This ran in Auctioneer Magazine, September 2013. Used by permission.
By Carl Carter, APR
Good news coverage about your upcoming auction can give your business a welcome boost. But it usually doesn’t just happen by itself. Here are a few things you can do to encourage media coverage without having to hire a public relations pro.
Survey the local media landscape. It may seem laughably basic, but you can only “pitch” your auction story to media who are around to hear you. If you’re promoting an auction in a rural community with no daily newspaper and no TV stations, you obviously will need to either extend your reach or just gear your expectations to that reality. In smaller rural communities, you may be able to score a few minutes on a talk radio station by calling the show’s producer. Don’t overlook local news blogs and newsletters. I’ve seen a local garden club newsletter stoke interest in an auction.
Determine what your purpose is. Do you want to promote an upcoming sale? Or is it your aim to attract future business for your auction company? This will drive both your timing and your message (not to mention whether any costs come out of the auction budget or out of your own pocket). If you’re hoping to promote the auction, your outreach to media needs to begin at least three or four weeks before the sale date. Once you’re within about a week of the sale date, it’s hard to get any helpful pre-auction coverage without rushing the media outlet – a very bad practice.
Identify the story. And here’s the tricky part: It’s probably not your auction. Editors are up to their eyeballs in announcements of upcoming auctions. But within the details, there may be an item that’ll get people talking. It could be as small as the button off a Civil War uniform. A good way to see the hidden story is to think about what you go home and tell your spouse about. I was once getting a ho-hum media response on a famous basketball player’s house until I mentioned that his bed was selling with the house, because at seven feet, he required such a huge bed it wouldn’t fit through the door. Editors love surprises and unexpected twists.
Respect the “reach.” Before 1999 or so, local newspapers (and to a lesser extent, TV stations) would often cover news within a radius of 100 miles or more. Today, their coverage area is far more local. A mid-size daily (let’s say one with a circulation of 50,000) won’t usually venture far past its own county line. If an editor says your auction is outside the coverage area, accept it without whining and arguing. Otherwise, you may annoy him to the point where you’re not welcome next time you have a story to pitch.
Respect media staffing cuts, too. Since 2006, some 15,000 newsroom jobs have vanished as newspapers have closed or cut staff. TV stations, likewise, have cut back severely. Even if you have a great story, you’re probably not going to get a reporter and photographer to come out for the afternoon. You may have to settle for a quick phone interview, and maybe a request for you to provide a photo. If the TV station sends someone out, it’ll probably be a “one-person crew” which consists of the camera operator and no reporter. Even the Chicago Sun-Times recently fired its entire photo staff and started teaching reporters how to take better pictures with their iPhones. (Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up!) The editor can’t send people he doesn’t have, and you want to nurture a good long-term relationship.
Target the reporter, not the outlet. To borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, newspapers don’t write stories. People do. Find the web site for the newspaper or TV station you’re hoping to interest in your story, and look for stories compatible with yours. Check the byline. You’ll probably even find the reporter’s email address right alongside the story. Remember that most “pitches” and press releases go to editors, so if you can find the right reporter, you may have a better chance of getting his or her attention.
Decide on a delivery method. You don’t always need a press release. A well targeted e-mail may do the job. You don’t need to blanket the entire news staff with emails. Should you call? Maybe, but only to make sure the reporter still works there and ask for permission to email her a story idea. Don’t try to pitch it on the phone. Once you’ve sent the email, don’t call again. If she likes the idea, you’ll hear from her. Remember that reporters hate phone calls more than measles. If you do call, try to keep it to less than 30 seconds unless the reporter starts asking questions.
In short, keep it simple. Find a good story and tell it to someone who can pass it along. Give yourself a chance to get lucky.