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Optimize Your PR Campaign: Build Relationships and Tell Stories

by Ramona Russell on Jun 02, 2014

Public Relations

Learn the dos and don’ts of attracting media attention.

“Media is an audience gatherer, then an ad engagement gate-keeper. It can assist engagement by attracting an audience suited to the message and by keeping them attentive . . . or not.” –Erwin Ephron

In ”Three Steps to Be Media Ready” (April 2014), I explained the meaning and importance of public relations. I also talked about how to become media ready by identifying yourself as an expert, sharing your story, and creating and distributing quality content.

In my 15-year career, PR and marketing have changed tremendously, but what remains the same is how you get media coverage. The media don’t exist to promote your business; they exist to tell interesting stories that appeal to a variety of readers, listeners and viewers. As I said in the April issue, it isn’t newsworthy that you opened a shop or that your friends and family think “it’s cool.”

To garner press coverage, you don’t need an expensive publicist, a glossy media kit or award-winning press releases. But you do need to understand how the PR machine works. I’ve gained hundreds of media mentions for my clients—and myself. In this article, I’ll show you how to find, build relationships with and pitch to the media.

How to Find the Media

“I think editors are excellent marketers. They know their audience and produce copy to appeal to them—they just don't call it marketing.” –David Robinson

Target Your Focus
Do not take a machine gun approach to your PR campaign by going after every opportunity. You need to determine the media outlets that cater to your target audience; once you start networking, you’ll realize how many people in your industry know each other and are paying attention to the same sources.

Keep these thoughts in mind when determining which media outlet(s) and reporter(s) will do the best job of sharing your story:

  • Research your colleagues’ and competitors’ media coverage, and take note of the reporters. If these journalists have written about someone in your industry, there’s a good chance they will be interested in you.
  • Search Twitter to find reporters who write about your industry, and put them in a Twitter list so you can follow them, understand the topics they write about and start a dialogue.
  • Make a list of the media outlets your customers follow. If you’re not sure which ones they follow, send a short survey to your subscribers or post the question via Facebook and Twitter.
  • Remember that many reporters are freelancers. If you do an Internet search of the ones you are targeting, you’ll find that many of them have personal websites with their contact information listed and with links to articles they’ve written.

Time-saving tip: Create a spreadsheet with the reporters’ names, their contact information and your notes regarding their stories.

How to Build Relationships With the Media

“In the old days brands supported big media. Today, clever brands have disintermediated big media and seized control. They're becoming portals.” –Paul Woolmington

Business is about building relationships, and garnering media attention is no different. If you treated your clients like an ATM, you would be an overnight failure. And if you view the press as nothing but interns whose purpose is to serve your organization, your chance to gain visibility will be over before it starts.

Use these insights to become the type of person the media want to talk to:

  • Become a trusted resource by offering to find a source for a story a reporter is working on (even if it has nothing to do with your industry) or by giving that reporter a heads-up on a breaking story to which you’re privy.
  • If a journalist is working on a story for which your knowledge can be of value, offer the needed research. Being quoted as an expert in an article gives you instant credibility.
  • Take a reporter out for drinks or dinner to learn more about the kinds of things he or she likes to cover. Do not go for coffee and then turn it into a 2-hour meeting about yourself. Your primary goal is to figure out how you can help the reporter, not how the reporter can help you.

Time-saving tip: Make a list of 10 media personalities you want to connect with, and concentrate your efforts on building relationships with them.

How to Pitch to the Media

“A news story should be like a mini skirt on a pretty woman. Long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting.” –Anonymous

Reporters move at 100 miles an hour, sifting through volumes of email a day while still meeting their deadlines. What they look for is simple: real people and real stories. Always keep in mind that you need to pitch a story, not your company.

Here’s how to approach the media appropriately. As the saying goes, you really have only one chance to impress.

  • Time your pitch to correspond with what is happening now. Research the news websites, the media focus in your industry and the book bestseller lists to determine what people are paying attention to.
  • Do not send generic group emails; it’s tacky, and you will be ignored. Your pitch should be personalized and individual, with appropriate content geared to each reporter’s audience. Make sure you spell the journalist’s name correctly.
  • The days of long, wordy press releases with attachments are over (and if the PR rep you hired says otherwise, fire that person now). Instead, send short emails with bullet points. I love, love, love bullet points, and reporters do too. Using them breaks up the copy and makes the pitch easier to read.
  • Always follow up, but don’t be a stalker. The reason reporters haven’t gotten back to you is (a) they’re busy or (b) you’ve wasted their time by sending a pitch that has nothing to do with what they cover. Send one or two follow-up messages in the weeks immediately after you send your initial pitch. But leave it at that. Reporters will contact you if they want your story.
  • If journalists are interested in featuring you, meet their deadline. Meet their deadline. MEET. THEIR. DEADLINE. Not only is it respectful to provide your content on time—early is even better—but if you are late, they will move on to someone else. Permanently.
  • Bad behavior gets you blacklisted (a term not talked about much), meaning that if you irritate someone in the media, that contact will ignore you forever—and will probably tell other media members to do the same.
  • Whenever a media person has featured you, always send a handwritten thank-you note. First, it’s the right thing to do, and second, no one does it, which means you’ll stand out. If the coverage is big—and has benefited your business—I recommend going a step further and sending flowers or another similar gift. These gestures will also keep you in the reporter's mind for future stories.

Time-saving tip: Download news organizations’ editorial calendars (many are available online), so you know their deadlines for various topics. Enter these dates in your own calendar.

Knowing how to deal with the media is a skill that almost no one is willing to learn (even PR people often resist). That’s a shame, since having great media coverage is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to build your brand and reach a larger audience of potential customers. Remember: A good PR campaign is about building relationships and telling stories. If you do it right, you’ll be taking your company to the next level in no time.

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About the Author

Ramona Russell

Ramona Russell IDEA Author/Presenter