As a former reporter, I received my share of misguided story pitches, voice mails asking if I received the press release and invitations to parties and lunches followed by product pitches. I've also been on the receiving end of outstanding communications tactics, story ideas loaded with article fodder, introductions to top sources, and helpful intel that made my job easier.
While Public Relations is a profession that goes beyond media relations yet is often defined as the practice of pitching reporters, we still have an uphill climb to be seen by the Media as a critical partner in storytelling. If we can get media relations right, then all the other areas of PR (reputation and crisis management, financial communications, branding, social media, measurement, to name a few) will fall into place nicely. With that I mind, here are 4 steps you can take this week to improve your relationship with reporters and get the coverage you know you deserve:
1. Write a better press release: A sure-fire way to get your press release tossed in the virtual trash bin is to fall into the superlative trip. Avoid words such as “leading,” “solution,” “award-winning” and “unique.” You can assume that journalism professors and editors the world over have identified these words as ineffective traps. Even if your new product or service is indeed unique and award-winning , the media will not believe you. Reporters prefer releases that read like a pretty good news story, with a grabbing lead, lots of facts and data, links to multimedia, and, above all, a compelling message.
2. Read your Audience. Regularly peruse what your target reporters are writing, and understand what makes them tick. Do your research before pitching a story to a journalist. For one, that reporter might not be the appropriate contact for your story. Assuming she is the right media contact, she expects that you know a little something about her, such as that investigative piece that ran on the home page last week, or that she covered a similar product launch just a few weeks ago. And read the cues: if she never calls you back or answers your emails, move on. She's just not that into you.
3. Follow their followers on social media. Assuming you’re already following your key media on social media, check out who they are following, be it on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. You’ll gain insights into that reporter’s interest areas, and you might uncover important intelligence about your competitors or unearth new partnership opportunities with their followers. Don't get too cozy with reporters on Social; some platforms, such as Snapchat, are probably not appropriate connection points.
4. Write something interesting. Do you have a blog post or does your company have one you can contribute to? If you’ve got news to share, start with coverage of your story on your owned-media platforms. Practice content marketing every week - create an editorial calendar for your brand and commit to interesting storytelling. Create infographics and charts that can be easily inserted into reporters' articles. One caveat: if you can't write well, find someone on your team who can (and take a few writing courses). The only thing worse to a reporter than poorly communicated ideas from PR people, is lack of authenticity. If you are a great writer and true to your word, you will capture a reporter's attention.
If you can incorporate these four steps into your team's workflow and your mindset, then you will be moving the needle for your organization and for the profession as a whole.
- Diane Schwartz