Many Americans dream of being their own bosses, so there tends to be a built-in interest in startup success stories. Such tales have lots of natural rags-to-riches hooks that are the fodder of feel-good journalism.
But being one's own boss isn't just about launching a new business. Teresa Ciulla, executive editor of Entrepreneur.com, says: "The bulk of both Entrepreneur and our Web site is aimed at people who already have a business and are looking to grow. What we're looking for are experts who can tell our audience how to do something better, faster, or smarter."
In the tech space, which drove much of the entrepreneur coverage a decade ago, "you can still pitch the tech entrepreneur story, but you have to be sure it has some backbone," says Flashpoint Public Relations principal Jennifer Colton. "The media is really interested in David and Goliath stories as long as you show your client's entrepreneurial vision has a solid business model behind it."
Tim Smith, VP with OutCast Communications, adds: "In the 1990s, just having a great idea and an entrepreneurial spirit was enough. But now the media are more gun-shy. They usually won't start paying attention until that entrepreneur gets VC funding."
While most coverage of entrepreneurs tends to be positive, Ciulla says most reporters also want to alert people to the inherent risks. "Obviously, we are cheerleaders for entrepreneurship, but we want to be honest with people and tell them what it's really like out there and warn them when VC funding is down," she says.
Along with traditional startups, one key segment of the entrepreneur space is the franchise market. Dean Trevelino, principal with Trevelino/Keller Communications, says the traditional small-business press is always looking for the next great franchise idea.
"I think reporters got bummed out covering so many bad-news corporate stories, so they're hungry for positive pieces, and entrepreneurs are filling that need," he says, citing his client Raving Brands, an incubator of new chain restaurant concepts. "So we've had success pitching not only individual franchise owners, but we can [also] pitch the franchise as a growth story."
But Susan Kezios, president of the American Franchisee Association, describes a lot of franchise stories as "puff" pieces.
"What we don't see enough is the reality of what happens when you buy a franchise," she says, "because you're not really building your own business, you're building someone else's."
Pitching... Entrepreneurial stories
Everyone likes a little guy who does well, so look for positive examples of successful real-world individuals to highlight any startup or entrepreneurial-themed pitch
This is a tips-driven category, so position your client as an expert who can advise new-business owners on such topics as search engine marketing or finding financing
New-business reporters, especially in the tech space, are a bit more skeptical these days, so don't just pitch the entrepreneurial vision, pitch the solid business model, as well