Many construction firms are missing the opportunity to tell their interesting, engaging and important stories in the local media. Earning media coverage can produce many tangible benefits, but it won’t happen without an effort on the company’s part.

For small to mid-size construction firms, any time spent trying to garner media coverage must be balanced with time spent focusing on growing the business. That said, positive media coverage can help a business in many ways.
  • Coverage of a firm’s work can help build a company’s name recognition—serving as a networking tool within the local business community.
  • Coverage of awards and honors can be used like letters of recommendation to provide third-party validation of the firm’s quality to new and prospective clients.
  • Coverage of charity work or other community involvement can help build goodwill and further establish a firm’s commitment to the community in which it works.
  • Coverage of job training, new hires or profiles of standout employees can serve as a recruiting tool for firms that need to expand their workforce.
Determining What Is Newsworthy
In general, a topic should have a local angle and be relevant to the targeted audience. For example, local business journals,
industry publications or business sections of a newspaper are going to be more interested in picking up a news release or mentioning a recent award or staff promotion than a local television station or the front page of the local paper. However, the local television or newspaper may have an interest in covering a significant local project the firm is working on, a community service project it is involved in, an event the company is hosting or a milestone it is approaching.

A good test for deciding where to pitch a story is whether it could be told to a friend from outside the industry, and whether its relevance or importance could be explained in 30 seconds.

Engaging the Press
Contacting media outlets is typically not as intimidating as many people think. Reporters, especially those at smaller outlets with limited staff, are often interested in hearing new story ideas. A simple step that will go a long way toward increasing the chance a story will be covered is doing some light research into which reporter or editor at a media outlet is most likely to cover the topic. Most newspapers will have a business editor or business reporter, and some larger papers may have a reporter who specializes in construction, development or commercial real estate.

For television outlets, information is gathered at the assignment desk.

An easy way to pitch a reporter is to follow up a news release with a phone call that day or the next. Use the phone call to give an elevator pitch on why the reporter and the audience should care about the topic. Make sure to think about the news value of the pitch and mention why it is local, why it matters to the public and any sort of interesting data that makes the topic more important (e.g., the company beat out 50 other California contractors to win this award, or the firm just hired its 200th employee and has added 50 jobs in the city during the past two years).

Preparing for an Event
When hosting an event, such as a groundbreaking, press conference or a business tour with an elected official, consider setting up a check-in or information table with relevant materials about the company, copies of the news release or media advisory that was distributed, and a sign-in sheet. Also consider including printed copies of additional media coverage the firm has received, biographies of the leadership team and relevant promotional materials.

Be sure to inform the entire staff that media may be onsite for the event, and assign one employee to check in any members of the media and station another person near the parking lot or entrance to help escort people inside. Signs directing media where to check in or how to get to the event are a good idea as well. Also, consider setting parameters for pictures, particularly if camera flashes will distract from the event.

Writing a News Release
Generally speaking, use a news release to announce news (e.g., an achievement, award, milestone or new hire) and use a media advisory to invite press to attend a charity event, groundbreaking or other ceremony. News releases or advisories should always be sent in the body of an email or through a vendor such as Constant Contact—not as an email attachment. They should clearly state what is going on, when and where it has happened or will happen, who it involves and why it is newsworthy.
  • Headline. The headline should be intriguing enough to encourage the audience to read the release. It also should explain the local tie or significance of the news being conveyed, such as “Indianapolis Electrician Wins Gold at National Craft Championships.”
  • Body. It’s a good idea to include a brief (one- to two-sentence) introductory paragraph followed by a paragraph or two of pertinent background information (explaining why something is significant or should be of interest), followed by an additional paragraph with a quote from someone within the organization that tells the part of the story that is most important. The quote or “statement” portion of the release likely will be the part picked up in a news story.) It is important to explain the topic fully in the most succinct way possible. The more long-winded a statement is, the more opportunity a reporter or editor has to choose something that doesn’t reflect the firm’s main focus. (This is also an important principle to remember when giving an interview.)
  • Contact Info/Summary. Always include contact information—at least an email address, but preferably a phone number, too. If press is being invited to an event, include a basic what, where, when summary at the bottom that includes instructions for how to RSVP and any specific directions press should abide by upon arrival.
  • Distribution/Timing. When sending a release about something internal that otherwise would not be known, such as an award or honor, milestone or expansion, then the firm can decide when makes the most sense to make the announcement. It is typically best to send information in the morning, ideally on a Monday, when reporters are usually not working on a deadline. If members of the press are being invited to an event, send the advisory about a week in advance and follow up with a reminder either 24 or 48 hours in advance of the event. The rules change when sending a release about a current event or a topic that’s already in the local news. In this case, it is important to be proactive. The news cycle is competitive, and being timely can make the difference between being included in a story or not. That said, do not issue a statement or comment on something before the firm is comfortable doing so. It is much better to be passed over for a story than to make a hasty or rash statement.
Responding to Inquiries From Reporters
Even if a company is not actively pursuing media coverage, it may be contacted by a reporter at some point. Following are a few basic tips regarding media inquiries.

When asked by a reporter to comment on something, always request a deadline and be realistic about whether that deadline can be met. If the firm will not be able to comment in a timely manner, give the reporter a heads up as soon as practical.

If the firm would like to reply to an inquiry, but needs to give some thought to its answer, most reporters are willing to accept a follow-up response via email. This approach gives the company a chance to verify any information it’s unsure of and make its answer concise.

Look up what beat the reporter typically covers and if he or she has written on the topic in the past. This can sometimes be helpful in understanding his or her level of familiarity with the issue.

Above all, be calm, take a step back and think about whether responding to an inquiry is best. It is better to be cited in a story as “did not respond to request for comment,” than to issue a statement the company may regret later.

Need Help?
Many chapters of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) have communications professionals on staff who can provide support to ABC members interested in seeking press coverage. Companies should call or email their chapter for more information on available resources.

Jeff Leieritz is media relations manager for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email