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As Jeremy Porter wrote in Journalistics, “If you work in media relations today, and you’re having a hard time getting coverage for your news, you’re doing something wrong. Journalists exist to write about news. If you have a legitimate news story, you shouldn’t have a hard time getting coverage.”
‘Straight from the horses mouth’ as they say from where I come from (OK half my family made their living as journalist – the others as bookmakers).
If a journalist can tell you that they want to cover news, why are so many companies not getting the coverage they want?
Basically it comes down to two things: either your story isn’t actually newsworthy or you are not speaking to the right journalist. Here’s a little help:
1 - Speak to the right journalist.
OK, this is the back-office stuff that needs to be right. To sum it up, do your research.
Who covers your news? Which reporters write the most about the topics related to what you do? You should know who they are off the top of your head.
Then you actually need to read what these journalists are publishing.
Next up – get to know these people. You can do this through regular communication and networking. Don’t just contact a journalist when you’re pitching a story. Provide them with tips throughout the year when you come across information that’s of interest to them – even if, especially if, it’s not related to your organization.
They’ll quickly start to value you as a source – and they just might call you the next time they’re working on a story. The trick is to get yourself inserted into their Rolodex or whatever “trusted source” file they use.
OK, so I’ll admit, in the world of cross boarder, multi-language communications, this is far simpler if you have a professional PR team compared to one person trying to hold all the relationships.
So, that was easy right? Now on to the second, and possibly the more complex element.
2 - Make your story newsworthy
First up – not everything is newsworthy. Whether you take directions from a client or from a CEO, not everything they think is going to be newsworthy is actually newsworthy, so one important talent is managing expectations.
What makes a good news story? Your topic should be timely and relevant for the audience of the outlet you’re pitching. Even if your story is timely and relevant to the outlet you’re pitching, it might not be a fit for the reporter you think writes about that stuff. Sometimes newsworthiness is merely a factor of how you package the news in your pitch. You have to adapt the pitch to each journalist and outlet.
To help you adapt your pitch to the right journalist or outlet, NettResults offers seven golden tips for refining your pitches:
Localize – is your story not a fit for national news, but a good fit locally? Get strong local coverage in the outlet with the widest coverage. If your company is hiring 20 new employees this year, it’s not a fit for The Wall Street Journal. If you’re hiring 2,000 employees this year due to a big contract you just landed, it might be. Find local angles and see your placement success go up. And more often than not we’re looking at not local and national newsworthiness, but also country and regional newsworthiness.
Timeliness – if your story has a time element to it, you need to be able to act fast. If the world is talking about unemployment figures and you represent the company that is about to open a new office and hire 1,000 new staff how can you capitalize on news coverage? To capitalize on current events like this, you need to have the right reporters on speed dial.
Numbers – Journalists love numbers. Pretty numbers are even better – which is exactly what a good infographic offers. You’re probably sitting on a bunch of recent facts and statistics about your industry you could package as an infographic to support your news. Not only will the infographic help you break through the clutter of competing pitches, but it also provides the journalist with a potential visual to use with their story. We often work with clients to develop their ‘top 10’. So, for example, an anti-virus company may know the top 10 viruses this month, which could be interesting. Then, as you delve deeper, start comparing month-to-month and individual penetration rates to quickly produce stories.
Seasonality – What seasonal events create PR opportunities for you? Right now, we’re in the midst of spring. Which means Valentine’s is done with, Easter is right on us, a plethora of mother/father days and soon enough the school holidays will be here. Considering that a lot of these days are locally/regionally/nationally specific. You need to build out a years calendar of relevant days. Next you need to back out about 6 to 8 weeks so you can actually pitch the right seasonal news story when the journalist is writing it (and not when it is about to be read). Yes, I’m sure there are journalists working on 2012 Christmas issues right now…
Bounce-backs – What do you do when a reporter writes a great story about your industry and leaves your company out? Do you ignore it and take the abuse from your superiors? Do you write a scathing letter, lambasting the reporter – asking them how they could have possibly overlooked you? No, you educate them on your organization and the value you could bring to the table on future stories. Start by acknowledging that the story they wrote was on-target – in some cases, it might be appropriate to highlight some elements that you felt were left out. Journalists like to get reader feedback in most cases. It’s okay to share your side of the story. Even if it doesn’t get you in this article, they’ll think of you next time around if you’re polite and professional.
Name-drop - if your story is related to well-known organizations or people, get that stuff in the first paragraph of your pitch. While it’s not a guarantee for coverage, the better known the players are in your news story, the more likely you will break through the filters. Look, about 1% of the world’s brands, companies, organizations and celebrities actually get 90% of the world’s coverage… so be aware of who’s in the news and use that.
Copy Success – Look at the coverage in the target publications you are going after. If you start to analyze the news, you can start to identify the formula for how coverage happens with each outlet – and each reporter. From there, you can develop strategic approaches to getting your organization or experts included in the mix.
A lot of the tips above will seem old-school to seasoned PR pros, but you know what, while many things in the world of PR are changing quickly, the ability to pitch well hasn’t changed much in years.
Seth Godin blogged about it today. One option is to struggle to be heard whenever you're in the room... Another is to be the sort of person who is missed when you're not.
The first involves making noise. The second involves making a difference.
And so it is with succssful public relations. We take the unusual step of saying to our clients (either during a pitch or after it is successful won) that frankly we don't care how many press releases we are asked to distribute. All too many agencies seem to want to calculate their retainer or projects based on the number of press releases. This doesn't make sense to us. So long as each and every press release is newsworthy and relevant we don't mind working on one a day.
Off course I've yet to meet a client that had that many newsworth releases... in fact back in 1999 I was speaking to a journalist who was compaining to me that Microsoft sent them a press release every two days. They actually didn't care that the releases were every two days (they were allready clearing 100+ emails from their email of usless pitches), but they did care that 99% were irrelivent to the title they wrote on. Of course it wasn't Micorsoft's fault - just the agency at the time that wanted to spam all journalists.
Successful PR campaigns and to add to that - campaigns with longevity - require a spokesperson that makes a difference - or to put it another way, one that will be missed if they are not commenting.
How is your spokesperson doing?