Just a decade ago, small businesses handled public relations by dropping off or mailing a press release to their local newspaper and other media outlets. But as newspapers have shuttered or in some cases, cut back on production, businesses were wondering how to get the word out about their product or service. To say newspapers are dying is an understatement.

In the 2010s, newspapers began feeling the effects of technology and social media. In May of 2012, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans ceased daily publication and started publishing three days a week, taking away the city’s only daily newspaper. Smaller newspapers followed suit. But the closings continue six years later. Some examples: (1) The Anniston Star, which serves about 26,000 readers in Northeastern Alabama stopped publishing a Tuesday newspaper in February 2018. (2) Two Virginia newspapers ceased publication in March of 2018. Overall, weekly circulation for U.S. newspapers declined from 40,420,000 in 2016 to an estimated 34,657,199, according to Pew Research Center.

Small businesses don’t have the marketing and public relations budgets that large companies have. They rely on media in their medium size cities or small towns to reach their customers. So, what happens when that media is gone or shrinks in size?

The truth is, small businesses face the same challenges as newspapers: How do you adapt to today’s mobile society? Look at the impact of technology on traditional media. We no longer have to hold a newspaper in our hands to look at the latest classified ads. And the newspaper is no longer our only source. We can look at “for sale” items on Facebook or Craigslist. We can find a job online. And we can see houses for sale on the real estate agent’s website. Newspapers, like businesses, are no longer just competing with each other but with technology.

Does this mean the press release is dead? Not at all. So how do you use your press release to get attention?

Don’t just send it out and hope it gets published

Back in the old days when newspapers were full of advertising, there was lots of editorial space to fill. Many papers, even large ones, published press releases in their entirety on just about any topic. Newspapers have less space to publish. They also have smaller staffs to sort through the many press releases they get every day. To overcome these obstacles, you need to pitch the editor directly with a newsworthy angle and sell him on why your news is important to the community.

Here are some suggested angles:

  • New business. Of course, you want the community to know you are here. But don’t just send some stale paragraphs. Stand out from the crowd. Tell your story. Why did you go into business? Is this your dream? What is unique about you?
  • New product or service. Before you start working on this type of press release, remember that media is also a business, too. You will likely be asked to purchase advertising if you send a press release. So, you really need to make the information about your new product or service dazzle. Ask yourself, why do I care about this product? How will this service help me? Why do people need this? Articulate that into a press release and your pitch to the editor.
  • Employee recognition. Many newspapers still have a section to recognize retirements, promotions, and longevity. Take it a step further: Ask the editor to do a feature store on the employee. Features can end up on the front page.
  • New innovation. Is your company the first to use a new technology? Have you recently bought an interesting piece of equipment? Think of what your company is doing that no one else is. This is newsworthy.
  • Community activity. Think beyond the “grip and grin” photos where the CEO hands the nonprofit director a check. Those pictures may not make today’s papers. Are you or your company involved in an interesting community project? Are you participating in a charity event? Often the media will cover some charity events. That’s a perfect time to be friendly to the man or woman with the camera.
  • Company changes. Was your company purchased or did you buy another company? Are you moving? Again, don’t just give the cold hard facts. Explain why and how this impacts the community.

Sending the release

Your release may be great but there are still ways you may frustrate an editor. Here are some things to avoid:

  • Addressing it to the wrong person. Many media lists are outdated. Take the time to call the newspaper and make sure you know who the editor is.
  • Leaving out contact information. Email is great, but some editors still like to pick up the phone. Make sure you have an email address and a phone number.
  • Leaving out important information. How is an editor going to arrange coverage of your event if you don’t include the date, time and location?

Pictures are another way to get an editor’s attention. If you include good photos, you stand a better chance of seeing your release in the newspaper. With today’s technology, many cellphone cameras take excellent pictures. Just to be sure, ask an editor about photo requirements.

You have a better chance of getting your press release published when you have a reputation with the editor or another staff member. This doesn’t mean you have to violate our personal ethics for the sake of news coverage. If you see the editor in town, introduce yourself. Sit at his or her table if you are a member of the same civic club. Don’t try to “buy” them with lunches or gifts. Journalist see that as unethical (at least the ethical ones do).

You can also offer the newspaper an exclusive on the information. That doesn’t mean that you won’t share it with other media later, you just give it to the paper first. Scoops are still important in journalism.

Many public relations executives have stopped writing press releases and have opted to do all of their marketing on social media. But don’t rule out the local newspaper. The readership may be dwindling, but it’s still a great way to reach customers.

Kim Jarrett is a native of Georgia with more than 25 years of experience in journalism, content writing, and social media management. She has won awards from the Georgia Press Association and won Gabby awards from the Georgia Association of Broadcasting in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 in several categories including best use of digital media and best newscast. A native of Georgia, she received her B.A. in communications from Shorter University.