News media is what entrepreneurs find to be the most frustration part of promoting their businesses. They are confused on how media works today and why there are routinely ignored by journalists. If you can take a moment to consider how much news and storytelling has changed in the past few years, you can begin to see how the newsroom has changed too. Journalists now how direct and immediate contact with both sources and news stories. In the past, there were a series of gatekeepers, often publicists that had to act as the intermediary between a news outlet and an individual, company or organization. With technology brought an ease of information sharing that has forever altered news, journalism, and entertainment. With instant access to information, two things have changed: journalists can easily and quickly find contacts for any story that they want to write and they have become inundated with press releases and story pitches. No journalist is sitting around saying, gosh golly I wish I had a way to contact XYZ Company for an interview.
Additionally, most news outlets (magazines, newspapers and traditional television news) now have digital versions, so like you, they are engaged in the constant and never ending task of creating new content. Much of that is now free content, so there have been massive layoffs in the media industry over the past few years as companies fail, merge and downsize.
So image fewer people, doing more work, with better access to information and a desire to block out the overwhelming amount of irrelevant information that they receive from unsolicited sources. They need to cut through the noise and provide compelling content for their customers just like you do.
The way that you break through all of these barriers is to ensure that you have a highly relevant story set up to professional pitch to the right journalist or outlet at the right time. Like all of the marketing you do, working with the media is simply storytelling.
Your first step then in seeking media coverage than is to develop a really great story. Hard to do if you are a very analytical, data focused person. Sending your data to a journalist will likely kill any chance of a story. All entrepreneurs then need to become storytellers. And if you can’t do that, then you need to find a consultant, freelancer or employee who can do that for you. Notice I did not say an intern. I feel like there is a very low likelihood that you will get a great professional storyteller at no cost.
And to complicate your work, your story will need to vary depending on the media outlet you are pitching, so there is not a one-size-fits-all option to getting media coverage. Media relations is harder now than it was in the old days because everyone thinks they can do it, journalists do not need constant streams of ideas or sources anymore (thanks, Google), and budgets have been slashed everywhere. Space is a premium and only the best stories get covered. Bloggers have all the space they want, but, if they are good, they have lots of other companies vying for their attention.
For the full overview of The PR Method, click here.
Once you have put the finishing touches on your interesting story (new company, new product, new idea, new you) you will want to pitch it to the media – which is easier said than done. Journalists are inundated with lame story ideas all day long, so their enthusiasm for hearing your pitch is low, at best. Media Relations is not for the faint of heart. Once you’re certain that your story is pitch-worthy (and not a moment earlier), all you need are two things: an angle and a list.
Perfecting the angle takes a bit of time. It is easy if you are the first, best, or only in your market, but if you’re entering an established market, you will need to be clear on what is different, unique or special about your service. This is very hard for most business people to understand. It is rare that someone has developed a product, service or experience that has never been done before. The burden of proof is quite high, so understand that there are many ways to promote your business and media relations is just one of them.
For a journalist to get excited, there must be tangible differences, not just tweaks or changes to everything that is already out there. When you think of the evening news, you think flood, fire, murder – not so many stories about your neighbor having peanut butter and jelly for lunch. Journalists are looking for the next fire. Your company has to be different for them to find it interesting. You cannot convince them, so think critically of your pitch before you offer it because you may not get a second chance.
Easy Media Relations
My simple 3-Step approach to media relations makes it easy. The only special skills you need are the ability to conduct thorough research and organization skills. If you have a story worth telling, it will work. And remember, media rejection is good – it can provide valuable feedback and fuel the fire to be more innovative, creative and effective.
Step 1: The Media List
This really is the only step, because if you do not have a solid media list, you have nothing. Now, some PR people love to brag about their enormous media lists. But when it comes to media pitching, size does not matter. If you have 27 Sports Illustrated contacts and you are pitching new financial services, the list is meaningless. Your media list must be focused to be useful. Small and valuable is your goal. To create an easy to use media list, divide your contacts into three categories:
- A: Top Tier / To-Die-For coverage
- B: Preferred industry coverage
- C: Miscellaneous coverage
You will pitch accordingly to priority. This list is also sorted by type – broadcast (TV & radio), online (internet) and print (magazines, newspapers, trade publications).
Top tier To-Die-For coverage is Forbes, Golf Illustrated, People, Shape, Time, WSJ, CNN or MotleyFool.com – the major publications that one hears of on a regular basis. These are the ones you see in the bookstore or grocery checkout isle.
Preferred industry outlets are those that are important in your industry but may not be household names – Music Week, Kiplinger or Smart Money, Fitness Magazine for example.
Tier C is for random outlets that will likely cover you because you are you – your alumni paper, your local paper, the radio show that your best friend’s brother hosts in Miami. The easiest place to start for your company media list is every publication that has covered your competition and the ones you dream of being featured in. After that, additional research may be necessary.
Remember, news outlets are in competition. So if you pitch competing outlets and they find out, you may not get the coverage. Local news will cover actual news stories (a local flood) but they tend not to cover the same feature guests.
Create your list in a spreadsheet with tabs for each type (Broadcast, Online, Print) and then columns that identify the outlet by Tier A, B or C. As you enter each researched outlet you will want the outlet name, the contact name, contact details, website and a column for notes.
Remember, never mass-mail press releases or pitches. Also, the notes column will be very important going forward, so keep it up to date.
This list will be updated on an ongoing basis with feedback and comments from each journalist that is approached.
The care and feeding of the journalists on the media list will be of the utmost importance. Journalist are people too and have preferences for processes such as how they receive pitches (phone call, fax or email) who pitches them (PR rep or company employee) and the like. The main goal is to know as much about the journalist and their publication as possible before you pitch them. Important things to know about your media targets include:
- Publication details: editorial calendars, beats, schedules, how stories are assigned
- Journalist details: other publications, separate industry blog, what are their pitching requirements, how do they source stories, previous types of stories
Step 2: The Pitch
Whether calling or emailing, you want a quick introduction to determine their interest. Call/email and say:
“Hi! This is Jules we are launching a new online funding source for musicians called Your Company next month and wanted to know if you were interested in receiving our press release.”
If they want more, offer to send the press release and confirm details. If they do not, ask why. This is a very important step. You may find out something about your competition or your industry that will help you. For example, a competitor may have just sent a release announcing the same thing, or the journalist thinks something different is the new way to go and is only writing about that going forward.
Only email the press release if they say yes. It seems counter-intuitive, but mass emailing a press release to many people does not get you more chances of coverage. It makes you look desperate, unprofessional and it irritates journalists and worse-case scenario, it gets you blacklisted. So only after the OK, are you to send off the press release. Once delivered, wait approximately one week and follow up one time only via their preferred method of contact. It is preferable to have an additional piece of information to add. Avoid saying you are just following up or asking if they got the press release. For example:
“John – It was great to speak with you last week about Your Company. Thanks for taking a look at our launch press release. Since we talked, I wanted to let you know that we added a new XYZ feature that will now be available as part of our services. Here is a link to that information.”
Repeat these steps for each contact on your list until all have been contacted. By the end of this process, you will have a really good idea of where your company stands with the media. Journalists are weary of start-ups. They want to talk to users, customers, clients and partners. Be prepared to have some to offer. The founder saying the product is great is not as valuable as an actual successful band saying they got their start from funding their first album using the site.
Step 3: Create Your Own Media
While you are waiting for journalists to get excited about your product, spend some time creating your own buzz using social media. Write articles and blog posts and tweets and status updates until your fingers hurt. Many journalists are using social media exclusively to source stories. I know one paper that has the fax machine perched over the recycling box so faxed press releases go right into the recycling, emptied daily, with not one press release having been read.
Email, the internet, and now social media have all drastically changed media relations. Some old-school etiquette still applies, but now there are many more opportunities to gain the attention of journalists. And chances are, they will be watching and you will not even know it. Being active in your industry’s social media circles will ensure that you have immediate access to industry professionals and the opportunity to be top of mind when they are searching for the next best thing.
Finally, media pitching takes grit. It is not easy to throw your ideas out there knowing full-well that they may be rejected before you have the opportunity to finish your sentence. In an ideal scenario, a company will have a seasoned PR professional who has worked in the music industry and has cultivated a golden Rolodex of music writers. If not, aim to have a seasoned pro that understands entertainment and has the muscle to make contact with the right people. If you can’t afford either, think twice before moving forward. Poor media relations can do damage that will leave lasting scars. The use of interns or other inexperienced people in this role is highly discouraged. Your relationship with the media is too important to let an underling manage it for you. If budget is an issue, have the underlying brew your coffee instead of running to Starbucks and use the savings to hire a strong PR professional. Also, you can always send a press release, but you can’t UN-send one. Make sure your news is compatible with your contacts needs and that it is timely, interesting and relevant. If not, you have more important things to worry about anyway.
But, if you have a story worth telling, it will work.
Want details? Read through the steps of The PR Method here:
The PR Method: Branding Basics
The PR Method: PR Tactics
The PR Method: Media Relations
The PR Method: Social Success
The PR Method: Blogging Basics
The PR Method: PR Prognosis
The PR Method: PR Formula