How to Set Up An Independent Business Media Trail

I created an Independent Bath Media Trail for the end of March, to celebrate some of the wonderful small businesses that make our city special and unique – to showcase the hidden talents.

High business rates, rents, wages and costs, coupled with the uncertain economic climate as a result of Brexit, the recession and the US election have made conditions challenging for many small independent businesses in Britain. In my city, Bath, there are now over 90 empty shops.

The trail took bloggers, journalists and social media wizards on a trail round our city to showcase the very best family owned cafes and hotels, galleries, independent restaurants, bakers and our favourite inspiring shops.

The aim of the trail day was to raise awareness online and in print of how important this micro economy is to Bath – a UNESCO World Heritage City filled with beautiful Roman and Georgian architecture and bustling with skilled private entrepreneurs who work round the clock to make the visitor experience so attractive and authentic. Editorial coverage in magazines is normally closely associated with advertising, something that many small businesses cannot afford.

So here are my twelve top tips for how to organise such a day, so that you might also be inspired to organise one for your street, town or city.

1.   Map the day out – I commissioned one of my colleagues, Dina Sanchez Espinosa, who is also a graphic designer, to map out 25 of my favourite streets and businesses on a really simple straight line grid map. Along the way we could also visit more businesses on the trail too, if time allowed– the map would not limit the trail but add structure and provide a “sense of place”.

2.   Invite the best to see the best – invite as many great journalists, bloggers and social media influencers as you know. Look through magazines and find out the editor’s email at the front – make contact on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You would be amazed as to how friendly and willing people are when it comes to writing about independent businesses. Send them a really friendly, personal and well thought out invitation – make the day out sound amazing!

3.   Time scheduling – I organized the trail for the end of March, a good spring day. The day started at 10am in our shop, with artisan pastries from Thoughtful Bakery and coffees by Easy Jose. Every minute and hour of the day was planned till 5pm, for all the visits as well as time for refreshments, loo stops, interviews, questions, podcasts note taking etc. Timing and timetabling is important – there is a lot to achieve and journalists will need to get trains-buses home or head for the car parks at a certain time. You cannot achieve miracles – so everyone needs to be flexible and reasonable.

4.   Get the tourist board and local influencers on board– I emailed Visit Bath, local landlords, councillors, hotel owners and PR agents so they too knew about the media trail. Talking to as many influential people as possible about your trail helps to spread the word. Seek the helpers and doers and avoid the grumblers – they will suck the oxygen out of the event!

5.   Get the locals involved– I sent out an introductory email and wrote a blog post to tell the independent business owners all about the trail, so that they would know it was happening, to get their support and also to ask for goodies for a goodie bag, for free lunch or hotel rooms, whatever they could offer. In every community there are kind collaborators!

6.   Goodie bags– the purpose of the take away goodie bags is to say thank-you at the end to all the people who came on the media trail. The gifts do not have to be expensive or fancy, they can be a jar of homemade jam, locally made soaps, or fudge or chocolate, maybe a box of tea or coffee beans, hand made candles – in fact anything artisan that would provide a suitable local souvenir of the day.

7.   Select businesses you know and love– the passion and support for your independent businesses has to come from your heart and your voice and so if you believe in those shops, cafes, galleries and their owners, then you are more likely to tell a compelling and engaging story as you wander around.

8.   Walk the trail yourself– step by step, carefully, make sure that you choose the best route. Try to approach each street from the very best angle possible – parts of Bath are really awful to look at and you do not want anybody on the trail to photograph anything less than beautiful. So make sure you know exactly what you are doing on the day, so you create a great impression.

9.   Do your homework– I read a lot about local history, from the Roman invasion right through to the Georgian era, so on the trail I will be able to talk fluently about the architecture, buildings, streets and trade areas. This is an important part of any city trail and it adds local colour and texture to editorial coverage.

10.  Social media focus– make sure you write the names of every independent business with their social media tags on a list. The hashtag for the day is #independentbath and I encourage everyone to use it. The media day can achieve immediate social media buzz and longer term, trickling press and magazine editorial coverage down the line. The ripple effect can be really efficient in driving visitors to places in the town that would never otherwise be found.

11.  Results– after the trail write an email to tell everyone involved how well it went, show them evidence of media coverage or social media buzz and provide any data you can to prove how the media trail day served the community. Results, results, results – just like a proper PR campaign focus on Return On Investment!

12.  Repeat– if your media trail day is a success then repeat it in the spring and summer – invite different writers, visit different shops, include a different itinerary, activities, refreshments and gifts. Keeping the offer fresh and interesting is key for media attention.

Let’s do all we can to support local, independent businesses. Together, sharing, we are far bigger than the sum of disparate parts.

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