Which media outlets should an organization target, and is it better to pitch a story to just one reporter and media outlet or multiple reporters and different media outlets?
For any organization looking for media coverage, the basics are the same. Reporters and editors are looking for stories of interest to their particular audiences. It is up to you to identify the best media outlets to pitch based on your story, then identify what information you can provide that will make it easier or more appealing to cover the story and, if you do get coverage, get more coverage rather than less. This could be anything from compelling interviews to great visuals.
Which media outlets an organization should target depends on a number of factors including what organization you are with, which audiences you are trying to reach, what kinds of media your organization has worked with in the past, which media the targeted audiences or stakeholders consume, and, of course, what your story is about.
If your organization is very specialized or one with a narrow audience and a very targeted message, it is usually better to pitch to specialty media outlets and specific reporters. Organizations with a message of broader interest and reach may decide it is better to pitch to a wider audience.
It is very important to know your audiences. Is your target audience national, regional, or local? Are you targeting potential customers, existing product or service users, current as well as potential investors or donors, the general public, or any combination of audiences? Older people may read a daily newspaper and watch nightly newscasts on TV. Younger people may rely almost exclusively on social media for their news. People who are especially interested in a particular subject or work in a specific industry may rely on specialty or trade media for information. If your story is about something of narrow interest, "narrowcast" your pitch. If a larger group of stakeholders would be interested, cast a wider net.
For example, let us say you are representing a specialty steel company that has recently come up with a breakthrough manufacturing process and you want current and potential customers, investors, and people in your industry to know about it. In this case your story has national interest but a narrow audience. As a result, you may decide to distribute a news release to those national, regional or local media outlets that write about your industry, or contact individual reporters who are looking for stories in their specialty beats. Do not forget about reporters who work for the business section at your local papers or magazines, and bloggers and other journalists who work in social media that write about your industry. Think about what kinds of media you and your colleagues use to get industry information, and consider pitching to them first. Pitching this story to a mass audience would likely be a waste of time, because your average viewer, listener or reader either does not understand or does not care about the topic.
On the flip side, you may be with the local food bank and anxious to get out the word that donations are down and supplies are running low at a time when demand is at an all-time high. That is a story you want every potential donor in your market to know about. The story does hence have local interest but a broad audience.
What sort of information should be provided when trying to get media coverage?
What information you provide and how you provide it always depends on your organization, the story you are pitching, and who you are pitching to. However, in general, be prepared to offer and provide:
What are strategies that will improve your chances of getting coverage and common mistakes that will hurt your chances?
- Interviews with top officials or anyone else from your company a reporter may want to talk to
- Interviews with other people who can flesh out the story and provide context for your message, if appropriate. These could be people who use your service or product, someone who has benefitted from what your organization does, etc.
- Press releases
- Press kits, including background material, photographs and video if appropriate
- A website that is up-to-date
- Access to your facility or product, if appropriate. If you are manufacturing a product, give reporters a hard hat tour. Selling a service? Let them test it.
- Opportunities for photographs and interviews that can provide flavor to a story, if appropriate. Touting a new medical procedure? Take them into your hospital, let them see patients being treated and talk to them.
To get coverage, you must clearly demonstrate why it is to the media outlet's benefit to cover your story. Is it a good human story? Is it timely? Is there anything unexpected that would intrigue readers, listeners or viewers? If you cannot convey why their audience would be interested in your topic, you should refrain from pitching that outlet. Anticipate what kind of information a reporter might be looking for to tell the story and provide it. The harder you make the reporter work to get the story, the less likely you are to get good coverage, or any coverage at all.
I previously mentioned the local food bank as an example. Let me elaborate. Suppose your local food bank is facing a sharp increase in need with school letting out for the summer, and families whose children get free breakfast and lunch at school going hungry. You could hold a news conference with your executive director and chairman of your board speaking at a podium outside your facility. You would, however, likely get better and more coverage if you also provided reporters with the "people" part of the story. Line up a family facing this crisis and bring them to the news conference to be interviewed. Or, better yet, let reporters interview them in their home, or while they wait to pick up their food from a pantry. Give reporters access to volunteers packing up food donations, or allow shots of empty warehouse shelves to illustrate the shortage. In this case, providing a story that tugs at the heartstrings makes it much more likely that reporters and editors will cover your event.
Provide open access to your organization and respond quickly to reporter inquiries. Reporters are often on tight deadlines. Telling them you will get back to them tomorrow does not work for a reporter whose deadline is this afternoon. Be smart on timing: setting a news conference late in the day or right before a newscast or a publication deadline will make it difficult if not impossible to get coverage, especially if your news is not "breaking news." Be flexible: if you set a time for a news conference that turns out to be inconvenient for a news outlet you really wanted to attend, offer to provide interviews after the fact, and if you have photographs or videos of the event, offer those too. If you are dead set on getting one influential outlet to cover your story, consider offering an exclusive. If you pitch and get a "no" this time, do not give up. Regroup, refine and rethink your pitch, and you may get coverage next time.
Finally, it goes without saying that errors or incomplete information in your press release or pitch will hurt your chances of getting coverage. Double check spelling and other details to make sure that everything is correct. I have received press releases about news conferences where something as simple as the date was wrong.
What is the best way to communicate with media outlets and individual reporters?
It is really a personal choice, but most reporters prefer e-mail as the first point of contact unless you already have a relationship. Snail mail and faxes will be tossed in the trash.
If you are pitching a story to an individual reporter, send a short e-mail with a concise pitch. Then, ask if he or she would like to follow up with a phone call either to interview someone from your organization, or to set up an in person visit to your facility for interviews and photographs and video.
For a press event or press conference, create a press release and send it out about a week before your event. This can go either to individual reporters or to the assignment or city desks where daily reporter and photographer assignments are made. Send a follow up reminder the day before. A phone call reminder the day before might also be okay, but do not be surprised if your call goes to voicemail. And, if you ask for an RSVP to your event, do not be surprised if reporters who did not let you know they were coming show up anyway.
How about follow-up after a story has been published or broadcast?
If you have an established relationship with a media outlet or reporter, keep it going with semi-regular contact. That way you are on their radar the next time you want to pitch a story, and they might even call you when they would like to receive help from you.
For example, you are the marketing professional for a group of financial advisors. You pitch a story to the local newspaper about some new tools that make it easier for people to effectively plan for retirement. They publish your story, along with the fact that you are offering free retirement planning seminars. The article is a success and the reporter and his or her bosses are happy. Your bosses are happy because more people than expected attend the seminars, and some call to set up personal consultations. You follow up with an e-mail to the reporter, complimenting the coverage, thanking them, and offering your company as a resource for any future stories. A few months later, a study comes out that says most people do not have a clue how much to save for retirement. The reporter you worked with not long ago is assigned to write about the study, and you are the first person he or she thinks of and reaches out to. You respond immediately, offer an expert colleague to interview on deadline, and your company gets additional valuable media coverage.
Free media in the form of press, broadcast, and online coverage may be "free," but really, it is priceless. One outstanding media story can attract more attention, build more brand capital, and better solidify your organization’s reputation than repeated marketing and advertising efforts. That is because people often put much more stock and trust in objective third party reporting about your company than they put in what you say about yourself. But remember, to get media coverage, you have to be tenacious and work for it. In the end, the results are definitely worth it.