How Local Coverage Can Buy You National Exposure, Grow Your Brand

BY BILL HEINEKE, PRINCIPAL, HEINEKE COMMUNICATIONS, INC.

Too often we in media relations tend to value only top-tier placements like The Wall Street Journal or The Associated Press or The New York Times. Getting a product or company mentioned in those outlets is valuable indeed. For us it can solidify our reputation; for the company or brand, a huge spike in website visits may result.

We and the brands we work for are mistaken, though, when thinking such placements are the sole way to garner media coverage. Placements in suburban and even rural news outlets can be valuable, too. Clients and media professionals may undervalue these placements because they lack the glamour or the immediate influence of a national placement. We do so at our peril.

Reporters at urban and national publications always are looking at local newspapers for stories that have national implications or have broader interest than the local newspapers’ audiences.

Here’s a good example. It’s a bit old, but it underscores the point. In the early 1980s, The Associated Press in Pittsburgh picked up a story from a local newspaper about a high school cheerleader who was under pressure to lose weight to maintain her position on the squad. The AP reporter saw an item in a local newspaper about a school board hearing where the situation was being discussed. The reporter wrote a story and newspapers across the country picked up the piece.

Needless to say, the controversy intensified. Among other things, the story prompted questions about the pressure women are under to maintain the so-called ideal body image. National media interest was so great that one broadcast network contacted the AP reporter when the school board’s decision was due. A producer was on the line as the AP reporter awaited word about the decision so the producer could immediately begin preparing a story for the following day’s national morning show.

This example demonstrates several salient facts that media relations pros often overlook:

  • Many national stories begin as local stories
  • Finding a good story and placing it in a local publication gives you an opportunity to leverage coverage with the local metropolitan daily, the local AP bureau and, as we noted above, even the national outlets.
  • National outlets like these stories because they add spice to their daily reports, a contrast to stories from, D.C., NY and LA, which often dominate coverage.

Now that everything is online, you can leverage local placements with just a few mouse clicks. National reporters, even if they don’t follow up on your story idea, appreciate your effort. In addition, you demonstrate that you understand their business. That will be helpful the next time you try to leverage a story.

Lest you think generating media coverage in suburban and rural areas is easy: Local reporters and editors often are more suspicious of PR types simply because they don’t hear from us as often as their big-city counterparts do. When they do, their BS antennae go full tilt.

To counter this, it’s wise to follow the same rules you use when pitching larger outlets: Know the topic of the story you’re pitching; know the area where the publication is read; read past articles by the reporter; and if you can, show how your story is a trending topic.

On the upside, local reporters and editors always are interested in local news. Readers can get their state and national news from the big-city newspapers. There’s only one place for local news.

To underscore the importance of local news, look at the recent activity at Tribune Publishing, whose properties include The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Newsday. Tribune offered buyouts at many of its large papers. Later it purchased 38 Chicago suburban newspapers, citing the acquisition as an “opportunity for growth” and “growing the hyper-local content we can provide to customers.” If a company like Tribune Media sees value in local news coverage, you should, too.

CONTACT: billheineke@comcast.net

 

This article originally appeared in the December 7, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.