In major cities, content marketing agencies often define and hone their practice areas, core competencies, and the industries in which they specialize. It’s common to see firms branding themselves into one niche: hospitality PR, or tech PR, or style and fashion influencer marketing.

In medium-sized and small cities, agencies that serve the local businesses take quite a different approach. A PR or marketing agency might wind up with clients from the hospitality, health, banking, fashion and interior design sectors, not to mention some community non-profits and charitable events. You could say that these marketers are generalists and not specialists – but in fact, they do specialize. In their city.

In this installment of the Niche Freelancer, we chat with Tracey Zeeck of Bumbershoot PR, who has been the brand storyteller, external partner and trusted publicist for dozens of small and medium-sized businesses in the mid-sized market of Oklahoma City. She shares tips for weaving yourself into the local fabric, opinions on the emerging remote workforce, and success stories in marketing all kinds of regional businesses.

How to be a freelance publicist in a small or local market.

What is the “special skill” that you believe a publicist or content marketer needs in order to be the voice of a small to medium-sized business in a mid-sized or small local market?

  1. You need to understand the entire fabric of a community so you know where to weave in your client. You can’t come in, for example, and say “this is the best XX in the city” if you don’t know who the “real” best XX in the city is first.
  2. Find out what the movers and shakers are trying to move and shake, and then see how you can help them. I had a car dealer client that wanted to help make their city better. One time the client called and said something like, “It’s cold out and there’s nothing to do. Let’s make an indoor park for an upcoming event.” It was so good that it turned into front page news. Another time, at another event, we approached him with, “It’s the last Friday before you can register to vote. What if your activation at this event is just to provide voter registration?” Of course he went for it! And again, this made the news.
  3. You are only ever one screw-up away from blowing your relationship with local media. Do not lie to them. Do not lie for your client. Do not mislead them. If you can’t tell them something, tell them that. You will be found out and it will suck for you. Do not go to a reporter with something that doesn’t suit them. They will stop listening to you.As a publicist, do not go to a reporter with something that is misleading or a lie.
  4. Read the paper, blogs, etc. Make yourself a media and influencer cheat-sheet if you need to.
  5. Also, no throwing competing brands under the bus. There is room for everyone. Be the best at what you do, and let your clients do the same. And then let your quality lead.

Have you ever worked in a major city for national clients? If so, please compare it to your current roster.

Yes. Auto racing, pharma, beer, pasta, yogurt… all globally known brands. But the funny thing is, we had better results when we would drill down and activate in local markets. Come to think about it: That’s probably where I learned to do things the way I do them. I hadn’t thought about that before!

Has the move toward remote work/virtual collaboration changed your business?

I no longer have employees. I’m in my 10th year, and I think I grew because I thought I was supposed to. But I don’t love being a boss. Now I only “hire” partners who are smarter or better than me, and I don’t have to worry about their insurance or house payment or whatever. And while I am in OKC (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), I have working partners available from New York to Denver to LA. But also, since I live in OKC, I can afford to have an office. So I don’t have to dedicate part of my home to workspace, and instead I get to flip the switch and actually “go” to work.

Can agencies from big markets try to but in and take over publicity in local markets?

Do you see agencies from major cities (Chicago, Houston) trying to nudge their way into your market?

I think there will always be outside agencies looking to get into smaller markets, because a lot of times they assume we’re not as sophisticated, and that they can swoop in and take advantage of our naiveté. That doesn’t work. But that also doesn’t mean there is no room for them. They can absolutely succeed by coming in and getting to know the community and media, and doing that same drilled-down approach using local exploration and relationship-building.

What’s your favorite social media platform?

Instagram with food clients, home clients, art clients and other pretty pretty things. I like Twitter a lot, but less for “brands.” I like it to be where the actual humans associated with the brand interact. They’re better suited to be the voice of the brand when you’re local. If you can be the voice of your brand, take that to Twitter. What do you believe in? What things matter to you at your company? Talk about it and let people know so they can develop a relationship with you and your brand.

Is there something you really dislike about the media landscape today, and/or the evolution of it?

I’m an old dog, and I am just trying to understand what the new tricks even are, much less trying to learn them! Lately I have to navigate many traditional outlets tilting away from earned media and leaning toward the P2P model (pay to play). I am not a media buyer. If I were good at that, I would have just done that from the beginning and saved myself a million headaches and retired five years ago.

I develop a pitch map and try to think about all of the special angles for a particular client pitch, and then assign a pitch to approach each outlet with. This helps the outlets who don’t want to copy-and-paste a press release. Reduction in the number of earned/editorial media outlets means that I have to develop more meaningful pitches and seek out big beautiful features.

As a publicist, do you do a lot of work with local bloggers?

Do you work a lot with bloggers? Any insights there?

I work some with bloggers, mostly food bloggers. But the best blogger in my city is a hilarious snarky blog: But we’re probably low on blogs. Hey, someone should come to OKC and start a blog!

I loved a recent social post of yours detailing how you got lots of regional press for a group of local credit unions. Can you break it down for our readers?

One ad agency I work with had a group of credit unions with branches statewide. They wanted me to send out a press release (that they had written) about a designation they’d earned, making them the only credit union in the state with such distinction. I made some changes to the release so I felt more comfortable with it, which received approval. Then I sent it out to the local papers in cities where they have branches. We ended up in the briefs in two OKC papers. (Which is never where I aim to be.) The client was actually okay with it, but I really wasn’t. I felt like they could do better.

So I went back to the account rep at the agency and asked him to talk to the client about the credit unions, pick five or so in the state, and figure out how each branch impacts each local market. As it turned out, they were all extremely involved. So I went back to the original press release sent, and I re-sent it with this extremely simple pitch.


am writing with a story idea that I think [local newspaper] readers might find interesting. [Name] Credit Union was just named [award.] But they’re not just a great credit union. They’re also a great community partner. They serve the employees of [tribe], [the public school system] and [university] employees. They also sponsor a lot of local events and activities, including DECA, [underprivileged kids] camp, [University] athletics program, and more. They’ve been in [town] for about seven years but actually merged with another credit union that had been there for many more.

I hope you agree with me that your readers will find it interesting. Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can help in any way!

Thank you, Tracey 

This personalized note started conversations that became 100% pickup in the markets for which we crafted the local pitch.

How can you work with a broad range of industries and clients as a publicist in a small or local market?

In recent posts, I discuss the challenges of marketing what are perceived as “boring” businesses. You actually work with a broad spectrum of industries, from credit unions to car dealerships to hipster hotels. Could you share an insight garnered from working with such a broad range of clientele whose only unifying trait is that they’re all OKC?

You have to find something interesting to talk about. And you really can do it, even if you have to help create it. I was working with a community bank, and they were literally the most unsexy story you could imagine. YAWN… and they knew it. They wanted to do something bold in their community to stand out, and we all agreed that they should do a fall fest-type event in their little OKC-adjacent hamlet, which is home to one of their most active branches.

Most of their residents commute to OKC, so we held two community focus groups, one in the small town and one in OKC. We also surveyed company leadership. From this, we learned that the event we were hoping to throw would actually be very problematic (It’s a mix of super religious and not at all. So alcohol would be a huge problem for half of the attendees, no matter which way they went. And they would essentially have to pick a side.)

But taking time for the focus groups, the thing we surprise-learned was that they all shared one thing: They choose to live there because of their dedication to family. So we identified a Wednesdays Child-type program on a local network affiliate, and recommended they take on the primary sponsorship of this segment, and essentially put their money toward creating more families through adoption. Neither of the two town archetypes could do anything but love this. It worked. Hooray!

They still are sponsoring it, and it’s been a huge success for them, giving them different ways to bring their brand into the hearts of the community and do something they genuinely love that keeps them on air every month. So to answer your question (sorry I took the long way)… If you listen to your customers, your management, your own internal voice… You can find something bigger than your brand to “believe in,” and you can leverage that for publicity’s sake.

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