Do you want to generate more publicity results for your media relations investment? You’re not alone – every public relations professional working in media relations wants to generate more publicity. We’ve all had to deal with the client or boss that complains about the lack of coverage, or worse, marches into your office with a recent article and asks why we weren’t in it. Ever notice they rarely march into your office with the story you were included in?
It’s not easy to score publicity. Media relations is difficult, thankless job. Unless you’re fortunate enough to work for a brand everyone wants to write about all the time. Media relations requires a lot of hard work, and a lot of long hours – with no guarantee of success, no matter how good the pitch is or how much effort one puts into the work. We stick with it though, because on those rare days when we land the cover story, or the story everyone has been hoping for, and it’s all worth it for a couple of hours.
NOTE: Before you read on, you should know that I sometimes have a tendency to write long blog posts. This is a subject that merits the additional length. If you read on, I promise you will find a thorough overview of how to get more coverage for the stories you’re pitching. Consider yourself warned…
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not really as jaded as it might sound. I love media relations (and every other kind of relations that falls under the marketing umbrella these days). I often equate the life of a media relations professional to that of a sales professional. It’s a lot of prospecting, a lot of selling and a lot of rejection. If you work your relationships, do your legwork and keep putting forth the effort, you will win more than you lose. That’s the secret to everything in life really, isn’t it? If you work harder, you’ll reap the rewards.
Because I regularly write about media relations on Journalistics, many readers assume I have figured out some magic formula for landing interviews – or I have some golden Rolodex of press contacts in the top drawer of my desk (for you younger readers, a Rolodex used to be where you put all those business cards you have sitting on your desk that you haven’t entered yet).
I don’t have a list of reporters I can call and place a story with whenever I choose to. If only that were the case. No, I’m just like you. I have to roll up my sleeves and work the phones to sell the story too. Notice I didn’t say “work the email” or “work the Twitter”? I’m old school in that way – the phone is still the best tool for scoring press coverage. While I may be in the same boat as you, there are a few tricks of the trade I have picked up along the way that may just help you land that story your boss or client expects you to land.
Before I dispense my latest installment of media relations advice, let’s first look at the most common reasons why I have been able to land cover stories or major features in the past. When I think about the placements I am most proud of (or the placements clients were most impressed by), there were usually one or more of the following factors at play that helped me out:
- The story was so strong it sold itself – the story was strong and a perfect fit for what the journalist covers (in other words, the story probably would have happened whether or not I pitched it)
- The timing was just right – as an extension to the first bullet, I simply called with the right story at the right time – a lot of media relations is simply great timing. You can help yourself here by being in front of journalists often with a good pitch – your timing will be right some of the time.
- The pitch was so good, reporters couldn’t say “no” – which often has to do with bullet number one above, but also has to do with the quality of the pitch. A template pitch doesn’t work. Don’t use the same pitch for every reporter. Pick one outlet you really care about and make the pitch count. You’ll only get one chance to sell your pitch – don’t blow it by being unprepared or robot-like in your delivery.
- The pitch was 100% relevant for the journalist I was pitching – I knew the reporter’s focus area and handed them a pitch that was “just right”. I can’t say this enough – know your prospect. In this case, you’re buyer for your story is the journalist. Know what they need to hear in order to buy (cover your story).
- I had a strong relationship with the journalist – which gave me the opportunity to get my pitch heard before he/she hung up – more often than not, I was pitching to a person that trusted me. They trusted me not to burn them on an exclusive, and not to sell them on a story that was a dud. I was a trusted source with a great tip for them.
- I was responding to a request – the journalist was already interested in the story, I just had to respond and fill in the blanks. This works when you’re first or best with your response. First helps – best is better. HARO is a great source for this – if you don’t know what HARO is, you should Google it.
- I offered more than the reporter needed – some of my best pitches were those that included multiple sources, facts to backup the story and perhaps a graphic or photo to accompany the story. Reporters work on deadline – anything you can do to save them time and effort goes a long way to increasing your chances of getting coverage.
- My sources were available to talk NOW – if you get a reporter interested in your story, they may want to do the interview NOW, not in two days. Make sure you have your sources prepped and available for an interview before picking up the phone. You just might land a story today.
If you don’t have one of these factors working in your favor, it will be much harder to find success. Notice I didn’t say you should hang up your phone and call it a day? It’s not impossible to find success in the absence of these factors, I’m simply saying your job will be much easier if this is the case. So how can you improve your odds when approaching your next pitch? Here’s the approach I’ve been using since I pitched my first story in an internship back in 1997:
1. Research Your Subject – before you write a press release or pitch letter, know your subject inside and out. Talk to everyone inside your organization or on the client-side to uncover the strongest, most-compelling aspects of your story. Read recent articles that have been written on the topic, and pull some third-party research or stats to support your claims.
2. Draft Your Pitch – before you write your press release, write a three-sentence pitch that sells the story. This should be your script for selling the story to the journalist on the other end of the phone, but the pitch should be so strong that if they read it they would want to write about it. Your first sentence must keep the reporter listening or reading. This is where your journalism training comes in – use the inverted pyramid style and focus on the who, what, when, where and why in your opening.
3. Practice Your Pitch and Refine – pitch somebody in your organization less familiar with the story to see if they would be interested. Ask them what would make the story more compelling for them. Was anything confusing in your pitch? Gather this feedback and refine your pitch. You should have your pitch memorized before you pick up the phone to call a reporter. Don’t sound like your pitch is memorized – nobody wants to talk to a telemarketer after all. Be conversational, but well-rehearsed.
3.1. Anticipate Rejection and Questions – I added this point after I wrote the post, but this merits it’s own sub-mention. You should anticipate the reporter’s possible rejections to your pitch right off the bat. Be prepared with a counterpoint or additional angle that can help you turn things around. Likewise, anticipate the most-likely questions you’ll get if the reporter is interested in your story. It doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the stories the reporter has written lately. Is there a follow-up angle or hook you can provide that is relevant to the story you’re pitching and the stories they’ve written? Use it.
4. Write Your Release – if you’re planning to issue a press release for this story, expand upon your pitch letter and put it in a press release format. Remember that research you pulled in #1? See if you can work in some supporting data in your release that might make the journalist’s job all that much easier (be sure to source your stats to save them time on fact-checking). If you’re including quotes or soundbites in the release, be sure to get authentic ones from the source. If you must ghost-write the quotes for the spokespeople, at least be working off of something they actually said in an interview with you. Don’t make the quotes marketing-speak, they should be conversational and something you might expect to read in the article when it runs.
5. Build Your Target List – once you have a solid understanding of the story and you’ve mastered the pitch, it’s relatively simple to build the target list (because you know who will be most interested in your story – and who will not be). Do yourself a favor and build your media list as early in the process as you can. When the information on your pitch or release is fresh in your head, it’s much easier to determine which journalists should be on your target list. As a bonus tip here, don’t just rely on Vocus or Cision to build your media list. These are excellent products for conducting media research, but you should also find journalists through social media who are regularly discussing issues related to the stores you’re pitching. Better yet, build a media list of journalists who have written on your subject in recent months – these are the journalists who might be more likely to pay attention to your pitch. Some will pass on your story for exactly the same reason (they’ve written about it already), but you can at least serve your experts up as potential sources for future or follow-on stories. As a final note, don’t have your junior staffers build the media list for you, unless you’re 100% confident that they have all the information you do from the steps above.
6. Adapt Your Pitch for Different Groupings (or Each One) – your pitch will not fit every journalist’s interests on your list. Spend the time to adapt your pitch to each journalist you are pitching. When I’ve included this tip in the past, I often get push back from PR professionals that say they don’t have the time to be this thorough, or this task is too time-consuming. If you’re not able to or willing to spend the time necessary to target your pitch, why should the journalist spend any time listening or reading it? Remember the bullet list above about the factors that led to me landing big media opportunities? Targeting your pitch to a specific journalist is – hands down – the most effective way to approach media relations. Would you rather spend a day tailoring your pitch to each outlet to double your coverage or spend that time getting rejected by every journalist on the list? Trust me, it’s worth the extra effort if you like winning.
7. Prepare for the Pitch – plan your work and work your plan. There are different ways to do this, but I actually group the journalists I’m going to pitch in advance. I group some based on time zones (time of day I’m going to pitch), others by pitch preferences (phone/email, if I know), and yet others based on whether or not they’ve written about the topic before – or whether or not I’ve worked with them before.
8. Start with the Lower Priority Media Outlets – there’s always a “top list” of five or so outlets you want to cover your story. Don’t pitch these outlets first. You need to practice on the lower-priority outlets first, not only to get some practice under your belt and fine-tune your pitch delivery, but also to conduct an initial assessment of the strength of your pitch. If the lower-priority outlets aren’t interested – learn from that experience and make your pitch stronger before pitching the higher-priority outlets. If you don’t have the luxury of time to use this approach, shift your focus to the top five outlets you NEED to pitch and get your pitch down pat (as I mentioned above).
9. Segment Bigger Lists – if you’re pitching a few hundred outlets for your story, consider splitting the list across your pitch team and making it a game. Split the list among your team members and set a deadline for completing the first round of pitches. Award points for making contact with a reporter, getting a response one way or another, securing an interview or briefing and finally, securing coverage for the story. The winner of the pitch-off should get some prize or internal recognition for their success on the pitch.
10. Learn From the Pitch – everyone on your team should log notes into your CRM or contact management system. This information will help your team on future pitches. If a journalist says they’re not interested today, but would like to hear from you in the future, make a note of that and add them to a special target list (e.g. “friendly journalists”) and schedule follow-up reminders. You might also consider asking if the journalist would like to subscribe to your news alerts, so they’ll receive your press releases in advance of them going out on the wire (or your house press list). I have actually used Salesforce.com in the past for media relations. While it’s built for sales, I encourage you to look at the workflow as it relates to media relations. If every major placement is an Opportunity, you can pursue the Opportunity through to a Win or Loss and measure your success over time. Some might consider this overkill, but if you’re in it to win it, this approach makes sense.
What do you think? If you actually made it to the end of this post, I hope you came away with a couple of nuggets you can use to increase the volume of placements you’re able to secure for your clients or organization. Chime in below and let me know your thoughts. I’m always looking for additional ideas on how to reach journalists more efficiently and effectively. Thanks for reading Journalistics!
(Image Credit: Niuton may – “PR” – Flickr