Marketing to the Media

The mind-numbing amount of information hurling at us at warp speed each day is overwhelming. If you’re a journalist, multiply it ten-fold. Believe me, I know. There were weeks I fielded more than 200 email story pitches for consideration in the pages of Businessweek, one of the several mainstream business publications that employed me as an associate editor in my 20+ years as a financial journalist.

Over the years, I took notice of what pitches made it through my cynical story screen. It occurred to me that there may be a few helpful hints I could share with others looking to grab the attention of a reporter.  While many of these suggestions might seem elementary to the seasoned media relations specialist, I must say, many of the infractions came from media relations managers themselves. In these cases, it isn’t tough to see why, at times, public relations professionals get a bad rap.

The truth is, reporters are desperate for stories—really good stories. In this multi-distribution new media world, they are required to create an endless amount of content (thus the recent change to Content Chiefs instead of reporters or writers). They want nothing more than help, lots of it, to feed the content beast.

So to help them and yourselves, consider the following guidelines.

Give a reporter a story. Countless times I was given the opportunity to cover a person, product or service. More often than not, I asked the person on the other end of the phone or in an email: What’s the story? In effect, I was asking them: Why should I care about what you are telling me? If it wasn’t breaking news or an investigative tip, I needed to know what was new, different, surprising about the person, product of service that would make me want to cover them at that moment. If I had the time, I walked the person through my thought process on how to make their pitch a story, that a reporter, I would want to cover.

Develop the story. It isn’t surprising that the more work you do for the reporter, the better. So if you give them compelling third-party data to support your idea, then that is less work for the journalist. One of my editors used to say: Show, Don’t Tell. Give hardcore examples and evidence. Wrap your idea around an economic, business or demographic trend, a news item, or anything else that would make the story timely and relevant. Finally, think about the story angle: Is it news-you-can-use; a prescription for change; a solution to a problem? What kind of story are you pitching?

Pitch to the right person. Ok. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying to yourself, who is she kidding? Of course, I pitch to the right person. Well, maybe you do, but a lot of PR people don’t. In fact, I still write a couple of columns, one on personal finance and one on management and leadership issues for small businesses, and I recently got a pitch on a new type of preschool toy. That doesn’t quite fit into what I cover.

Do your homework. Once you identify the right reporter, make sure you read the last six stories they wrote and pay attention to the topics they have covered. Call it an ego thing but reporters like to think people read their writings. Also note that if the topic of your pitch has been recently covered by a direct competitor, a reporter isn’t likely to cover your idea, no matter how good—unless of course there is another angle to report.

Craft a compelling subject line. With an overflowing inbox, it is hard for a reporter to review every pitch especially if he or she doesn’t know you. I remember one subject line that really piqued my attention and drove me to open the email, contact the source and write the story for the Wall Street Journal. The subject line was: Should Personality Testing Be Used for Hiring? I was doing career stories for the Journal so this was clearly targeted to my interest and beat. It was a compelling question and one I hadn’t heard a lot about in the past. The body of the email identified the trend, included a lot of statistics and the PR agency’s client wasn’t highlighted until the very end. The story ended up in the paper and featured the client.

Answer the question. There are a number of well-known sites like profnet, haro, and that journalists tap when they need an expert or specific information. When I’ve used these sites, I get inundated with responses. I read them all and chose a couple to contact. But let me tell you a secret. I tend to be very specific with my requests. That way, when a potential source answers, and does so with the same specificity, I sometimes use the content and quote the source directly from the email. The nuggets of knowledge here is, make sure you respond to your these services with the most amount of information as possible.

I can’t promise the reporter will engage you on your client but at least you might have a better shot.

Photo courtesy Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons


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