Ever wonder why some businesses get press and some don’t? Getting a mainstream media outlet to pay attention to your business seems like an impossible-to-solve mystery.
You might see your competitors spouting a diatribe that you know for a fact is wrong, or that you could explain better.
“Why did they interview that guy instead of me?” you wonder.
Actually, it’s not you. 99 times out of 100, it’s not your qualifications, your knowledge, or your ability.
It’s your approach.
After 10 years as a journalist, I’ve seen just about every bad pitch you can imagine. And I’ve also come up with 109 foolproof ways to entice the media in your city to highlight your business — approaches that make the mainstream media unable to resist you.
(And lots of them work just as well with bloggers and social media influencers.)
Build relationships months in advance of pitching
- Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or in real life more than six months in advance of pitching a reporter.
- Monitor the Twitter hashtags of your community. Often reporters chat with the public on Twitter, and you can respond to comments they make.
- Compliment a reporter via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail on a story he or she did.
- Introduce yourself to reporters at big public or chamber of commerce events. Pass along your card, but don’t try and sell them the idea on the spot. Just be helpful.
- Invite reporters out for coffee, and ask a lot of questions about them.
- Leave a comment at the end of the online version of a story a reporter did, which you genuinely liked.
- Congratulate them on their birthdays, or other personal news they post.
- Comb through Muck Rack to find regional or national reporters on Twitter who cover your industry.
- Write a positive blog post on your blog highlighting a story of theirs, and e-mail them the link.
- Respond regularly to posts they’ve written either on their blog, or on a local community blog you’ve noticed they post on.
- Visit city council meetings in your town. Typically there’s a reporter sitting around bored, that you can build a relationship with.
- Sign up on helpareporter.com. Several e-mail lists are sent out daily, full of reporters needing experts for stories. Jump on those that fall within your expertise.
- Scout publications with smaller and more targeted readerships, such as a local business weekly publication. These media outlets are often run by just two or three people, and they’ll jump at a guest column or article by you because it’ll save them the time of tracking down a story on their own.
- Listen to AM radio stations, especially on weekday mornings or on Saturdays. Befriend one of the regular show hosts. Often they’ll highlight any business that is doing something interesting the public might find interesting.
- Nix spending money on an online press release site early on. Those online press release systems are more useful for building inbound links, or if you’re already a recognized expert with a track record, and there’s a major news event breaking that you could discuss.
- Ask them if they’d mind if you added them to your email list. Then provide them with education-based content marketing to sell them on doing a story about your business.
Once You’ve Met, Make The Pitch Transition Smooth
- Say “yes” without fail if a reporter wants to interview you that day, even if it has to be over the phone or while you’re on vacation.
- Offer occasional suggestions of angles you think would make great follow-up stories, especially that don’t have anything to do with your business. Nearly all stories are parts of a long-running issues, so reporters always need additional story follow-up ideas.
- Offer to connect reporters to experts you know . If the reporter sounds interested, follow through with the offer.
- Be a source for stories that fall within your expertise by letting reporters in your industry know you’re available when they need a source. This can lead to regular spots on the news.
- Point reporters to blog posts you genuinely think they’d be interested in – whether on your blog or others. It validates you as an expert.
- Treat journalists with respect. You’ll set yourself apart just by being friendly.
- Keep a camera handy for “spot news” photo opportunities, and then pass along to the media outlet. This can be anything from a deer crashing into a department store while you happened to be there to a good shot of an event or store opening.
- Offer to write a column on your specialty for the online website of a media site, or for a print publication in your area.
Ponder These Issues Prior to Pitching
- Define the story in just one sentence, so you can easily explain it to the media in 10 seconds.
- Include people in your story pitch. Many owners try to pitch their company’s achievements, but stories that sell normally have people involved, not just the company.
- Focus on selling the benefits to viewers, listeners or readers first. It’s about their perspective of what you’re selling, not about how wonderful it would be for you to sell your product or service.
- Think visually. When can a media station shoot video and pictures? If that’s not possible, are there video or pictures you can provide?
- Avoid offering a posed or fake event or picture. They are typically frowned on by the media.
- Hold an event where you’re actually doing what you’re talking about, and invite them to come, whether it’s to write a story, or just take a picture or video.
- Post your video online for easy download, or put it on DVDs.
- Seek permission from the individuals in a potential photo shoot ahead of time.
- Highlight trends in which your business is just one of several examples. Nearly every trend can be turned into a story pitch, and it has the added advantage of letting you not hog the limelight, which reporters often don’t find appealing.
- Provide actual users of your service or product for the media to interview. Their testimonials will boost your credibility.
- Offer to review the facts or your quotes if you feel nervous the journalist misunderstood you. Don’t try to pressure the journalist into letting you review the entire article before publication, though, because media stations normally don’t allow this.
- Provide a journalist with an expert to interview who has used and can vouch for your product. If you sell skin cream, for example, ask a dermatologist who likes your product to be available for an interview.
- Copy relevant documents for the reporter, to provide at the interview, or prior to it.
- Create a list of key dates and facts relevant to the story, along with potential quotes.
- Write a couple paragraphs describing the process in simple terms, ideally with a drawing if the story is complex.
- Write a killer press release in the form of a ready-made story, if submitting a story to a weekly or a daily in regions of fewer than 50,000 people. You’d be surprised how often a newspaper will print almost exactly what you sent.
- Give reporters two weeks’ notice for an upcoming story or event.
- Remain flexible. Reporters have days that are jam-packed with breaking news, and other days that are slower and more open to a less-urgent story like yours.
- Choose to meet in person if an option, because the journalist will then get to know you better, and you’ll have more time with him or her.
- Travel to where the story actually happens for the interview – whether in your office or an hour away at a gravel pit.
- Muzzle the natural urge to provide stacks of background research. Most reporters don’t have the time or interest in looking through it.
- Leap on breaking news relevant to your industry as a chance to put yourself in the local news. The shootings in Arizona presented an opportunity for anyone who deals with mental health to be interviewed on local radio, television and in the newspaper.
- Pitch local stories to local reporters. National attention typically springs from local attention first.
- Call ahead and pitch a story, if you’re showcasing your products at a local convention or other major event typically covered by the news. Otherwise reporters just walk the aisles and randomly choose businesses to speak with.
- Watch the calendar, and pitch a story that would ideally run around major holidays, when things are often really slow in newsrooms.
- Act enthusiastic. If you don’t seem excited about the idea, neither will they.
- Express why this story is of value to your community. If it’s a story you wouldn’t bother watching or reading, don’t pitch it.
- Show an image that encapsulates the story you’re trying to tell. When Google held a national competition, our video shot on a Flip Camera received national attention from a variety of media outlets because it easily showed in one image how wild the competition became.
- Forget about giving up. Don’t be a pest, but keep trying every few weeks to pitch an idea, until a reporter gives a straight yes-or-no answer to your idea.
- Write very short e-mails to reporters. Three or four sentences total. Your e-mail is much more likely to get read by busy reporters if it’s short and to the point.
- Devote lots of time on e-mail subject lines to reporters. You can apply the same techniques for writing magnetic headlines for blog posts – they make both readers and reporters want to know more about what you have to say.
21 Kinds of Reporter Bait
- Hold a fundraising drive.
- Do X for the 10th, 20th, 50th year.
- Launch a brand new product.
- Sell product X locally for the first time.
- Provide an environmentally friendly version of a product everyone uses – and be the only local place to purchase it.
- Link your underlying story pitch with some basic human emotion, like love, fear or hope. Start a knitting story in memory of your late aunt, who taught you about knitting.
- Frame your story as a local example of a national or international issue currently in the news. If Congress is debating health care, and your clinic has developed a unique program for handling people without insurance, you’ve got a pitch.
- Time a pitch about your company for a few weeks before your company’s anniversary.
- Buck a trend. It’s Christmas Eve, and you’ve seen an uptick in your toy store sales, while everyone else has noticed a downturn.
- Launch a product or service in your community no one locally has ever sold.
- Highlight that you’re doing something most people are afraid to attempt, such as starting a business during a recession.
- Brag. If you’ve been interviewed by a local media outlet, a larger one, or a major publication, play it up. It shows you’re desirable as a media interview.
- Spotlight unique ties to major events. Show how your business has doubled through word of mouth marketing after volunteering for two weeks during Hurricane Katrina.
- Share how you just hit X,000 regular subscribers on your blog, and show how that translates to online sales. This process remains foreign and therefore fascinating to most reporters.
- Reveal how you’ve transitioned a primarily brick-and-mortar store into doing a healthy amount of online sales.
- Announce that your business for the first time employs four generations of the same family.
- Embrace anything that makes you unique. A local jewelry store owner in Northern Wisconsin received media coverage across all of Minnesota and Wisconsin simply because the owner felt the end of the world was coming soon, and incorporated it into his commercial.
- Compile fascinating data. OkCupid.com mined its customer data to show which smartphone users have the most sex. What kind of irresistible statistic could you compile from your business?
- Run a weird contest. Be the beauty parlor giving a makeover to the husband of the women who makes the best case that he looks like a slob.
- Write an e-book. Just being able to say you’ve written a recently released “book” can be enough of a news hook for a story.
- Look for sections in the newspaper that highlight interesting businesses, often under headlines like “What’s That Business.” Normally a simple phone call with a pitch will secure a feature on your business.
How To Become A Favorite Source for Reporters
- Explain things chronologically if possible.
- Speak slowly, so the reporter has time to take notes and mentally process what you’re saying.
- Tell the story twice. The first time give the sweeping overview, and then return to the start of the story, and fill in all the details. The second time around you’ll remember more and fill in gaps in the narrative, and the reporter will ask better questions.
- Respond to a reporter’s phone call or e-mail immediately, or as soon as humanly possible. Reporters love dependable, helpful people.
- Provide information from most to least important if time is irrelevant to the topic.
- Allow the reporter to lead the interview if he or she comes with questions.
- Wear a company logo, and dark, solid colors on camera. Clothes with stripes or checkered patterns look bad on television.
- Don’t waste time. Assume you won’t have more than half an hour to speak to the reporter.
- Answer the obvious questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How and So What.
- Ponder how you will answer every potential question, and don’t assume there won’t be any difficult ones.
- Stay on topic.
- Offer to return as a regular guest either weekly, monthly, or as needed, once your first interview concludes.
- Send an e-mail or note a day after the interview talking about how you appreciated the reporter’s time, or how great the story was.
- Provide a clear call to action, if there is one.
- Ask the reporter to summarize what you said every few minutes during an interview. This typically gives you a better chance to clarify and reiterate key points.
- Repeat your key couple of messages, so it’s more likely to make it in the story.
- Refrain from saying “no comment” if you can’t answer a question. Explain why you’d prefer not to answer.
- Remain flexible with the reporter, even if he or she decides to take the story in a direction that isn’t ideal in your eyes.
- Assume anything you say will be printed or stated by the journalist. Avoid saying “off the record” unless the reporter verbally agrees to keep what you’re about to say out of the story.
- Work with one news outlet at a time on a story.
- Talk in short sentences, using simple English.
- Avoid slang, industry vernacular or abbreviations.
- Provide a business card with your name, title, and what numbers to reach you at both during and after business hours.
- Contact the reporter every few weeks, to remain top of mind, and find out when the publication or air date will be.
- Post on your website and other online outlets footage of you on television. Have someone record or videotape the segment while on television, just in case the station can’t or won’t provide you with a copy.
- Propose being on a local Sunday show or early morning show, which often gives you 20 minutes to highlight your business.
- Pre-write tweets and a blog post, so you can quickly tell friends, family, clients and supporters when the story runs without losing time.
A Few Important Don’ts
- Don’t cold call. Warm up the reporter by sending an e-mail first, with a paragraph spelling out the bottom line of the story idea, then follow up with a call a few hours or a day later, depending on the urgency of the story.
- If you must cold call due to time constraints, never call after 3 p.m.
- Don’t neglect your headline. Without a good one, you’re dead.
- Don’t try to get an editor. Their mentality is often to help reporters eliminate mediocre story ideas. Reach out for reporters instead – they’re looking for material.
- Don’t show up in the newsroom unannounced.
- Don’t mail information in unsolicited.
The list might seem
insanely a bit daunting. But if all you do is take one step in each category (and respect all of the Don’ts), you’re likely to gain more coverage than any of your competitors. The bottom line is: reach out, be helpful, and get busy.
I’ll hang out in the comments section to help out anyone who has questions. But quite frankly, I’d rather see you out there, connecting with reporters, selling stories about you and your fantastic business successes.
The publicity is there for the taking. All you have to do is ask.