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Making media work for you

Web Editor | July 10, 2011 | 6:15 PM

You don't have to have celebrity clients to get press attention for your salon. But how you and your staff interact with the media will elevate or debase your business. Unfortunately, most hairdressers aren't trained in media relations; they have to learn in the line of fire.

Writers, reporters and editors (who chose anonymity so they could speak freely) shared a slew of gaffes when asked about salons they chose not to write about. These include owners with egos, missed deadlines, over-zealous product pitches, harassment-style follow-up and useless phone interviews. In every instance, the offending salon had a plum opportunity for local or national media exposure, but blew it instead.

The Media Client
Salon owners complain that celebrity salons and stylists get all the attention. But it's not just because they have J. Lo in the chair. They also have top-notch publicists who entice the media to the salon and orchestrate the visit or interview, from beginning to end.

But even a publicist can't control everything. Consider the following visit to an exclusive Manhattan salon with its own product line and a "Sex in the City" star as a client. "I was doing a piece on summer hair care and the PR firm offered me a treatment of my choice," recalls the associate editor of a top-ranked, New York-based website. "I chose color. After a 45-minute argument with the colorist, who did not see me as the redhead I've been forever, he appeared to acquiesce. He then not only dyed my hair chocolate brown but recommended products that weren't the salon's. How did I look with such dark hair? Extremely sickly!"

Worse yet, the publicist was present during the entire visit but failed to alert the colorist about his behavior. This particular editor also writes about beauty, grooming and fashion for other publications. That's a lot of bad exposure for one salon.

First Contact
At press panels nationwide, editors frequently share how they prefer to receive first contacts. Their advice: Introduce yourself and what's different about your business in an e-mail or press release, then follow up with one phone call.

For the salon handling its own local press, Carla Barry-Austin, a public relations specialist at Ratner Companies (which owns several salon chains, including the Hair Cuttery), recommends collecting the names of the local beauty and fashion editors for lifestyle magazines and newspapers, then making your first outreach a meet-and-greet. "It's all about building a relationship," she says. "Send an e-mail that briefly says what's different about you, stress that you have stylists who can discuss specific topics and let the editor know he or she can use you as a resource."

Definitely invite the press to visit your salon, she adds, but not on opening day. Work out the kinks first. Don't pitch an editor an un-newsworthy idea; make sure you are believable. The list of professionals who claim to have invented mousse, created the day-spa concept or innovated color paneling is endless. Be original or credit your "inspiration." Keep in mind that although the internet is instantaneous, magazines have a much longer lead time.

The next biggest challenge, says Barry-Austin, is getting stylists to understand the value of exposure. "The stylist is your voice box for sending a stellar message," she says. "When I send a reporter to a salon, I choose top performers to deliver the service and remind them anything they say can be published."

Communication Causalities
Phone interviews are a common tool for busy editors. Failure to return calls or train receptionists on handling media inquiries are standard stumbles. A national hair and beauty magazine editor recalls when she "assigned" a salon two questions to answer for a national column. "When I called near the deadline, the owner told me she had posted the question on the salon's bulletin board but none of the stylists responded," she says. "I told her to forget it." In other instances, the same editor has provided interview questions in advance, only to discover that when she called the salon, the owner was either unprepared or provided nothing useful.

Publicists who insist on written questions in advance aren't doing you any favors if they also advise you to respond to media via e-mail. While e-mail can work well for editors on tight deadlines or those who prefer e-interviews, it does not give you an opportunity to develop an independent relationship. Also, "canned" answers can result in problems if you provide identical information to competitive media outlets.

Lack of interview preparation is another problem. Here are a few un-quotables from real-life salon interviewees:
* "There is no trend."
* "Look at my website to see what time zone I'm in; that's what it's for."
* "The owner doesn't have time right now." (Click.)
* "Will a photo of me run with the column?"
* "Who else are you interviewing?"
* "You know how ‘those people' are."

Up Close and Personal
As seen, when a reporter's personal visit implodes, it blows up spectacularly. Too-short cuts, the "wrong" hair color, thermal reconditioning damage and being ignored top the list of disasters, say reporters. But those aren't the only mistakes. The previously quoted web editor recalls, "A PR firm sent a group of press members to a spa in New Jersey and hired drivers to take us from Manhattan. The driver didn't have directions, and mine refused to drive me because I didn't have...

Making media work for you
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