All managers know that communicating with the public is essential in every business. It’s important to remember that it can also be a powerful tool in differentiating your business and shaping the public’s view about you and your company.

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One challenge many small businesses face is that the general public is not really aware of the work they do.

How many times have you been greeted with, “I didn’t even know you were here.”

There is a possible way around this situation, a way that forges new relationships and credibility and can also positively impact the customers you serve.

And at no cost.

If your business is looking for opportunities to make customers sit up and take notice, you might explore the possibility of you or one of your employees becoming a regular “expert” contact to the media.

Within your organization there may very well be expertise in a field that is of interest to business or trade writers. Anyone can buy an ad, but being selected by the media as an expert tells your customers that your business is deserving of special attention. Not only is being quoted by the business press free to your business, but it gives you and your company a form of credibility and stature that money cannot buy.

Once you become known to financial or trade writers, you may find yourself called on time after time to comment on the latest business happenings.

“When we do a retail story,” says one business editor, “there is one store manager we always call. She is incredibly accessible, she’s very smart, and she’s very honest and forthright. She gets the most ink because we are able to get the most information from her. And we know we can trust her.”

Editors might also ask you to write your own column for the public. What customers wouldn’t want the expert in the field?

Closely examine what expertise might be of interest to business writers and the public. Perhaps your business fills a unique void that would be of benefit to the community.

For example, a small business assistance nonprofit in New England realized something compelling during a planning session. The organization was the only source of real-time, on-the-ground small business information in the state. Since they talked to businesses daily, they picked up trends and issues long before traditional news media covered them or they emerged on the radar of policymakers.

Because small companies were a major component of the economy, elected officials, state agencies, the private sector and the general public were all interested in their needs and issues. A thoughtful set of action steps were created that ultimately led to increased visibility and awareness for small business and the organization.

Once your expertise and information is framed, then a wide net of contacts should be developed.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • If it’s in your comfort zone, call the newspaper, trade magazine or television station and introduce yourself to the business editor or the financial writer in your area of expertise. Tell them a little about your business and your expertise. If you have an article idea, suggest it.
  • Write a blog on your company’s website. Studies show that almost all reporters surf the net looking for article ideas. Consider emailing a blog of particularly high public interest to a business writer.
  • The media is always looking for a local angle to a national business story. If you have an idea, don’t hesitate to email or call a business reporter. Another opportunity is finding a business angle to a breaking news story – for instance, helpful home repairs after a big storm.
  • If you like to write and feel certain you could come up with ideas for repeated articles, volunteer to write a column. A trade publication in your area of expertise might jump at the chance to have a column offering your expertise.

As in any endeavor, there’s a fine line between creating opportunities and pushing too hard. If you inundate a business publication with phone calls or send too many press releases containing unimportant or manufactured news, you’ll quickly lose credibility.

Business writers are looking for people whose expertise they can trust and who are accessible when needed. If you’re serious about becoming a business expert for the media, make phone calls from them a priority. Let others at your business know that calls from the media should be put through immediately, and always return calls as soon as possible.

The opportunity for you and your business to become more visible in the community is definitely there. If you think it’s for you, learn as much as you can about the business media in your market, decide what approach to take, and then make the leap. Who knows? We could be reading about you in the business press any day now!