Looking for ways to spread the word about your small business that doesn’t involve buying ad space? Media coverage could be the answer for your marketing strategy. Discover eight tips for creating a pitch that local and major publications can’t overlook.

Google Ads and sponsored Facebook posts have become cornerstones of any good business marketing plan. But, there’s one tried-and-true approach still can do wonders for a small or medium business: write-ups in media publications. Newspapers and magazines may be struggling financially these days, but nonetheless, coverage can send waves of curious customers your way to improve your bottom line.

Smart business owners don’t wait for the media to find them. Instead, they send out emails to editors to pitch their business for potential coverage. But there’s a hitch. Editors are bombarded daily with dozens of PR emails, and most get instantly deleted. Here is a 101 guide to finding and pitching publications and how to avoid ending up in an inbox’s trash folder.

1. Do Your Homework First, Then Show Your Work

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Learn More About the Publication

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Study the publication before making your pitch. If you’re pitching a reporter, look at what they’ve written in the recent past. “Don’t go after really old articles. Go after the last five that person has written,” says Dmitry Dragilev, founder of JustReachOut.io, a software platform that connects businesses with media. If you’re pitching a print-only outlet, read five of the most recent issues. For online publications, check out the last dozen or so articles they’ve done and do a quick keyword search to see if the topic you’re pitching has been written about recently.

In either case, study what an outlet or journalist publishes, the companies they write about, and in what way they cover them. If it seems like they’re a good fit for you, then pitch. For extra brownie points, reference an article of theirs. Do whatever you can to prove you’ve done the work. Because if you don’t, and an editor senses you haven’t researched what they publish, they will likely delete your pitch instantly.

2. Finding the Right Contacts

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Find Your Contacts

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You can’t pitch without the right contact. Start by consulting a masthead, which is a list of everyone who works at the publications. In magazines they’re typically towards the front, and on most publications’ websites as well. Many editors are also on Twitter or LinkedIn, so a simple “[Publication] + editor” search will pull something up. Lastly, there are also resources like Dragilev’s JustReachOut.io or Muck Rack that can help you narrow in on whomever you’re looking for.

3. Getting Their Correct Email Addresses

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Locate the Right Email Addresses

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You’ve got an editor’s name, now how do you reach them? If you’re lucky, some mastheads or Twitter bios will include direct emails. If not, you’ll have to do some trial and error. First, go to something like a publication’s “Contact Us” page online to find out what their email domain is. Don’t assume it’s just an outlet’s name. For example, Esquire is owned by Hearst Magazines, so its domain is actually @hearst.com, not @esquire.com.

If the email address for the editor you want to reach is not online, perhaps a colleague’s is. If, for example, their co-worker’s email is firstname.lastname@publication.com, changes are your intended editor’s email follows the same format. You can also try searching for the editor’s full name with “@publication.com” (quotation marks and all) online.

If you’re still not sure, try sending your email to a few differently formatted email addresses (one at a time!) — firstnamelastname, firstinitiallastname, firstname only — until you don’t get a bounce back.

4. Subject Line Etiquette

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Subject Line Etiquette

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Don’t be cute with your subject line. A lack of clarity or sincerity won’t do you any favors, so be straightforward instead. A subject line should neatly summarize what your pitch is.

“I always tell people your subject line should be the headline of the story that you want published,” says Dragilev.

He also notes that writing the headline in a style the journalist or editor in question will like will increase your chances. “You need to study their past 10 stories they’ve written and create something similar, in the same language, the same type of tone,” he explains.

5. Keep it Short

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Keep it Short

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Editors don’t have a lot of time. They’re too busy to read emails that are 10 paragraphs long. Even journalists have to keep their pitches short or risk being ignored.

Convey the core story in its most distilled form. Remember, you’re trying to capture their interest, not abuse it. If they want to know more, they’ll write back and ask. Keep your emails to about two or three paragraphs. “You want to keep it a little briefer than 150–200 words,” says Dragilev.

A bonus tip? Keep your subject lines short as well, he adds. “65 characters is what we recommend.”

6. Pitch a Story, Not a Press Release

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Pitch a Story

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Press releases may seem like they’re the standard, bread-and-butter way of making a publication aware of your company. The problem is that they’re effectively information dumps and most editors ignore them. If you want the chance to appear in a media publication, think like a writer, not a marketer. A common bit of advice editors give writers is to pitch a story, not an idea or information. You should do the same.

Don’t pitch what your company does and what makes it great. Pitch a story that illustrates that. Perhaps it’s an example of the impact your company is having, or maybe your company or its founder has a unique origin story. There may be something going on in the news that relates to your company or your products. For instance, if you own a bike shop and your city is making new bike lanes, you could position your business as a source.

Send that to editors. “You really have to experiment with your story and your angle to see what would really work,” says Dragilev.

7. Embrace the Follow Up (and Be Nice!)

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Rules for Following Up

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If you’re going to be pitching editors regularly, you will become very used to typing the words “Just wanted to follow up.” Editors’ schedules mean emails will get overlooked or forgotten, then buried deep in their inboxes. Always follow up. A good rule of thumb is to wait a week between follow-ups, and only ever do so twice. Above all else, be polite.

Never take a lack of response personally and then lash out. Be cheery and personable. Dragilev has a general rule of thumb for these situations, and every other part of the pitching process: “Would you say that out loud? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be sending it.”

8. Manage Your Expectations

Effective Ways Small Businesses Can Find Media Coverage — Manage Your Expectations

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At the risk of ending on a down note, publications have limited space in their pages and editorial calendars, and much of it is occupied by their own ideas. So, if you’re expecting 75 percent of your pitches to succeed, you’re in for some major disappointment. But, hey, you’re a business owner — you know all about difficult odds and the need for perseverance, so don’t give up! It can happen for you, and when it does, it can do wonders for your company. Keep following the steps above and you’ll get there.

“I always tell people something like two or three percent of all information written is actually read or really consumed. I’m telling them, how can you be that 2 percent? It’s not just about the headline or published article. It’s about making it valuable,” says Dragilev.

Do that, and you’ll see your company’s name in print or on a homepage someday.

Top image via Bartolomiej Pietrzyk.