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Most businesses know that publicity—getting your story in the good old-fashioned mainstream media—is one of the most effective communications tactics they can use. In fact, many experienced professionals trust press coverage more than other content forms.
I’m sure that’s why I get regular calls from prospective clients who want their story told by the media, which now includes bloggers. Some want me to write favorable publicity stories about them under my byline or to give them tips on how to get such stories published about them.
They believe because I’m an award-winning journalist, I have a better chance at getting their story ‘placed’ than other writers or even their PR people. (Yes, they’ve used those exact words.)
But they are often surprised when I tell them that is not always true. I inform them that my being a journalist, a professional storyteller writing their story, won’t make their story magic to my colleagues in the press.
Not only am I unlikely to get their organization’s story in the media unless it meets key criteria, but I’m also likely to make both of us look unprofessional by trying.
And, while these essentials should be PR 101, trust me, they are not always successfully carried out. Failure of businesses to apply them correctly is a pet peeve for journalists and editors. So, while I’m a corporate communicator who happens to be a journalist and I’m not a media consultant (and I don’t “place” stories in the press).
I’ve written this blog post to provide a list of the nine critical criteria for getting your story told in the news. If you follow them, you have a better shot at publicity success.
Make your story newsworthy
Long gone are the days when a glorified advertorial or sponsored content flies like a real story. Many businesses see PR as “free advertising.” But, it’s not advertising at all. It’s not “push messaging” or “interruption marketing” where you attempt to foist your message on a captive audience. Your first audience is that editor of the publication or producer of the news network where you want to get press.
If you haven’t met the needs of that editor by sending them newsworthy content, then you’ve failed at meeting this critical criterion. Your writers and PR people should be able to tell you what this means and insist you follow this rule.
But, if you’re a small business owner, the best strategy may be hiring someone who has written news and knows what real news is to write your press content and use a press distribution service to distribute it on your organization’s behalf.
Make your story relevant to the media outlet’s audience
Even if your story is newsworthy, if it’s not relevant to the target media outlet’s audience, that editor, reporter or blogger will toss or delete your press. You also will have annoyed the journalist or editor you’ve just pitched. They will immediately know that you did not research their media outlet or beat.
Before pitching a story, step back and ask yourself, “If I was a reader, listener or viewer of this media outlet, would I be interested in this story?” If you can’t honestly answer, “yes,” then it probably doesn’t belong there.
Don’t let your bias about your business get in your way and try to “force fit” it without changing the angle of the piece actually to fit, either. A “feel good” story about your organization’s involvement with a local nonprofit and its impact on your local community is unlikely to get national business outlet press. It doesn’t have national relevance.
Research publications and media outlets to determine what they publish and who they target before you pitch them. Also, know whether your story belongs in a consumer outlet or a trade publication.
Make sure the outlets you plan to pitch fit into your media plan before you pitch. If your story isn’t a fit, don’t try to force submission on an editor or journalist. You’ll probably alienate them if you do.
Make your story timely
Media outlets and audiences focus on what’s going on right now. What’s happening in this news cycle that is relevant to them? And, that’s continually changing.
Stay abreast of current events and determine whether any connection to your business in a way that it’s a relevant story to a particular media outlet. If you can relate your story to holidays, events, political issues, controversies or other news of the day, you are more likely to get press attention.
For example, if your business provides home security services like alarm systems, you may have gotten stories in the news about that subject. Those are usually evergreen stories, those that are of interest to readers year round.
But, you can repurpose or restructure those stories to tie them to a monthly awareness program, like “National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month,” which is in December. By doing that, you’ll give your business more opportunities for legitimate press. Make these types of stories part of your media plan.
Have your press release expertly written, like a real news story
In other words, as I said in number one, it can’t sound like an advertorial or sales pitch. You should write it as if it’s a bona fide news story, the way journalists and successful professional bloggers write. It should well-constructed, adhere to the principles of news writing and storytelling, be free of grammatical or spelling errors and as clean and concise as possible.
Unless your executives can write this way, experts should write this media content should. Get either a PR professional who’s got a track record of writing and placing “news ready” content or a current or former journalist who used to writing for the press to craft your press content.
Poorly drafted press content will get tossed in the recycle bin or deleted from email. More importantly, you’ll damage your organization’s credibility with the media with poorly written content.
Distribute your story properly to the media
Only send the media stories the way they want to receive them. Don’t email stories that should get mailed (yes, some publications still expect that) or add attachments to emails you should embed as content in an email.
Don’t send pitches to “whom it may concern” or “email@example.com” unless you’ve learned that’s precisely the way the media outlet wants you to send pitches.
Don’t find and send email to a journalist private personal or business email, especially if they’ve provided a press email. Don’t email your story to a reporter at all if that journalist wants contact only on social media.
If they want you to tweet it, for example, learn to use Twitter to pitch stories. Target the press release to the right journalist, blogger, editor or producer at a media outlet or expect it to get lost, ignored or tossed.
For mass distribution, it’s okay to use a press release distribution service but avoid poor quality, free press release distribution services, so your story doesn’t end up on low-authority or poor quality sites and blogs. That could degrade your website’s relevance in search engines and on social media as well as your credibility with your target market.
Ideally, your organization’s communication team should have a PR professional on it who is expert at press release pitching. That’s not always the same person who writes the press release, either.
If you don’t have someone on staff who pitches expertly, you can hire someone. Or, you can research the way the media wants to receive content. Then, send it to them the way they want so they won’t ignore your submission.
Make organizational executives industry thought leaders
Writers are always looking for excellent sources. One of the best ways to get your organization’s story told in the press is to have your leadership quoted by media outlets or publications. When a journalist quotes your leader, usually, they identify your organization and provide additional information on what it does.
This may not be a whole story about your organization, but enough of these interviews and quotes can produce the same results. So, make sure your organization’s communications team spends time developing and promoting the expertise of its leaders.
Similarly, if your organization specializes in a particular industry, product or service, then it should be producing thought leadership content of its own. That material can include blog articles, white papers, case studies and website content. But, it should show your organization’s expertise in a way that’s unique from others in the same industry.
That way, when journalists and bloggers come to your website, you’re proving your value to their organization immediately with your content. Also, your organization’s leaders should be well represented in expert source databases like Source Sleuth, Media Kitty, ProfNet, and HARO.
Be easy to contact for the press
Journalists are busy. So are successful professional bloggers and news producers. Spare them the frustration of having to chase you or your executive down, especially if you’ve pitched them stories.
Also, make it easy for them to find content and recent and relevant contact information on your website by having a media page with relevant content embedded or uploaded. Often, if reporters have to work too hard to find the information they need for their story or wait too long for a response from you, they’ll move on to the next source or story.
Don’t put your business in the position of getting an email from a journalist or professional blogger telling you that you were too late responding to their request and won’t be used as a source this time. Also, depending on how hard it was to get in touch with you or your executive, there may not be a next time for your business to get its story told by that reporter, blogger or media outlet.
Understand media outlets before you pitch them
There is a lot of data and research about what stories work with which types of media outlets. As most good PR people do, yours should study the circulation data and editorial calendars of whatever media organizations you’d like to target.
They regularly read the publications that are part of their media plan and know what stories they’ve published recently. Craft press releases around the tone, style and target audience of the publication. These elements can change as the outlet’s editorial team or content strategy changes.
Keep press lists up-to-date because these professionals move around a lot or change the way they want the public to contact them.
By taking these steps and having a proper media plan in place for pitching media outlets, you should get your organization’s story in the press with more frequency.
Use social media to pitch instead of press releases
I know. I wrote all this to tell you not to bother with press releases. However, more journalists and bloggers especially are tossing or deleting press releases from email in favor of social media. Know which of your target media outlets, reporters or bloggers prefer social media or miss opportunities.
Also know that on social media, the same pitching rules apply, except it’s essential to learn how to customize them to social media by platform. On digital media, you have less time to grab attention and your content disappears faster than a press release. But, your news also gets out real time to an eager press or blogosphere where writers are looking to be first to publish exclusives.
For social media, depending on the channel, you’ll need high-quality, well-composed images, catchier titles, and hashtags. You’ll need to know best times to post and that’s usually when the editors, reporters or bloggers you want to reach are online and say they’re taking pitches.
Remember to stay on brand message and, if you’re in a larger organization, get your communications professionals to help you craft the right content to avoid social media disasters.
If you’re a corporate communicator just moving into digital publicity, get some expertise on the process yourself and hire consultants to help you establish a proper digital communications strategy.
Get your legal department or business attorney (who understands media policy and constructs those policies regularly for their clients) to review yours before making it live.
Then, create a formal, customized digital media campaign strategy that works for your brand, gets you the publicity you want and helps keep you out of media crisis mode.
(c) 2016-2018. Dahna M. Chandler for Get Money Moxie, Inc., a division of Thrive Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without express written permission of the author.
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I’m an award-winning finance journalist with marketing expertise and business acumen. I offer engagement-generating, personal finance and small business development content writing services to thriving—high growth or established—blogs and media outlets. My passion is to help your consumer readers make their dollars make sense and operate their business with growing wealth as their focus.
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(If you’re representing an enterprise-level wealth industry or financial brand that has strategic corporate communications needs (including change management communications, CSR, internal communications for employee experience or equitable D&I messaging), please visit Thrive Wealth Communications to learn how I help your organization.)