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I'm working with a few startups right now, and all of them are trying to come to market with some sort of disruptive technology.

They have great stories to tell, but they are struggling with the same question: "How do we leverage the media to get our story across?"

My first question, in response, is this: "What media are we talking about?"

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For most small and medium-sized businesses, there are three categories that matter: mass media, social media, and trade media.

Mass media generally includes conventional TV outlets, newspapers and associated platforms owned by the same media companies. Examples include The Globe and Mail and CTV. Mass media can – but it doesn't always – matter more for business-to-consumer companies, and I think it is often overplayed in its importance and ability to deliver near-term results. Are your specific customers watching the evening news you want to be covered on?

Social media has an ever-changing definition, but it generally consists of user-generated content platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, YouTube and blogs are all examples. Social media can be effective in building customer engagement – to the extent that it matters and that customers actually want engagement. It can also be a serious time drain. Too many clients get caught up tracking the number of followers, without asking how social media is helping them make more money.

Trade media generally includes industry publications such as magazines and newsletters. Examples include Marketing magazine, Food Service and Hospitality, and Canadian Manufacturing. Trade media is often more important for business-to-businsses companies, and it is often the best media to pursue in terms of reach-for-dollars – the "buy in" is relatively low and publications are always looking for good content.

But let's take a step back. A more important question to ask yourself than "what media?" as an owner or operator is "why?" Why are you trying to leverage media? What is your goal? Over what time frame? In the face of which alternatives?

Leveraging media to get your story is out is a marketing tactic – it must be framed in the context of an overall marketing plan. Without a strategy to guide decisions on media to pursue or say no to, on content, tone and even wording, opportunities will either be lost or under-leveraged. You have to be ready to effectively deal with media, and ultimately you want to control at least some of the process and interactions.

Leveraging media comes at the end of a multi-stage strategy and planning process. The top half of the model is about framing the market, the opportunity and your offering, and the key strategic questions to answer before building a media plan:

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Environment/market: What is our market reality, what are our important channels, and who are we trying to beat?

Customers/segmentation: Who are we trying to reach or appeal to?

Value proposition: What, very specifically, is it? How do we communicate it?

Customer experience: What do we want to reinforce?

In terms of leveraging the media, there are three clear implications that stem from these strategic questions:

  • Having a point of view is important on, for example, your industry, and could include what is broken about your space and how it would be fixed.
  • Having a boiler plate in place is also critical. When media is eventually involved, your story will be succinct and easily understandable by writers and the intended readers. It should also be attached to everything the media sees, to take advantage of a branding opportunity.
  • Having a training plan in place for anyone who might interface with customers or the media is the third important element, since branding is about consistency as much as anything else, and you want everyone singing from the same song sheet.

Now let's move to the strategy design and marketing-planning phases of the multi-stage model mentioned earlier, and the key tactical questions to address before executing on a media plan:

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Marketing strategy: What role do PR and media play in our overall strategy?

Marketing plan: Which media are we targeting? How often? When?

Programs and campaigns: Which ones are we trying to achieve or emphasize?

Marketing tactics: Which ones will work well in attracting the media we are seeking?

When it comes to leveraging the media, again there are three consequences to these questions:

  • Having a detailed media plan in place will put you in control, not the media.
  • Knowing what is media worthy will help with accuracy, and it will also help ensure you don’t burn bridges with reporters or properties as you learn to play this game.
  • Using the right tactics will help you attract the media attention you want, and it will help you control the message and tone.

Do the up-front work to have a point of view, a tight message, trained staff and a plan in place, then engage the media.

August 21:We'll talk about strategies and tactics for leveraging media, by category. Look for it on the  Report on Small Business  website.

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants– a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark's focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

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