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Getting Coverage for Your News Should Be Easy

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. When I reflect on the 15 years I’ve been doing some aspect of media relations as part of my job, I can’t think of a single instance where I had a hard time getting coverage for news.

When I’ve had problems getting coverage – while I didn’t realize it at the time – it was because the story wasn’t actually newsworthy, or I was talking to the wrong journalists. The purpose of this post is to help you figure this stuff out much sooner than the 15 year mark in your career.

First, Are You Talking to the Right Journalists?

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. If you don’t, start there. Subscribe to the publications they write for. Read the stuff they write. It only takes a couple of minutes a day to do this, and you’ll quickly find that you know exactly who to talk to when news bubbles to the surface in your organization.The key here – and you’ve heard it before – is to do your research. Of all the best media relations professionals I’ve worked with, every single one of them did their homework. They’re not magically gifted in media relations (though that could have something to do with it). Rather, they know how to build a target list that makes the most sense for the news they’re pitching on a regular basis. They understand the limitations of their news and that not everything is cut out for the front page of the biggest newspapers in the U.S.

Once you home in on who the most important journalists are in your industry, it’s up to you to get on their radar. You can do this through regular communication and networking – actually getting to know them. 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. Again, it’s born out of mutual respect for each other – your job is to demonstrate that you understand and follow their coverage. If you send them something off topic – something that has nothing to do with the content they produce – you lose.

This may sound like pie in the sky to some of you that have been working in media relations for a long time, but I can assure you, it’s not. When I’ve practiced what I preach, it’s always worked. I’m currently working in mobile banking and payments. Almost everyday a journalist contacts our CEO to comment on a story – and we get a ton of coverage as a result. That should be your goal – become such a trusted, reliable source that the PR opportunities come to you with minimal effort.

Second, Do You Have a Newsworthy Story?

As employees, it’s easy to get distracted by the people we report to. Your CEO or team leader isn’t always the best person to determine the quality of news. To them, more often than not, everything is newsworthy and a good fit for The New York Times. Remember the stuff you learned about journalism in school? 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 now 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. Does this take more time? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Yes. If you don’t have the time to do this with every outlet, use the 80/20 principle to focus your time where it will make the greatest impact (which 20 percent of outlets will produce 80 percent of the results you’re looking for?). This could be a 90/10 or even 99/1 split, but you get the idea. To help you adapt your pitch to the right journalist or outlet, here are some 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.
  • Timeliness – if your story has a time element to it, you need to be able to act fast. The best example I can think of here is when you try to ride the coattails of a story in the mainstream. Let’s say you work for an allergist or a company that makes a product that relieves the effects of high pollen. How can you capitalize on news coverage of record high pollen counts in the Southeast to get your client on the evening news? To capitalize on current events like this, you need to have the right reporters on speed dial. If you want to read more on this aspect, check out David Meerman Scott’s book, “Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas Into Breaking News Stories and Generate Tons of Media Coverage.” The book is chock full of great case studies on how PR professionals have scored incredible coverage using this tactic.
  • Numbers – when was the last time you saw an infographic in the outlets that cover you industry? Exactly. Journalists love numbers. Pretty numbers are even better. 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 his/her story. There is way too much “fluff” in a lot of the press releases and pitches reporters receive day in and day out. When you say it with numbers, you separate your news from the pack. I recently got coverage for a story on the growth of lacrosse in our county. I didn’t tell the reporter, “Lacrosse is growing a lot down here.” I gave him specific numbers on the growth of lacrosse in our area, and I tied it to regional and national trends (again, real numbers). I got a call back immediately.
  • Seasonality – this isn’t a new tactic, but it might be for some of you. What seasonal events create PR opportunities for you? Right now, we’re in the midst of spring. We’re a few days away from April Fool’s Day. Easter is coming. March Madness is drawing to a close. Summer is right around the corner. Kids will be out of school soon. Then they’ll go back to school. I could go on and on, but there’s always some recurring event you can tie your story to and create a more newsworthy pitch. There’s always some special “Day” or “Week” or “Month” you can tie into. From “Talk Like a Pirate Day” to “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” you can find an endless array of tie-in ideas from “Chase’s Calendar of Events.” It’s a pricey book, but no PR agency office is complete without one. A word of caution though… the themed events thing is a little overdone. Try to find unique ones to tie into, and don’t make it the focus of the pitch – rather, use it as a tie-in to make your pitch more timely.
  • Bouncebacks – 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.
  • Namedrop - 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. If you don’t have any big names tied to your news, how can you make that happen?
  • Copy Success – pick apart the outlets you read. This goes with the targeting research, but become an analyst of the news. Try to figure out which stories you read were generated from a PR pitch. It’s not that hard to figure out. How did the other companies get included in the story? 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.

The final point I’ll make on this post is you should surround yourself with peers that “get it”. Don’t learn from the telesales PR people that do whatever they can to try to jam a story down a reporter’s throat. That rarely works. You don’t want to be a “smile and dial” PR person – you’ll get burned out fast. The mentors you’re looking for are the people that tend to always land the mainstream press. The ones that know how to do their homework. They know how to target the right reporter, at the right outlet and at the right time to produce publicity miracles. You can learn the most from these people – I know I have.

To review, you shouldn’t have a hard time getting coverage for the news you’re pitching. If you do your homework and tailor your pitch to the needs and interests of each reporter, you’ll find success. I know some of you will roll your eyes at this post, thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time to do media relations this way.” To you I say then you’re wasting your time everyday on tactics that no longer work in media relations. If you want to get coverage for the organizations or clients you represent, this is the only tried and true way to find long-term success.

Which tactics work best for you? Do you agree or disagree with the tips I shared in this post? Share your perspective in the comments below. Thanks for reading!


About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://www.writenowindy.com/blog Chris Vanasdalan

    Wow, you really nailed this one. I’ve worked as a reporter/ producer & worked the PR side, so I’ve seen thousands of pitches. It still amazes me how many of them are completely unrelated to news.

    I stress all of these points to my clients and many still want to pitch sales or advertising pieces. It’s so, so important to pitch to the right people and connect to a bigger story. I liked the point of localizing. As a producer I always looked for local stories we could tie into a national trend or topic.

    For all the small business folks who wonder if a media consultant or professional writer is worth it: YES IT IS.

  • http://www.tracecohen.me Trace Cohen

    Hey Jeremy,

    I agree with all of your tips and insightful ideas but getting your clients news covered is not easy – especially when your client is the one who tells you what “news” you have to get covered. PR professionals outnumber journalists 4 to 1 and that doesn’t even include all the companies who can’t afford to hire PR agencies. Everyone knows that the media companies are hurting because of their broken business models and that citizen journalism took a nice chuck out of their readership.

    This is why social media is so important because it allows companies to directly engage with their customers and build communities that allow them to rely less on the media to hopefully write a good story. I see companies starting to break their own news and rely less on the traditional media moving forwards.

  • Joel Don

    Jeremy, all good reminders and tips for landing traditional media coverage. One comment on the “bouncebacks”…that strategy works for mature companies and managers that see media relations as give and take, rather than winning the Big Ink Battle with every engagement. The blame game for PR is as unproductive as firing a salesperson for losing a contract bid. Companies that have the long view of building a media presence (circle back and re-approach) always win.

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  • http://www.grademypitch.com John Lohavichan

    Hi Jeremy,
    I came to your blog from PR Daily News Feed’s repost.
    I think this is great advice and I especially like the emphasis on taking the time to do your homework right – which to me means a focus on Quality vs just the Quantity of pitches.

    You mention being able to spot stories generated from a PR pitch – could you share more on what indicators point to such a story?
    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • http://musingsfromtheprworld.wordpress.com/ @liyywln

    Jeremy,

    You really hit the nail on the head with this post and shared some real gems on the importance of building a trusted relationship with the right journalists, not just when you have a story to pitch.

    Thanks!

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      I love it when I hit the nail on the head, since I can’t really do that in real life (carpentry is not my strong suit). This post is so obvious, but I fear it’s so rarely used in action. I’ve worked on a few account teams where I was the slowest in getting results (because I did my legwork), but then I generate the most press for clients (so I made up for it). It’s a risky scenario for those working in agencies – since they bill by the hour and need to have something to show for the weekly status reports. I think we need more client education out there, so clients understand it takes research and relationship-building to get the results they want. Most clients don’t want to pay for that stuff, they just want to pay for the results. I hope we see change in the future, as clients become more sophisticated about PR. I’m not holding my breath though.

  • http://www.chicgalleria.com Beth Anderson

    Jeremy,
    I get your RSS feed into my inbox and I saved this post to read over several times. You absolutely were spot on with this! I enjoyed reading it so much, I forwarded it on to the PR academic adviser at the University of Oklahoma. He let me know he would share it with his students.

    I can’t begin to tell you the countless emails I get each day from people who obviously didn’t do their research. It takes two seconds to load my online magazine and see what we are all about. My name is all over the website, yet I still receive emails addressed to Dear Editor or even Dear Fashionista. This will have me hit the delete button very quickly. The people who get my attention are those that took the time to write a pitch directly to me or took the time to call me. I always go to those people I’ve developed a relationship with first when looking for content.

    Great article! Thanks!

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      Excellent! This is the type of comment I love to see when I check the moderation queue. Sorry your comment was delayed – I’m still working some kinks out in the approval process. On one hand, if I turn off moderation, I get lots of Russian spam. On the other, it’s annoying when great comments get caught.

      Enough with my venting on moderation (you won’t have a problem with future comments). Thanks for chiming in on the topic – sometimes it’s this “tell it like it is” advice that needs to be said. I’m in a unique position to be able to share this stuff. I know there are a lot of people working in agencies that would like to say this stuff, but can’t because it might create a problem for them with their boss or clients.

      I hope this post helps somebody improve their pitching.

      • Rajaa Saleh

        Hi Jeremy et all,
        First thank you for this invaluable post. I have a question for you. We held a press conference to clarify the truth about a certain issue but unfortunately one of the reporters who was invited to our event and who apparently has a hidden agenda conveyed a completely false message.
        As an expert, what do you recommend in this case? Please note that he works for a major media outlet that is most likely has a strong rate of readership.
        I greatly appreciate your response.
        Rajaa

  • http://www.prwrks.com Polly Elmore

    I’ve been doing media relations for 30+ years and i agree with everything you have said! I referenced your blog on my blog: Tips on Power-PR: Pitch your ‘news’ to the right writer. http://bit.ly/HyCjnR

  • http://www.louisearmstrong.com Louise Armstrong

    Great post and I agree with everything. When I was an in-house PR person for an organization that actually had a lot of news to offer, I enjoyed a professional, give and take relationship with local media and the majority of them welcomed my calls and even called me when they were putting stories together. Now, as a freelancer pitching mostly lifestyle stories, it’s a bit tougher. Technically, new consumer product launches and services are not “news” but there is a place for them and some people enjoy reading about them. However, I find it’s tougher to narrow down the list of journalists who are appropriate for pitching because, with the new model, so many of them now are freelancers who write about anything and everything. I also find follow-up calls challenging because many (but not all) journalists do not appreciate them and some even have voicemail messages that say follow-up calls from PR people aren’t welcome. Some have told me that they prefer to receive both initial pitches and follow-ups by email but then don’t respond. I do feel that if I take the time to craft a targeted pitch and send an individual email (and I always do), then I deserve at least a cursory response. Even if it’s a “no”, at least I can demonstrate to my client that I’ve tried and the media outlet isn’t interested. I

  • Crystal Boring

    I thoroughly enjoyed the post. I absolutely agree with your point that garnering coverage for your news should be an uncomplicated venture. Journalists, by nature of their profession, report on necessary, newsworthy stories. In that regard, as a public affairs officer in the Army, it is incumbent on me to ensure that the right messages about my organization are presented to the mass media. In addition to my influential efforts, responsible reporting by journalists is a critical aspect of telling the military story. Because I am so reliant on journalists to relay our message, I am grateful that the reporters I have encountered promote and maintain a high level of standards and ethical behavior in their practices, reporting on our Soldiers accurately and responsibly.

    Many aspects of the military, particularly in light of the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and now on a smaller scale Iraq, are sensitive in nature. A great number of these incidents involve mortality and other negative connotations, forcing the media to strike a delicate balance between the public’s right to know and the Soldier and Family’s right to privacy, dignity and respect. Public affairs officers develop a working rapport with the media and rely heavily on this relationship to ensure fair, accurate reporting. Despite the predatory prowess exhibited in movies and television shows exemplifying the aphorism “if it bleeds, it leads,” most journalists I have worked with follow a steady moral compass. They avoid pushing and surpassing the threshold of ethical reporting, which often occurs at the expense of victims and survivors, inflicting unnecessary harm and public scrutiny on our Soldiers. These journalists are professionals who recognize the human aspect of their jobs and responsibly report in a manner that is victim-centered, sensitive and compassionate, respecting the lives and sacrifices of our service members.

    Because the media touches so many people on a daily basis, journalists have a moral obligation to remain loyal to factual reporting with accurate and ethical accounts of the quandaries of victims. Unfortunately, death and destruction bring an element of drama and sensationalism to journalism, and many media venues manipulate these stories to invoke an element of shock and awe into stories despite the emotional and physical devastation to the victims and survivors. As a public affairs professional, communicating the appropriate command, public, media and community relations information is vital to alerting the public of issues and concerns plaguing the military. The Army does not always anticipate favorable reporting, but we expect accuracy and fairness. Responsible reporting brings awareness to the plight of our Soldiers while educating the public on the overall Army mission. There are a lot more good things than bad that happen in our service, and again, I am grateful that the vast majority of the media elects to tell that story, honoring our troops and their commitment to our country.

    Crystal X. Boring MAJ, MI Public Affairs Officer

    The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

  • http://www.stanleyrao.net/ Stanley Rao

    First thank you for this invaluable post. I have a question for you. We held a press conference to clarify the truth about a certain issue but unfortunately one of the reporters who was invited to our event and who apparently has a hidden agenda conveyed a completely false message.

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  • Marie Dalia

    This is an old article but it still does make sense. Thank you for your tips!