Media relations is an integral part of an effective public relations plan. The powerful publicity tool provides a person or organization with a credible third-party endorsement that can ultimately help influence or change consumer behavior.
While more direct forms of communications, such as advertising and content marketing, are all the rage these days, earned media is still a valuable and popular form of communication. And many times, earned media is more effective than its paid counterpart.
But with shrinking newsrooms and an overabundance of information thanks to a 24/7 news cycle, how does one stand a chance of reaching a journalist and earning even a single media placement?
Whether your news is good or bad, here are a few tips to keep in mind when navigating the world of media relations.
1. Create a Targeted Contact List
Build a list of publications that may have an interest in your new product, event announcement or company achievement. Then determine which journalists at those publications should receive your pitch. A sports reporter probably won’t care about your new software launch.
Know the publications and reporters that cover your industry and read them on a regular basis. This will allow you to keep up-to-date with new developments and trends in your industry, and know what types of topics a reporter usually covers.
2. Tailor Your Pitch
It’s essential to write a clear, concise pitch that is relevant to the reporter. Clarify your message before you deliver your pitch so the reporter can easily see the potential of your story. A unique and interesting angle will provide a convincing argument that will be hard for reporters to resist.
When pitching by phone, create a bulleted fact sheet to help you get your point across quickly. Journalists are pretty busy and get hundreds of pitches a day, meaning they probably won’t give you much time to make your case. Plus, most journalists really don’t like to receive pitches via phone. Your best bet is to send pitches by email — more than 90 percent of reporters indicate email is the best way to directly pitch a story idea.
For email pitches, make sure your message is not just a duplicate of your press release. Send a simple, personalized email with a few key points and a catchy subject line.
If your pitch includes a press release, make sure it’s simple, clear and to-the-point. According to a study by Greentarget, 70 percent of journalists spend less than one minute on each news release they open, so make sure the primary message or announcement is immediately apparent.
After you make your pitch, it’s important to follow up, but only once. Wait a few days for the journalist to consider your material and then reach out with a quick email. You want to stay top-of-mind in a non-intrusive way.
Make your follow up more enticing to reporters by offering a little something extra for them to round out their story — photos, statistics, references or additional sources. Anything you can do to make a journalist’s job easier increases your chances of getting placement for your story.
3. Build Relationships
Firing off pitches and hoping for the best is not a good media relations strategy. Successful PR is all about building relationships. Establishing a good rapport with journalists will improve your odds of landing story placements.
So, how do you get the media familiar with your organization if they don’t know you? Start socially. Hold events where journalists can learn more about you and your company. Attend networking events and conferences where you know reporters will be and connect with them. Interact with the media on social media — comment on their stories to show you have a genuine interest in their writing.
Over time, focus on being a resource for journalists. Remember what I said about making a reporter’s job easier? Try to make each interaction with a particular reporter worth their time. Because reporters are typically on tight deadlines, they often seek out familiar sources. According to PRWeek’s Media Survey, 86.2% of journalists cite personal contacts as “extremely” or “very” important in finding experts for stories. Proof that there is no substitute for genuine relationships.
4. Be Accessible and Truthful
We already know reporters receive hundreds of pitches each week. So, when a journalist does respond to you and shows interest in your story, respond as quickly as possible! Be helpful if and when you are asked to gather more information or take part in an interview. You have a very short window of time before your story becomes old news and the reporter moves on to the next possible article, so act quickly.
Being helpful and accessible also demonstrates to the reporter that you are dependable — a surefire way to create a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.
It may seem obvious, but truthfulness is just as important as accessibility. Don’t mislead reporters just to get the chance to speak to them. And don’t exaggerate how wonderful your product, service or business is just to attract press.
Little white lies can lead to you — and your organization — losing credibility with the media. Attaining any future coverage could then become an impossible feat. Honesty really is the best policy.
5. Join the Conversation
It should come as no surprise that social media is increasingly influencing traditional media. Social media provides new and sometimes more straightforward ways for journalists to find sources and information, conduct interviews, publish and promote their content. It’s also a valuable tool for media relations professionals (like you!) to research reporters.
Follow and engage with journalists on social channels — like, share and comment on their articles. Joining the conversation will allow you to learn a lot about a reporter’s interests and preferences. But don’t be overbearing. Most of the time, it’s better to simply listen. Take the time to learn about their past work and beats instead of interacting just to get their attention.
Looking for more? Here are some additional do's and don'ts for engaging with journalists on social media.
Beyond mainstream social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, another digital platform to consider is HARO (Help a Reporter Out), a database that connects reporters and sources (that’s you!). Journalists pose questions to gain information for stories, while you get to offer expert advice and potentially gain media coverage for your organization. (Intrigued? Check out this ultimate guide to HARO.)
No matter which platforms you use, take advantage of new technologies and media that allow for increased connectivity and storytelling.
Don’t get discouraged if a reporter isn’t interested in your story. And don’t ever blame the media for not covering your organization. Keep pitching, and keep going back to the drawing board to figure out ways to make yourself useful to the media.
You need the media and they need you. So, go out there and establish real connections with real people.