Which is harder: getting media coverage in today’s frenzied 24/7 news cycle or managing the expectations of corporate executives who covet above-the-fold headlines?
The answer is that they are both hard—and each requires considerable finesse. But the parallels don’t end there. At the core of every story worth telling is an element of newsworthiness—a fact or event, a new piece of information that is timely, impactful and relevant to people, places or politics. Honing in on what makes your story worth telling is the first step to getting media coverage.
The CEO of a technology start-up once noted that an upcoming announcement about a new strategic alliance (with a company no one had ever heard of) deserved prominent placement in the New York Times. I told him that to generate coverage the announcement needed to validate a trend, create a new business model, or impact a broader industry. Simply put, it needed to be news.
History repeats itself. Communications professionals have the same discussion with corporate executives every day. The value in such discussions is using them to initiate a deeper dive into what constitutes real news.
But for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume you have solid news to pitch. What can you do to enhance your chances of delivering the kind of coverage that even a board chairman of a Fortune 100 would be pleased with?
Here are some of the more important, but less obvious, rules of the road:
The steps of getting media coverage
Do your research: Find the journalist whose sweet spot dovetails with your pitch. Before making contact, read the reporter’s past coverage, blogs and tweets, and be sure the story hasn’t already been covered. Once you find the right person, send a brief email followed by a call several hours later.
Focus on relationship-building: Don’t contact a reporter only when you want something. Comment on their posts or news articles; share something that may be of interest to them based on past coverage. And use ongoing correspondence to help create context and logic around the story you are pitching.
Make the subject line count: Spend time conceptualizing a subject line that will entice the reporter to open your email. Push the envelope by calling upon a catchy phrase or theme that gets right to the bottom line of the story you want to tell.
Be persistent: If the reporter doesn’t respond to you, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean there isn’t interest. They may be on deadline or engaged in a longer assignment. If you call and email twice, and still don’t hear anything, move on to the next reporter. Don’t stop pitching because your prime target is unresponsive—there are lots of media fish in the sea. Make sure you tweak your pitch to cater to the reporter’s specific focus and interest.
Get organized: Maintain an excel sheet of sites, reporters and publications pitched, including contact information, notes and dates. This will help you strategize who to reach out to and when.
Be ready: Message development, interview prep and the ability to answer hardball questions are prerequisites to every pitch. Make sure messages are supported by provable statements of fact and exclude industry jargon.
Finally, stay current with the news. If your focus is in healthcare or another industry vertical, follow every story that touches the topic and its competitive landscape. And don’t be afraid to call a spade a spade. If a corporate exec applies pressure for getting media coverage for a “non-story,” explain what reporters are looking for and find a way to align your news with local, national, or global events that are both current and impactful.
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