Lack Of Media Contacts No Reason To Sit On Stories

Posted on May 25, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Which comes first, the story idea or the media contact relationship?

Believe it or not, I’ll take the great story idea first — if I have to choose. So should you.

I’ve worked with literally thousands of media outlets and their people — reporters, editors, program producers, photographers —  over the years. From that experience, I’ve distilled some basic facts about “working with the media” that I’d like to share.

  • It’s not necessary to be on a first-name basis with reporters before you can pitch them on a story idea. “Who do you know” at such-and-such a media outlet is one of the most common things clients and prospective clients ask. I understand why clients ask this question so routinely. They want to be successful. Having contacts is important. I don’t want to downplay the advantage that a PR person has in knowing a key reporter personally, especially at the larger, more influential media outlets. But there’s no reason to believe that you have to know reporters and editors in advance to pitch them on your story idea. Not if you’ve done your homework first, to figure out if the story you’re pitching is relevant to the type of the coverage that the outlet handles, and matches up to the specific beat of the reporter, editor or producer. If you’ve got news, and it’s of interest to the media outlet’s audience, then you’ve got reason enough to get in touch with the editorial people who handle the type of story you’re proposing.
  • Do your media relations homework. Be a student of the game. Read, watch, listen to what’s being said about your industry — and where it’s being said. Analyze stories to understand what makes them newsworthy. Put yourself in the reporter’s place — think like a journalist! Build up a file of stories similar to what you’re hoping to get for you own business (online storage services like Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote are great for saving reference material like this).
  • Put it in writing. Most reporters will listen to your pitch, and then say something like “send me something written and I’ll taka  look at it.” Now you’ll send your press release, fact sheet, backgrounder, bio, news alert, white paper or whatever. Or maybe you’ve already sent the press release along as an attachment to an email pitch you sent to the reporter. You might have to send it again – or send more information that supports your story. Be sure to have this material prepared and ready to go in advance. You don’t watch to capture the reporter’s attention, only to lose it again because you can’t follow through with something so basic as a press release or fact sheet.
  • Concentrate on your story. Is it really newsworthy? Have you considered all the angles – are you looking at it from the journalist’s point of view?
  • I would never let not knowing the media stand between me and getting a good story placed. Neither should you. Let your story be your guide; if it’s a good one, and you’ve got the right attitude and know-how, you can be sure that the media will listen to you — even if they’re not in your pantheon of close personal friends prior to your contacting them.

Once again, I’m not saying that personal connections with the media aren’t important. They’re invaluable. All PR people of any standing have their personal media contact lists that they guard like family jewels. I’m no exception. But it’s no either/or situation. Enthusiasm for a good story can carry the day, no matter whether you’re pitching it to your best friend or to a complete stranger.

 

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Pitching The Media, Channel Basics

Posted on April 3, 2014. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Reporters even today, in this most post-modern of post-modern worlds to date, prefer to get their pitches from PR people under cover of email. Or, get this, they’ll even take a story idea by telephone — yes that strange little talking device that pre-dates even the VCR, microwave ovens and the use of the designated hitter in baseball — over getting hit up with an idea by, say, a Tweet.

Not to say that all reporters, news producers and the like eschew the social media avenues for pitch contacts. TV reporters and program producers seem to get an abundance of their story ideas from social media sources, according to the 2014 Vocus State of the Media Report. This makes sense, since television news is particularly keen on reaching out to viewers for news tips and just generally more open to engaging with viewers via social media.

Best Bet – Email!

Email emerges as the favorite medium for story pitching for a number of reasons. One, it’s private. Two, it’s fast and also because people pay more attention to what’s happening in the email streams than they do to what’s being beamed at them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. Three, it’s easier to keep track of pitches sent via email versus the social media circuits.

Keeping things private, Edward Snowden aside, is pretty much a given when working with the news media. Some news people — outside the aforementioned local TV news realm — are receptive to receiving tips via openly public media such as Twitter. But putting a story idea up on a public Twitter feed also cues competitors in to what a reporter may be doing. It’s no way to pitch an exclusive story, that’s for sure. Most reporters that I know and work with seem to work under the assumption that whatever story they’re doing is their own private business — and they just don’t want other people outside their organization to know what they’re working on until they’re ready to reveal it themselves. This makes email a better choice than a public Tweet, especially if you’re pitching a particular story angle to a particular reporter. Using the private DM channel on Twitter to contact a reporter is a better approach – assuming you have that option – but again, there’s the chance that the reporter isn’t checking the Twitter feedline that often.

By Any Means Possible

A nice option is to use Twitter as a story-pitch alerter – signaling the reporter that you’ve got a newsy idea to discuss, with a note that you’ve sent an email – if that’s the case or left a voice-mail message if that’s the case. Use it as another tool for getting a news person’s attention, in other words.

Reporters often use Facebook and LinkedIn as means of tracking down sources. LinkedIn has its advantages with its built-in InMail feature, which allows users to send private emails to others in the LinkedIn system.

I find Twitter to be of immense use as a media relations tool, less for direct pitching of stories than for staying informed about specific media outlets and reporters. In fact, I often find myself browsing through my list of people I’m following on Twitter to find reporters and media outlets that might be interested in stories I’m currently pitching. The list changes all the time, depending on what I’m working on.

Personal Contact Is Essential

But for pitching story ideas – when you’re the pitcher – the best approach still seems to be a combination of email and followup telephone contact, perhaps supplemented by contacts on Twitter and other social media outlets where the news person maintains a presence. The unsettling thing about email is that you’re never sure if your pitch has been seen by a reporter who probably gets bombarded by email all day long. (There are unobtrusive email tracking systems that you can use to see if your emails are being opened; they just let you know if and when someone’s clicked open your email. (I’m not real familiar with the technology, although I’m interested in hearing from anyone who does know how effective such systems are and so forth.)

And yet, there are no absolutes — whatever works best with individual reporters and news people is the best approach.

Active media relations is very challenging work. The digital age has made it all the more complicated and demanding. People who do media relations work well tend to live and breathe the media world. Many are former journalists — more of them now than say 10 years ago. Now I’m speaking of media relations as the practice of reaching out to the media to generate coverage for clients. This goes beyond the idea of simply pumping out a press release, throwing it out on a paid distribution service, and sitting back to see what happens. Many companies do this for quick-fix SEO – search engine optimization reasons. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve got a good story to tell, one that you believe should be of interest to the media, then it’s worth taking the time to personally pitch the story to the media as well. The keys to great results, as the Vocus study shows, are persistence and using the appropriate means of contact.

Good Stories Buried With The Bad

Let me finish with a quote from a reporter at a national news media outlets in Southern California, as identified in the Vocus report. The reporter responds to the question of whether she is open to receiving pitches via social media. Her response appears to indicate that she isn’t currently receiving many pitches via social media.

“Yes, I think. It is hard to say what the long-term effect of my social media experience will be if my Facebook instant message or Twitter Direct Message box becomes packed with pitches like my email box is now. I routinely miss important emails as it is now because they are buried within the stack of “story ideas.” I think a more elegant solution is ahead of us, I just don’t know what it is yet.” – See more at: VOCUS State of the Media Report.

She sums up the crux of the matter, from a media relations perspective, very well when she says that a lot of important emails get buried under the stack of story ideas in her email box. That’s where good media relations people earn their keep – by finding ways to call pitch-saturated reporters’ and editors’ attention to their clients’ good story ideas. (Because a good story is a terrible thing to waste, damn it!)

Hats off to VOCUS for doing the report.

Got a media relations story to share, commentary on my commentary, etc? I’d love to hear from you.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

  • Most Viewed

  • Back Posts

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: