I originally wrote this article for search engine optimization professionals who want to earn links from journalists and online news publications. More widely, this applies to anyone who must engage with the media and is not a public relations professional.
If you have visions of writing a constant stream of press releases then publishing them to Internet wire services, let me stop you right here. First, that is the wrong approach and this article is a response born from frustration. I’m not even going to teach you how to write a press release.
This article will teach you the art of media relations. It is a nuts and bolts version that explains the proper cultivation of journalists.
Journalists Don’t Care About Your Brand
Reporters write stories for readers. Readers are the journalists’ constituency. After that, their loyalty belongs to their professional selves, their editors and their publications. Your organization is not on that list.
As a potential news source your only influence lies in your ability to present compelling stories to reporters or to contribute to the stories they are working on.
Journalists are not heartless. In fact, most reporters are awesome. They understand their beats, know the businesses involved and enjoy strong rapport with many PR professionals and company leaders.
You simply need to recognize and respect their goal: publish news, information and stories their readers value.
Help them and they will eagerly speak with you.
Cut the Crap
Reporters have limited bandwidth. They can write only so many articles. To be selected, your story must stand out, at a mere glance, and rise above the noise. Quality is your key.
Every day journalists get inundated with press releases, emails and phone calls. They must sift through it all to find the stories that matter. Their job requires discipline, experience and trusted relationships.
If you received 50 press releases and another 50 email pitches or tips every day, could you keep up? To accomplish this, journalists scan subject lines, looking for topics readers care about. They rely on email filters to flag important topics and companies.
Most reporters also have lists of trusted sources, people who regularly bring them worthwhile or innovative stories. They apply high scrutiny to everyone else.
In the business press, most stories are about
- Well-known brands
- New companies founded by recognized leaders
- Major product launches and benchmark updates
- Financial reports
- Leadership changes
- Legal proceedings
- Executive profiles
Reporters cover other news, but you must present a compelling hook. The smaller or less known the brand, the more persuasive your pitch must be. In this regard, major brands like Amazon and Microsoft will always have the advantage; people know them and want to read about them.
Knowing this, you can probably guess what I am about to say concerning social media press releases.
Internet Wire Services Suck
As a category, press releases submitted to Internet newswires tend to be a cesspool of dreck. Most Internet press releases contain no real news. They are self-promotional pieces. Reporters either don’t read them or use heavy-handed filters.
The thousands of media releases posted each day creates terrific revenue for services like PR Newswire and PR Web. You pay them to publish your releases on their automated systems. For added fees they let you add links and photos, then call them social media press releases.
For SEO purposes, the links created on other websites – these services’ networks of partners – are treated by the search engines as places links, paid links and duplicate content. Search engines actively try to ignore them.
If you think reporters get their stories from online press releases you’re fooling yourself. Some might worm through their spam filters, but good journalists will already know about the newsworthy stories from direct contacts within or representing the companies they report about.
Become a Trusted Source
How do you, as media relations professionals, get reporters to read your emails or take your calls? How do you become a trusted source?
It’s a long-term process and not everyone can do it.
- Be patient
- Work within the system
- Provide valuable news or innovative stories
Mostly it is about building relationships, which is why it’s called media relations, not press spamming.
If a story is news worthy, journalists will cover it. You can gauge news worthiness by reviewing past articles that cover your industry. Another good tactic is to be innovative and creative. If you can demonstrate your product in an unusual, fun or heart-tugging way, especially if reporters can be there when it happens, you can set your organization apart.
Know Your Reporters
Learn who the journalists are for your industry. Keep a database or spreadsheet of reporters’ names, beats and contact information. You may be able to purchase a list.
Read what they write. Are they local, regional, national or global? Note which businesses they tend to report on and what type of articles they publish. If they do a piece that strikes you for any reason, make a note in your database.
Reporters change jobs. Keep your database up to date.
As you build your contact list reach out and introduce yourself. Let them discover who you are and why they ought to add you to their contact list. Make an offer to help if the occasion should ever arise and ask if it’s okay for you to email them if you think you have a compelling story. Keep it professional and brief.
When you reach out, give journalists a link to your website and LinkedIn profile so they can learn more about you.
Never send a lengthy biography or explain all the ways you can help. If they want to learn more they will either look you up or ask.
Reporters are much more likely to use you as a source or consider your stories once they shake your hand. If you are going to an important conference or event send a note via email or Twitter asking journalists if they are going. When the answer is yes, let them know you would like to say hello. When you meet, be professional and concise. Give your 30-second introduction, say how pleased you are to meet and that you hope to have some good stories to share in the future. This is not the time to pitch. Either bow out or, if your enjoying drinks or a meal together, stop discussing your work. Turn the conversation around. Ask the journalists to tell you about a favorite story they worked on.
There is an art to pitching news. You must understand how to frame stories and sound compelling. You must gain an appreciation of when to send something to your entire database or contact a single reporter.
When you pitch a journalist, who has never published a story you pitched, make sure it’s as good as any topic they’ve written about. Better to set your bar too high than try to duck under it.
Send a personal email. Explain you have a story idea or news to share. Include the summary version. If you have one, attach the formal press release. Let the journalist know you’d like their permission to send the complete version and would enjoy discussing the story with them personally. Include your contact information.
Unless you know a reporter well enough, do not follow up. Either they will respond or not. If they do not respond, simply wait until you have a new story worth pitching then try again.
When journalists do follow-up, be prepared, ahead of time, to send more information or to have a conversation. If given instructions, follow them. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that off the record is a myth; everything you say or write is on the record, always. Professionalism is a must. So, be prepared first, then engage.
Record every pitch in your database.
When you succeed, record that too, and pour yourself a well-deserved beverage.