’t otherwise have reached through any other channel. It has almost certainly opened up doors and played a significant role in elevating our credibility with media.”
Another tactic that Article uses is maintaining relationships with people in the media, attending conferences and accommodating requests to be speakers or panellists.
“If there’s a story to tell and it’s relevant to a large organization, great,” Mr. Prochazka says. “If it’s only relevant to a trade publication, that’s great too. ... We like to make sure our stories are going to be as valuable to them as their coverage is to us.”
Before launching an effort to secure media coverage, small businesses should do some research, says Amanda Haines Lazeski, principal and head of creative at Reformation, a boutique public-relations agency in Vancouver.
Magazines, newspapers and TV stations receive hundreds of e-mails daily, so it’s better to send your story idea to just five outlets that you have researched and think will be interested, she says, rather than broadcasting it to 50 who may or may not care. And, if your story is picked up, saying thank you goes a long way toward building valuable relationships.
For small businesses without much to spend, she suggests taking a personal approach.
“Believe in your brand, your product, your service – whatever it is you’re selling – and don’t be afraid to put it in front of people,” says Ms. Haines Lazeski. “Get clear on your message and introduce yourself to whoever you think should listen, whether it’s a producer, a blogger or a writer.
"E-mail them, tell them your story, your brand’s story, and give them a reason to care. Media is all about storytelling. Who can tell your brand’s story better than the person behind the brand?”
Finding the right contacts is also huge, no matter what the type of media. Remember that whoever has the byline may not be the decision-maker, Ms. Haines Lazeski warns. You don’t see producers on TV, but they book the segments, she says. The same thing goes for editors. Think from the perspective of the decision-maker and pitch your story that way.
It’s also important to put your product in the hands of as many digital influencers and bloggers as you can afford.
“Ask if they’d like to try it and send a full-sized product to them free of charge,” she advises. “Bonus points if you can make the delivery an experience. Worst-case scenario, they’ll never respond. Best-case scenario, they’ll love it and give you a free shout-out to their followers.
"It can take as little as a single Instagram story or post to entirely change the sales trajectory of a small business.”