Getting clients, products, organizations and leadership in the news can be a challenge, but it's essential for PR professionals who want to get their stories out there.
PRNEWS talked to several media professionals from various parts of the industry: someone who provides publicity for journalists themselves, someone who looks to promote academics as subject matter experts, and someone who actually writes the stories communicators pitch (a journalist). They’ve provided several guidelines to follow when it comes to developing your clients and stakeholders as top-of-mind sources for media.
Identify the Right Place to Pitch
Alex Rosenwald, Senior Director of Communications at The Hill, works in tandem with publication editors first thing in the morning. They review and decide on the big stories of the day to push. After deciding on the headlines, his team uses tools like MuckRack to find the right mix of producers and bookers to pitch, with the hope of securing on-air bookings for The Hill’s journalists, or just a mention of a Hill news story on those respective news shows.
Rosenwald considers several factors when making his selections of where to pitch: the outlet’s audience, coverage area, editorial slant, format and deadlines.
“Each news show is unique, so we really make an effort to make sure we are tailoring each story pitch to that respective audience—from MSNBC to FOX, WTOP-AM (local news station in Washington, D.C.) to conservative talk radio, etc.,” he says.
Develop a Brand
It’s much easier to get your subject placed if they are known for something. Some famous examples: Martha Stewart for decor; Charles Barkley for basketball; Mark Cuban for business.
Chris Taylor, Senior Correspondent, Reuters Money, says those individuals who consistently publicize their thought leadership will usually be remembered first when it comes to sources.
“Most execs have a couple of areas they enjoy talking about—whether it's branding, or sales, or workplace benefits,” Taylor says. “If they have consistently put out thoughtful content on that (a blog, or white paper, a book, or even LinkedIn posts) they're more likely to be top of mind whenever the opportunity comes up.”
A journalist’s dream source is someone with flexible availability and quick responsiveness. Unless the story is an in-depth investigation or feature, most reporters tend to turn around stories within a couple of days. And some even need a same-day reply. The early bird does get the worm and in most cases, will become a repeat callback.
“Usually journalists work on fairly quick deadlines, so if an email goes into a general inbox and goes unanswered for a week or two, that's likely not going to work,” Taylor says. “And I assume that's how it would be next time as well, so I probably wouldn't reach out for the next story.”
Taylor also notes that if someone cannot participate, it is still helpful to be quick with a response so the journalist can take a different path with sourcing. Information is always appreciated. And remembered.
From the PR perspective, it pays to pay attention to breaking news. Doug Sitler, Associate Director of National/International Media Relations at University at Buffalo, knew his source roster so well, that he garnered a major placement when he saw news about the PGA Tour and Liv Golf merging earlier this year.
“Since [UB] has a top sports law expert, I immediately left [a] meeting and went to my computer to contact the expert,” Sitler says. “She immediately responded with a few sentences of her opinion on the breaking news. I sent her comments to several national outlets covering the story. NBC News took her quotes directly from my email pitch and published them in an online story.”
Camera (or Microphone) Ready
Rosenwald says it’s important to follow up with producers and bookers after you’ve scheduled an interview, so you can address any questions they may have about the source or topic.
He also believes practice makes perfect for anyone appearing on broadcast, which can include TV interviews, podcasts or even LinkedIn Live streaming broadcasts.
“Provide [your source] with talking points, help them practice their answers to common questions, and make sure they're comfortable speaking on camera or on the radio,” he says.
If an appearance goes smoothly, you may receive an offer of becoming a repeat guest.
“You want to make sure you are giving each news show a TV-ready [representative]," Rosenwald notes. “We work very closely with our friends at D.C. News Now on a monthly media training program, which allows our journalists to do one-on-one sessions with them, review best practices on media preparation, etc.”
Build and Cultivate Relationships with Journalists
Sitler makes sure to follow plenty of journalists on social media who cover his experts’ related topics. He encourages communications professionals to make an introduction when comfortable. Even if you don’t land a media mention right away, building that relationship can keep you top of mind for the future.
“Within the last year, there was a large corporate merger in the grocery store industry,” Sitler says. “It was big news for a day, and then quickly faded. I reached out to journalists who covered the story and sent them an email that basically said, 'for your continuous coverage of the merger, professor Jane Doe is available to discuss the impact that this will have on consumers.'”
Sitler also included a sentence or two of why this expert was qualified. Two months later, as the merger was about to become official, two big media outlets reached out to the expert due to this prior outreach.
Rosenwald also finds it useful to build relationships on and offline.
“I spend a considerable amount of time in my day trying to build and cultivate relationships with a variety of news programs on various social media channels, in particular, LinkedIn.” he says. “If those folks are located in D.C. (where he is based), I use those channels to set up coffees and lunches too. Especially coming out of COVID, it's really important to try and make time to meet with people in real life again.”
Journalists want originality. They do not want to be spoon-fed a quote fit for a boilerplate press release. They want something more that will separate their story from others covering a similar topic. Taylor notes the importance of quality and authenticity of content.
“With C-suite folks, there can be a lot of handlers...which can mean that, especially with written responses, things get processed through 100 different people and come out sounding like nothing,” Taylor says. “There's no point to corporate-speak like that, so I wouldn't go back to a source if they're not actually saying anything or engaging in a real way. The flip side of that is that if they do have something valuable and interesting to say, and enjoy sharing it, I would absolutely go back to them again in future.”
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal