How to Become a Local Media Darling

Newk’s Express Café franchisee Todd Jackson first appeared on Good Day Alabama as a solo act, but he has no misconceptions about why the producers keep asking him back. His wife and co-owner, Sonya, is a star attraction.

“She kind of likes to dress up in funny clothes and wear silly headbands and will say anything on the air,” Todd Jackson tells the Intuit Small Business Blog. “She’s probably more attractive to them than I am, but they get us as a package deal.”

The Jacksons and three partners own a Newk’s franchise in Birmingham, Ala., where the couple has become local media darlings (see photo). After they started appearing regularly on the morning show, the midday producer asked if they would make similar food- and cooking-related appearances, too. The Jacksons quickly agreed. Like most smart small-business owners, they don’t pass up free publicity.

“It’s an investment in time, but it’s not an investment in dollars, really,” Todd Jackson says. “If you went to the local Fox channel and said, ‘I’d like to run a commercial,’ you’re looking at thousands of dollars to do that. With this, the only thing it costs us is time, and whatever food product we use, which is minimal.”

It’s tough to quantify the bottom-line impact of TV and other media appearances, he says, but there’s no doubt it’s positive. “You do get an immediate benefit,” Jackson says, adding that the restaurant’s phone starts ringing as soon as the TV segments air. Likewise, people often order whatever dish the couple prepared during their most recent appearance.

“You know you’re getting a response,” Jackson says. “You have people [who] come up in line and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV this morning. That pizza that you made looked great. I want one of those.’”

Tips for Getting Media Attention

Jackson shared some advice for other small-business owners hoping to become regulars on the local media circuit.

  • Pay attention to the calendar. “We tend to try to theme any appearance to whatever’s going on right then,” Jackson says. That might mean football season, an upcoming holiday, or other events on people’s minds.
  • Exceed expectations. The Jacksons go above and beyond what’s expected of them, in part to give the TV anchors something to engage in on the air. “If we’re talking about chicken salad, well, we’ll have every way we serve chicken salad there,” Jackson says. “And then we’ll also have cake and a pizza, or something like that, to give more interest to the segment than just what we’re talking about.”
  • Lay off the hard sell. Let your content do the talking, Jackson says. “There’s a fine line between trying to be a commercial and trying to keep something interesting,” he notes. Although the café gets mentioned, of course, the Jacksons are happy to show people how to make their dishes at home. “I think that’s what gives the producers the desire to have us back; it’s not just a Newk’s commercial. It’s something that can be entertaining for their audience.”
  • Be available and appreciative. It’s important to be pleasant and easy to work with. When producers and other media folks call, the answer is never “no,” Jackson says. He’s a fanatic about being on time (“they never have to wait for us”), and he and his wife bring food as a thank-you to the staff, too.

Jackson’s first TV appearance was set up by a PR agency, but he doesn’t think that’s a necessity, especially in smaller media markets like Birmingham. If you have family, friends, or business associates who have connections with local media, he recommends trying those avenues first. However, if you’re based in a large city, free publicity may be tougher to come by, if only because there’s more competition.

About Kevin Casey

Kevin Casey is a regular contributor here, at InformationWeek and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @kevinrcasey.
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