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Has your biggest competitor just been highlighted in the daily paper? Or perhaps the upstart funeral home was just interviewed by the town’s radio station for a local perspective on a national news story about funerals. Either way, don’t you wish the media had contacted your firm rather than the “other guy”?

Working with the media is not the equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing if it sticks. You need to put in the time to get the results you want. Like so many things in life, good communication with the media requires a great deal of planning as well as developing connections with those involved.

It’s never too late to start. Maybe you’ve had media coverage of your funeral home in the past and were unsatisfied with how it turned out and you’re looking for positive exposure in the future. It helps to think of your connection with the media like any kind of relationship. You have to invest in it.

The following ideas are a few ways you can build and improve your media relations: 

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Consider who can help you, not just what can help you.
Once you decide what message you want to communicate and how you want to get that message out, figure out who can make it happen. Who is in charge of making news decisions at the local paper? Who is the producer at the radio station making things happen? These people can help you get your story told. Find out who these people are.

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Keep in mind there’s a difference between advertising and news. If it’s advertising you want, you’re going to pay for it. If it’s news coverage you’re looking for, that’s a different story. The media is concerned with serving their readers, viewers, and listeners. Is your funeral home engaged in activities that may be of interest to the community? Are there trends in the industry that you are addressing as a business owner? If it’s interesting to the public, the media is interested.

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Target your efforts. Newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations all have reporters who focus on different types of “news”. Sending a mass e-mail to an entire newsroom hoping for coverage isn’t going to be very effective, and in fact could annoy the people you’re trying to reach. Instead, spend some time finding out who is the most likely person to be interested in your story. Pitch the media outlets that best reach your families and reflect your firm’s objectives. In many cases, this means focusing your efforts and pitching to a handful of reporters. Think three to four, not 10 to 20.

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Take it slow. Earned media is crucial for real-time engagement with both they and consumers but it’s a long game too. Develop monthly, quarterly and yearly marketing strategies that include media relations, planned publicity campaigns and content strategy. Remember,
Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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Nurture relationships with journalists. Earned media is about people and relationships. Often, funeral professionals look at media coverage as a one-time event. In many cases, that’s true. But if you think your business is going to attract on-going attention, or hope it will, it
means a relationship is even more important. Connect with journalists on LinkedIn and Twitter. Pay attention to what they are writing. Keep your focus on building relationships
with reporters first and the opportunity to share your firm’s story through media coverage will emerge naturally.

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Offer captivating content. Words alone won’t get your story the attention it deserves.  Whenever possible, refer to rich media content—audio, images, and video—when
pitching your story. Journalists want and need visual content to capture the attention of their audiences.

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Keep your media pitches short. Your pitch is the teaser, not the full-length feature. Keep your message short, simple and to the point. If it holds promise for the journalist, they’ll follow up with you to get the whole story.

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Ensure communication runs two ways. Don’t ignore the media and then expect them to come running when you have something to say. Media respect people who answer questions plainly, and who are willing to give as well as get. If someone from the media contacts you, make sure you communicate on a timely basis, even if you feel you don’t have much to say. Media tend to write off people who are not responsive.

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Help media understand. No one understands funeral service in your community better than you. That can be a weakness if you assume that others know what you know. If reasonable, invite journalists to your funeral home for a tour. Reporters like to know what makes things tick, and if you give them a peek behind the curtain, they’re likely to be more understanding about your mission and perhaps, find a story to cover that you never thought of.

By Joe Weigel

Mr. Weigel is the owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing, a communications firm focused on the funeral profession, that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. Visit his website at http://www.weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He also can be reached at 317-608-8914 or joseph.weigel@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of OGR’s Independent Magazine.