If your operation has an interesting story, let the media know

One of the most important things for a new business is getting the word out to potential customers. One way to do this is to advertise.

Another, less expensive way is to send out news releases to get ``free'' or relatively free publicity.

As with any other specialized activity, writing copy and contacting the news media require special skills.

But business owners who have a flair for catching the public's attention can learn to do a fair job themselves by taking a few courses.

Many business owners and advertising and public relations people send out news releases to the media, hoping they will interest a reporter enough to write a feature story about their company. News people are constantly looking for stories. They need copy. Someone from the paper may call to do a story on the company; some newspapers may even print all or part of the release.

If you would like to try this, the place to start is your local library. Find a copy of The Standard Periodical Directory and list all newspapers and magazines that may be interested in some aspect of your company. Include local papers and local business, trade, and specialty magazines.

Send ``human interest'' press releases dramatizing a part of your business or an interesting story about you, the founder. Be sure to include a contact name, address, and phone number at the top of the page.

Be careful to make the copy interesting. Even some advertising agencies send out releases that contain very little of what the newspaper and magazine people consider ``news.'' They send out the fascinating information that ``John Doe is the new vice-president in charge of marketing at ABC Company,'' or ``XYZ Company's profits are up 10 percent this year.''

Some local papers may be interested is this, if the company is large enough or an important part of the community. But sending the same information to the hundreds on your mailing list can waste money on producing the release, stuffing it into envelopes, and mailing it.

If media minions receive information they cannot use from you week after week, your name on the envelope may be a signal to them to file it permanently in the round file.

Instead, prequalify your mailing list by calling each publication and asking what kind of releases would be well received and who should get them.

Periodically ``clean'' your list by sending a postage-paid card to all requesting them to check off one of several boxes and return it. The boxes should be labeled ``Do want to receive'' or ``Don't want to receive'' releases from your company.

Some business owners make up a media kit to send to interested parties. These include press releases, clippings about your company that have run in other publications, written profiles about the founder, and photos.

Many newspapers and magazines will have their own photographers that will come out and take your photo if they are interested in doing a story. But smaller publications may not.

And your own photos, if dramatic, can be help to stimulate that story. Ask a good amateur photographer, perhaps a friend, to take some very clear ``action'' photos with a 35-millimeter camera. Eight-by-10 black-and-white will be fine for newspapers, or color for magazines.

Don't forget the electronic media. If you are sponsoring a community event or holding an exciting grand opening, call up your local television or radio station and invite their people to cover it.

The best publicity is the kind you get from word of mouth -- and it's largely free. Good prices, excellent service, and a fair return or adjustment policy will encourage people to come back and bring their friends.

This series, by no means a comprehensive treatment of each subject, has tried to touch on each important aspect of starting your own business.

Experts advise you to learn about all the management skills you can beforehand. The Small Business Administration and your local colleges have some very good courses and seminars on the skills outlined in the series.

Plan exactly what you will do and when you will do it, detailing your cash-flow estimates. Take the advice of other small-business owners.

Then go for it!

This is the 15th and final part of the ``Starting Your Own Business'' series.

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