Summit County small business center hosts seminar on pitching to the media | SummitDaily.com

Summit County small business center hosts seminar on pitching to the media

For just about any budding entrepreneur, spreading the news about your business can be the trickiest part of a strategic plan.

But it can also be the most rewarding — if done just so.

This morning at Elevate CoSpace in Frisco, Denver-based marketing expert Michelle Ellis leads a workshop on the dos and don'ts of pitching business stories directly to the media. It's part of the brand-new Business Mentor Series, a yearlong series presented by the local office of the Northwest Colorado Small Business Development Center with help from a rotating corps of business experts.

'This is a way to bring in top-tier speakers and presenters from across the state," said Lindsey Stapay with the Northwest Colorado SBDC. "It's more of an interactive workshop series, so instead of your typical 45-minute presentation with a speaker, we wanted these to be longer, with a few hours of hands-on experience to dig into the topic."

Today's workshop, titled "Extra! Extra! Easy Ways to Make Your Business Newsworthy," runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon and costs $65 per person. Breakfast will be provided.

The workshop is the first to home in on non-traditional marketing for businesses that are small and nimble, but might not have the budget to craft a major marketing plan. Pitching to the media is a wholly different beast than traditional advertising, Ellis says. It's less about selling a single product and more about marketing an entire brand, and without a good grasp on the stories newspapers or online publications want to cover, a business owner can waste countless hours trying to crack the code.

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"One big reason we talk about marketing and public relations is that in this day and age, with so many places to look in print and online, consumers place more stake in legitimate media coverage," said Ellis, partner at the Denver firm Orapin Marketing and Public Relations. "That can be very powerful for small businesses to get their message to a target audience."

In a resort community, Ellis says that pinpointing a target audience is vital. Along with audience identification, she'll also cover tactics built just for media pitches, including how to think like a reporter and, most important, how to fine-tune a business "story," or compelling message the media can turn into an eye-catching article.

"One thing remains constant and that's communication," Ellis said. "Back before the Internet — even 100 years ago before broadcast — it's always been about the story, talking to the right people, solving a problem no matter what channel you're working with. Those channels will always change, but the story behind a good business will never change. That will always be relevant."

Know thyself

Before reaching out to reporters or other members of the media, Ellis says businesses of any size need a strategic plan. That overarching plan will guide just about every decision in the early going: budget limits, marketing tactics, even your ideal customer or client.

"There's more to finding out what it takes to be newsworthy than just owning a business," Ellis said. "Business owners tend to think everything they do is newsworthy and that's not always the case. I try to encourage everyone to see that reality — they can't always afford to pitch every little thing that's happening."

At the workshop, Ellis will go over tactics for business owners to parse through what's newsworthy and what's simply new. This process begins by asking dozens of questions, all focused on the business itself: What's the unique story? What's the target audience? How does the business fit into the larger picture?

"Put on your reporter's hat and think about why people should care," Ellis said. "Just because you're sponsoring or planning an event doesn't make it newsworthy. It's about how do you become part of a larger story, how do you stand out from everything else that's fit for the news."

Once you've pinned down the business basics, the next step is a bit more unorthodox: Do a little research. When pitching a business-minded news story to the media — say, a local newspaper — look at what other nearby businesses are doing. If you own a restaurant, pitch a story about your stellar season by pointing to hard numbers or ratings, like those found on Yelp and Urban Spoon.

Ellis knows marketing is just one of a hundred concerns for a small-business owner, so along with concretes like audience identification, she also recommends building time management goals into a strategic plan.

"Even if you're trying to establish yourself as an expert, you won't have time to do that every single day," she said. "You have to manage your time well — there has to be a strategic plan. The way we determine the value of any pitch is to look at how this works toward your business goals."

Don't 'spray and pray'

A well-made media pitch can work in theory, but if it doesn't result in new business it's not worth the time. Ellis often tells business owners to track every marketing effort, even a brand-new, one-time-only tactic like a news story. In other words, don't "spray and pray," hoping that a marketing plan works by trying every trick in the book.

Ellis again gives the example of a restaurant that hired a new executive chef. It's the sort of internal change that's prime for a news article, but after successfully pitching a story to the local media, it's the business owner's job to see what kind of impact the story had visits.

"Everything we do needs to have a measurement tied to it to see how it's working," Ellis said. "Back in the day, everyone determined if press coverage worked by gauging how many people saw it, which is looking at circulation. But it doesn't work like that anymore, especially for small-business owners.

"They have to see that every marketing effort will actually help them achieve their end business goals."

“Make Your Business Newsworthy” workshop

What: A workshop on small business marketing and news pitching by Michelle Ellis of Orapin Marketing and Public Relations, as part of the Business Mentor Series through Northwest Colorado Small Business Development Center.

When: Wednesday, April 22 from 8:30 a.m. to noon

Where: Elevate CoSpace in Frisco (711 Granite St.)

Cost: $65

The workshop is open to the public. To reserve a seat, see http://www.northwestsbdc.org/training. Use the promo code “SDN” to receive $10 off the reservation cost.

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