Having worked on the agency, journalism and corporate communications side, I’ve viewed public relations from a variety of perspectives. I’ve also experienced first-hand how the strategic use of PR can help small and mid-sized agencies and companies—even one-person operations—level the playing field with larger competitors.
The key to getting publicity is pitching the right story to the right person at the right time.
Before you attempt to get a reporter’s attention, you need to understand how the news media operate and what they want. Here are 10 suggestions to help you do just that and make your publicity efforts successful:
#1: Define your media focus.
- Limit your pitches to only those outlets that directly serve your target audience.
#2: Get to the right person at each media outlet.
- Whether you’re dealing with your local paper or The Wall Street Journal, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting.
#3: Research a reporter’s previous stories before making contact.
- Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style.
#4: Don’t waste their time or mislead them.
- Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines. When pitching a story, get right to the point. The most important things you can tell a reporter about your story are who will care about it and why.
#5: Respect their deadlines.
- When contacting a reporter, I always first ask if he or she is on deadline. If so, I then ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that deadline; otherwise, you may miss out on a golden opportunity. Even worse, if you don’t respond promptly, the reporter may contact and quote a competitor.
#6: Think and pitch like a reporter.
- When I was on the editorial side of a heath care magazine, I never ceased to be amazed at some of the obviously inappropriate pitches PR people sent my way. It was pretty easy to tell who had taken time to read our magazine and understand our audience and the types of stories we covered, and who had taken a shotgun approach. When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you not only think like a reporter, but that you write and speak like one as well. Don’t advertise or editorialize your story idea (reporters are very sensitive to disguised advertising). Whether you write your pitch or give it verbally, be as objective as possible by emphasizing the news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights.
#7: Make their jobs easier.
- The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to their audience, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide coverage. Plus, if they know that you know their audiences, areas of coverage and deadlines, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and are more likely to give you serious consideration.
#8: Know what makes a good news story.
- Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask: “Would this story be interesting to my audience?” If you can’t honestly answer yes, you need to rethink your pitch.
#9: Give them the first shot at a story whenever possible.
- Reporters like to be the first one to cover a news story, and not just report the same news that others have.
#10: Make them look good in front of their bosses.
- The news media is a very competitive business, and more and more media outlets are taking a hard look at the level of interest in reporters’ stories. Like any other profession, reporters enjoy getting recognition and praise for their stories – and success means job security.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.