10 fatal news release mistakes

Though there are many, many ways to get news coverage without issuing a news release (for some ideas, see my seven-part series on ways to earn good media coverage), press releases still work. That said, it’s also all-too-common for companies to make fatal errors in the way they write and distribute news releases. Here are 10 common problems.

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 1. It doesn’t include any news. You’ve sent out a news release that provides information that your target media outlets don’t consider newsworthy. Things that news outlets don’t consider newsworthy, most of the time, include:

  • Sales and promotions. Reporters and editors will usually think you should buy an ad instead.
  • Announcements of a new website or a new marketing campaign.
  • Promotions and hires of non-senior executives. (Though there are places in some print publications where these sorts of listings run, so you can target your news release for those. Just don’t expect a big splash.)
  • General background information about the company. Reporters read it and think “nothing new here.”
  • A release done solely to satisfy disclosure requirements.

A good guideline is if you wouldn’t be very interested if another company sent out similar news, then chances are the media are not going to be very interested when you doing it.

2. You sent it to the wrong media outlets, or to the wrong people at the media outlet. Reporters have beats, and the bigger the news outlet is, the more reporters there will be with more beats. Take the time to figure out who is most likely to write about your news and then send it to that person first. Likewise, not all news outlets are interested in all news, so don’t indiscriminately send the release to every news outlet that you can find an email address for.

3. You sent it at a bad time. Late Friday afternoons? Most working journalists are probably thinking about getting home and the weekend – just like you – so unless your news release is incredibly compelling, it might get overlooked. Come Monday morning it will be at the bottom of the pile and may never see the light of day.

4. You stuffed it full of incomprehensible jargon. It doesn’t matter whether people in your industry use these terms (or you think they do), if the news release isn’t written in plain language that allows journalists to quickly understand it, your industry prose may never be seen by anyone in your industry.

5. You buried the lead. If you’ve got three paragraphs about how great your company is, the context for the news release and general background before you get to the actual news, a reporter may simply stop reading. Start with the news, or your release won’t make the news.

6. After sending the release, you called up the reporter and demanded that it be run as is, or made some other request that comes across as arrogant and unreasonable. Don’t make the people who (still) buy ink by the barrel mad with you. They’ve got plenty of other news they can use.

7. Your news release arrived when another big story was breaking for your target media. Unless you knew the news was happening, you can’t control this, but it does happen. If it happens to you, wait for that to die down and then politely follow-up and try again.

8. You failed to explain why your news is important to the publication’s readers. A new CEO at Apple is generally considered more newsworthy then a new CEO at a local insurance agency. You’ve got to explain why your news is relevant to the publication and its readers.

9. You wrote the news release for SEO value, and as a consequence it reads poorly and contains little newsworthy information. If you’re doing SEO releases with no other news value, don’t inflict them on them reporters – it will only hurt your reputation.

10. Your news is highly technical and difficult for a lay person to understand. Not only will many reporters, editors and producers simply not understand what the news is, they’re probably not too willing to make the effort to understand it if you haven’t made the effort first to make it more understandable. Scientific, technological, health care and financial news releases, especially, can all run this risk.

50 ideas for grabbing the media’s attention: Harness traditional tactics! [PART 7]

This is part seven of a seven-part series on earning the media’s attention and winning the coverage you want. Here are parts one, two, three, four, five and six in case you missed them.

Traditional tactics - newspaper building picture

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A lot of the tactics I’ve discussed so far in this series, such as producing your own media and becoming an expert, probably aren’t obvious for most business executives and entrepreneurs. But “traditional” tactics, such as news releases, can still work. Here are five traditional tactics (well — four plus a twist on one) that are still valuable PR tools, if you use them correctly.

1. Hold a news conference. News conferences (or press conferences or media briefings or whatever you want to call them) can generate news coverage, even front-page stories. But unless you’re the White House or a presidential candidate, reserve this for when you have a big announcement and you’re certain journalists will cover it. Here are some keys to an effective news conference:

  • Create a media kit that includes a news release with the key news, plus a fact sheet and other background documents. Also include any visuals (still photos or video) in digital form.
  • Hold it at a day and time that will work for your target media. That means scheduling it a few hours prior to print deadlines and avoiding times when TV or radio reporters might be delivering live newscasts.
  • Set up the room to make it picture friendly for still photographers and videographers.
  • Make contingency plans for bad weather if you’re going to hold it outside.
  • Provide enough space so people don’t feel crammed in.
  • If your location is far from where the media outlets are located, provide fast Internet access so reporters can file stories quickly and easily.
  • Plan in advance who will say what.
  • Having two or three speakers is OK, but don’t overwhelm journalists with a parade of bigwigs saying the same thing over and over.
  • Expect to do further one-on-one interviews afterward.
  • It’s OK to have some friends, allies and staffers sitting in the audience to make the room feel fuller. But don’t have them masquerade as journalists by asking questions or pretending to take notes; reporters will figure out what’s going on and your positive story will turn negative quickly.

2. Offer an exclusive. There’s nothing wrong with offering reporters an exclusive, and many journalists still value getting the first (and perhaps only) chance to report on something. Exclusives can be a good way to take a solid news story and get a bigger bang out of it. It’s also a good way to get coverage from news organizations publication that demand longer lead times (as many weeklies and magazines do). Be warned, that if you deal with a number of competing journalists regularly, you may get complaints about this. But it’s OK — journalists never complain about being offered exclusives, just when they’re offered to a competitor. So if you use this technique be prepared to spread it around a bit over time.

3. Write a strong news release. PR does not stand for “press release,” but good, newsy releases still generate plenty of publicity every day. (And many poorly written, no-news releases end up reporters’ trash.) Want to make sure your release turns into a story? Think like a journalist and make sure you include the following elements:

  • A clear, strong headline.
  • A straightforward lead (the first paragraph) that uses strong language and tells the reader what the news is.
  • A “nut graf” (usually the second or third paragraph) that explains why this news is important and why people should care about it. Remember that news outlets will ask themselves why their audiences should care, so make sure you answer that question.

4. Use an infographic as a news release. These will take some time and graphic design talent to pull together, but a good infographic could have a lot of appeal to reporters looking for something different.

5. Answer questions you’re not asked in an interview. Let’s say you land a media interview with one of these tactics. Not only can you use that interview to provide information and context about the news, but you can also plant a seed for another story. An interview is a great time to pitch another story. Be sure that whatever you might pitch is different enough from the topic at hand that you it won’t end up being included in the story the reporter is already working on. Also make sure you’re ready to follow-up. Here’s how that exchange might work:

Reporter: Well, I guess that’s all of my questions. Is there anything else I should know?

You: Not about this story, but we do have something interesting coming up in a couple weeks … if you’re interested. (Applying a bit of a soft sell here.)

Reporter: Oh, really? What is it?

You: We’re getting ready to  … (and you launch into your pitch)

What other “traditional” PR tactics have you used to successfully get news coverage for your company, cause or organization? Please share in the comments below.

P.S. If you enjoy this kind of practical information about public relations and marketing, you might want to sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get free updates from the blog, plus additional tips, ideas and resources that I don’t publish here on MarkTzk.com.

50 ideas for grabbing the media’s attention: Get creative! [PART 6]

This is part six of a seven-part series on earning the media’s attention and winning the coverage you want. Here are parts one, two, three, four and five in case you missed them.

Virtually every piece of career advice I read for PR pros says that creativity is an essential part of the job. Given the volume of less-than-creative news releases and pitches that go out everyday, sometimes I wonder how many of my colleagues are really exercising their creative muscles.

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But the career advice is correct: Creativity is an essential part of public relations. And by being creative with the way you approach the media, you can land positive coverage for your company, yourself or your cause. Read on for a dozen ideas.

1. Tie in to the pop culture news of the day. For example, if a celebrity life receives a lot of coverage for something — bankruptcy, illness, the birth of a new child — ask yourself if you can add a local news angle to that. Financial advisors and accounts could say what advice they would offer to the celebrity with financial problems. Doctors, mid-wives and even a baby retailer can find angles to capitalize on a celebrity birth. The possibilities are endless if you’re alert and creative.

2. Do something charitable. Volunteer: Head up a fund drive for a worthy cause or take on a worthy cause as your own. Then seek publicity for the cause. You’ll benefit by association. One local law firm I know of got glowing coverage in part because the partners told a reporter about how they took six weeks off to travel to India and help in recovery efforts after the devastating 2004 tsunami. True, your charitable activities ought to reflect authentic beliefs and values. But if you or your company is already doing this work you should consider spreading the word. Remember this kind of coverage could also helps support the charitable cause.

3. Find out what your employees are doing that’s charitable and pitch those activities and individuals to the media. To ensure your company gets in the story (and make those employees even happier) you could even support those activities by matching their personal donations or making at least a portion of their volunteer time paid leave. Remember, lots of companies participate in the United Way, so it’ll take a bit more creativity than simply announcing you’ve achieved your annual goal. But often you’ll find an individual, cause or activity that is interesting and different enough to attract media coverage. Even if your company isn’t mentioned, such coverage is often encouraging and empowering for employees, helping them feel good about their company and motivating them.

4. Do something interesting or entertaining. Have an interesting or unusual hobby? Have you traveled somewhere exotic recently? Pitch stories about that. While the resulting coverage probably won’t focus on your business, you and your company could get some attention and exposure out of it. I know one local businessman who is passionate about Civil War re-enactments. That could be leveraged for positive media coverage.

5. Respond to competitors’ announcements. Many companies are reluctant to react to other companies business moves, especially those of competitors. But the rarity of such responses makes them a draw for reporters. If you’re the industry leader, you may not want to do this, but it could be a good tactic for other companies, especially upstarts looking to upset an industry’s status quo. Here’s an example of how one CEO did this, taken from David Meerman Scott’s excellent book Newsjacking (which, by the way, has all sorts of creative ideas for winning news coverage).

6. Run a contest or promotion with a charitable angle. Maybe you’re offering a percentage of sales to a local charity for a period? Let the media know.

7. Head up a civic initiative. If you’re involved with a local civic group or public-private board and that group is advancing a major initiative, be visible in that effort. Talk about it with the media — and with other influencers. You’re likely to land at least a little coverage (often in a positive context), and you might even get a reporter interested in a profile focused on you.

8. Hold an event for the community. Can you put on a carnival, fair or some kind of event for the local community? Do that and you’ve got a good chance of getting local media to show up and, in the process, get some coverage. (And the event itself will give you opportunities to market directly to potential customers.)

9. Create a photo opp. Sometimes the best stories are told in pictures — unusual events, rare happenings, or simply something that’s fun and out of the ordinary. Notify TV stations and the photo editor of the local paper that there’s a good visual to be had.

10. Create case studies and customer stories. Maybe the real story is not about you, but about a customer and (not so incidentally) how your company/product/service helped that customer in some interesting, important way. Write those up, get buy-in from the customer and then publish them online and use them as news pitch topics. If you’re using any of the techniques I mentioned in “Part 4 — Create your own media,” this will also fit in nicely with that. If your customer is willing (and many will be), you could offer them to reporters as sources/interviews.

11. Instead of pitching what your business sells, pitch how your business operates. Most companies default to seeking media coverage about their products and services. However, reporters are often interested in stories about different or unusual ways that companies operate. If you have many telecommuters, funky and creative office space or have implemented of ROWE, pitch those angles. Anything that’s different about how your company operates could be a hook for a positive story. Note that these differences must be clear and concrete to outsiders. Saying you have corporate values that differentiate you from competitors is probably not going to impress a reporter; telling reporters that your company offers unlimited vacation time (as Netflix does) probably will.

12. Offer reporters a behind-the-scenes look. Provide tours of manufacturing areas or an insider’s tour as construction is being finished on a new building where many people will work. Instead of waiting for the day when everything is final, give journalists a sneak peek. This kind of look behind the curtain can also help you build positive relationships with reporters that will result in better coverage down the road.

What creative tactics have you used, or seen others use, to get media coverage? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Coming next: Harness traditional media relations tools. Sign up for my email list to make sure you don’t miss any of the posts in this seven-part series.

50 ideas for grabbing the media’s attention: Steal story ideas from reporters [PART 5]

This is part five of a seven-part series on earning the media’s attention and getting the coverage you want. Here are parts one, two, three and four in case you missed them.

Probably the toughest part of earning good coverage is predicting what story topics your targeted media outlets are actually interested. In a perfect world it would be simple — you’d get your story ideas from reporters, editors and producers themselves and then tailor your pitches to match those ideas.

Stealing story ideas for publicity is OK.

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We don’t live in a perfect world, but you can find out exactly what kinds of subjects and story ideas many news outlets and journalists are interested in — while they’re still looking for sources. Easy, right? Well, you’re still going to have to work at getting the coverage, but the six techniques below should give you a head start.

1. Nominate individuals (and your company) for lists and rankings published by the media. There are lots of possibilities. A few examples:

  • Weekly business journal lists and awards – 40 Under 40, Women in Business, industry rankings and more.
  • State business magazine rankings, such as top lawyer or top doctor.
  • National lists in your industry trade publications, or national business lists like Inc.’s Inc. 500 ranking.
  • Local weeklies’ lists of best pizza place, gym or whatever. These sometimes are determined by popular vote, but you can campaign for your business.

2. Get publication editorial calendars. Not all publications have them, but business publications and trade publications often do. You can pitch editors and reporters based on the topics outlined on their editorial calendars. Among outlets that have them, most editorial calendars are published in the fourth quarter or early first quarter. They can usually be downloaded from the website or obtained by calling the advertising sales department. It’s important to find out what publication deadlines are so you know when to pitch ideas for these issues, so make sure you know your target media[link to first post in series]. Also note that some publications will change their editorial calendars over the course of the year, so it’s useful to check in from time to time and see if there have been any updates.

3. Subscribe to HARO and (if you can afford it) Profnet. Both services send multiple daily emails filled with reporters’ requests for sources on various topics. It only takes a few minutes a day to scan these emails and respond to relevant story ideas. It’s important to follow the rules of these services and not use them to harvest reporter email addresses or spam them with irrelevant pitches. That will earn you the enmity of journalists and may get you banned from receiving these emails. Both services also have Twitter accounts where they post urgent media queries – @helpareporterout and @profnet.

4. Take local stories and make them national. You can take interesting stories happening in your local market, add a pinch of commentary and sprinkle on some national statistics and then pitch them to national media. The key is to find local stories that are part of a national trend.

5. Take national stories and make them local. You can also take an interesting national story, such as a piece that’s appeared in a high-profile national outlet such as USA Today or on CNN, and localize it. By doing a little footwork to come up with local examples of the trend, you can package up a story that local reporters may find very attractive. Here again the key is to have some perspective or analysis of your own to add.

6. Pitch year-in-review perspectives on your industry to key reporters. Many publications already do some form of this story, so be proactive in making yourself available as an expert source and providing data and anecdotes to help flesh out the story.

Have other ways of getting your story ideas directly from news outlets? Please share it in the comments below.

Coming next: Get creative! Sign up for the email list to make sure you don’t miss any of the posts in this seven-part series.

50 ideas for grabbing the media’s attention: Create your own media [PART 4]

This is part four of an seven-part series on earning the media’s attention and getting the coverage you want. Here are parts one, two and three in case you missed them.

Social media expert Chris Brogan, PR authority David Scott Meerman and others have said that in an era of blogging, social media and email marketing, all companies are media companies. Usually they apply that in the context of publishing content, especially online, that can earn the attention of potential customers and help convert prospects and leads to sales.

Make your own media - printing press plates

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But by becoming a mini media company – through blogging and other tactics – companies and organizations can also get media attention and earn positive news coverage. As a bonus, many of these can do double-duty as mailings to clients and

prospects or fodder for content marketing efforts. Here are five specific tactics for getting the coverage you deserve:

1. Write an article or op-ed piece that a publication could run on its own. Many outlets run pieces written by outside sources, including industry experts and executives. Here are three tips to get you started:

  1. Pitch your idea and get the go-ahead from an editor first. Don’t waste time writing something you can’t place. Sometimes an editor may ask you to submit something before making a decision, but if possible get commitment to run the piece first.
  2. Write in a newsy, plain-English style. Avoid industry jargon, drop the highly technical language (unless you’re writing for a technical publication), and skip the formal, corporate tone.
  3. Offer newsworthy, interesting content that is not blatantly self promotional. It may, however, promote a view of your industry or a view of customers’ problems that is in line with the products or services your company offers.

2. Write guest posts for blogs. As the lines between mainstream traditional media and new media (everything from the Huffington Post to local blogs) blur, guest posting can be an excellent strategy to get coverage. Not only do you get readers directly from those blogs, but mainstream reporters may follow-up with you as a source since you’ve established yourself as a credible expert on a topic.

3. Administer a survey (it may or may not be associated with your business). Then announce the survey results to relevant reporters. Surveys are popular fodder for stories, and journalists will usually, at least, cite the sponsor of the survey. The survey should be credible, but it doesn’t have to be the most scientifically rigorous study ever produced to be interesting and newsworthy.

4. Write a letter to the editor.  Sometimes when you want your voice heard in an important debate or discussion in your industry, writing a letter to the editor is a good way to get your view across. This is not a place to idly pontificate on an issue. But if you or your company has a specific viewpoint or position that you want heard, this can be a very effective tactic to get in the media. The key is to be brief, persuasive and have an opinion. Because publications are often sensitive to companies using letters to the editor as a promotional tactic, you must have something authentic to say and you must avoid anything that reeks of self promotion.

5. Record short videos, post them online and send the links to journalists. Just as with blogging, a short video can be effective in making your voice heard on specific topics and issues, and allowing journalists to hear your positions on them. This is can be an especially effective tactic if you’re targeting broadcast media that will be interested in how you come across visually and how you sound. This doesn’t mean your video has to be broadcast quality, but paying attention to lighting and sound will improve the quality.

Have questions about how to create your own media? Want to add another tactic or have a resource to suggest? Please share it in the comments below.

Coming next: Get story ideas from the media. Sign up for the email list to make sure you don’t miss any of the posts in this seven-part series.

50 ideas for grabbing the media’s attention: Be the expert [PART 3]

This is part three of an seven-part series on earning the media’s attention and getting the coverage you want. Read part one here and part two here.

Expert territory sign

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One of the most powerful media relations strategies I know is to become the quotable expert that reporters turn to when they need a comment, perspective or analysis on something going on in your industry or on a particular topic. One campaign I launched and helped run at RLF Communications harnessed this strategy to put a company spokesperson on national television and in national print publications. It resulted in thousands of new business leads for the company.

This strategy makes some people nervous – they don’t want to put themselves out there or worry they’ll be say something that will make them look stupid in front of their peers. But with preparation, and by being careful with the reporter, you can mostly avoid these risks.

The pay off can be huge: lots of media coverage, a positive relationship with reporters, and a position as an expert in your field that can translate into more effective sales and marketing efforts, and more credibility with any audience.

Here are eight actions you can take to establish yourself, your organization or your company’s leaders as experts in a particular topic or industry.

1. Be the quotable expert. Let reporters who cover your company or your industry know that you (or your CEO or another spokesperson) is an expert who is willing and able to comment on industry trends, stories in the news related to the industry and the like. Then return media calls in a timely way to help reporters meet their deadlines.

2. Create an experts guide full of company executives who are prepared to speak on a variety of topics. For many companies and organizations there will be a variety of executives or key employees with knowledge about different topics (imagine a physician’s practice with multiple specialties or a tech company with both B2B and B2C divisions). Create an expert’s guide that outlines who these experts are, what their qualifications are and what topics they can speak on. Provide one point of contact to help journalists quickly reach the experts they need on deadline. Many organizations have transitioned to online-only experts guides in recent years, but I still think there’s value in printing something that will be memorable when it hits desks in a newsroom.

 3. Give reporters story ideas, even if they don’t benefit you directly. Chances are, as someone who’s actually in your industry, you’re closer to the trends and issues your industry is facing. Be the first to tell reporters covering your industry about these, and you’ll likely be among the first sources quoted.

4. Join publication advisory boards. Many trade publications have editorial boards or advisory boards that include industry experts. Reach out to the editor or publisher, ask how people get on those boards and explain your interest. Editorial board or advisory board members are frequently tapped as expert sources for stories. These positions can also boost credibility on your résumé, bio and website.

5. Blog about your industry or field. Blog about industry trends, ideas and statistics; provide your perspective; offer useful tips and advice. And then, once you have a couple dozen posts up and you’ve established a comfortable rhythm, email reporters and invite them to subscribe to the blog.

6. Create white papers, studies or issue briefings and send those to reporters. One or two interesting conclusions, or some key industry facts and statistics, is all it takes to get interest from reporters covering a particular beat, and get you or your company cited as the source.

7. Help educate reporters. You can put together a half day or day-long program, pull together speakers (both from your company and allied businesses), and offer several hours of educational content to help reporters better understand the topics they are covering. There is a good chance that at the end of the day reporters will walk away with story ideas, quotes from you and your business card. You could even do this virtually, and with a smaller time commitment, via a free webinar or conference call. If you’re going to aim for a lengthier program (several hours) it’s probably worth trying to partner with a professional journalism organization or ensuring you’ve got enough credibility and influence to engage busy reporters for that length of time. If you’ve never done this before, start with a short one-hour webinar or teleconference over lunch.

8. Speak at an industry events. Not only can you pitch that to media that cover your industry, some events will attract media attention so your speech can land in the headlines. You can sprinkle your speech or presentation with some nuggets — statistics your organization has collected, for example — to make your comments even more newsworthy.

Have questions about how to establish yourself as an expert? Want to add another tip? Please leave a comment below. I read every single comment.

Coming next: Create your own media. Sign up for my email list to make sure you don’t miss any of the posts in this seven-part series.

50 ideas for grabbing the media’s attention: Networking for coverage [PART 2]

This is part two of a seven-part series on earning the media’s attention and getting the coverage you want. If you missed it, read part one here.

In many ways, cultivating relationships with reporters and other journalists is just like networking with peers, prospects and influencers in any industry. It requires a consistent effort over time, but can pay off with good coverage.

Here are six networking tactics worth trying to build relationships with media professionals.

1. Have get-to-know-you meetings with reporters. Have coffee, breakfast or lunch with reporters on your beat. Ask them lots of questions. Tell them a bit about you and your business. Offer to be a source and give them your business card. One tip – bring at least one solid story idea to this meeting, in case the reporter asks. This is a soft-sell approach, but often more effective than a hard sell on a specific story idea.

Networking photo

CC-licensed photo by {a title="Jodi Womack's Flickr page" href="http://www.flickr.com/people/jodiwomack/" target="_blank"}Jodi Womack{/a}

2. Meet with reporters while traveling. Have a business with a statewide, regional or national footprint? Reach out to reporters who cover your industry in the cities where you’re traveling and ask if you could have coffee with them or even stop by their offices while you’re in town. Be prepared to offer something relevant to them. They may not care about what’s happening at your corporate headquarters hundreds of miles away, but if you can make a case for significant local impact you can get coverage.

3. Build relationships based on your civic and political knowledge. If you’re well connected in political, civic or volunteer circles in your community, you might consider building relationships with reporters based on that knowledge. That could include offering them off-the-record tips on stories they should be covering and sources they could be talking to. Though none of those things themselves may bring your business or organization coverage, chances are it will build the relationship and create opportunities to pitch more on-target stories. And because the journalists will have grown to appreciate your help with other things, they are more likely to respond to those ideas.

4. Let your professional contacts know you’re available for media inquiries. If they get inquiries from the media that they can’t respond to (or don’t want to), tell them you’d be happy if they referred reporters to you.

5. Follow reporters on Twitter and link to them on LinkedIn. You can search those sites for questions from your journalism connections, and then chime in to answer them (and become a source). You could even put it right on your profile (in your LinkedIn headline or your Twitter profile) that you are available to answer questions from the media. Muckrack.com is a great resource to find reporters by geography or beat on Twitter. (Having trouble getting reporters to follow you back on Twitter? You might be doing it wrong.)

6. Connect with journalism professional groups. I can think of at least two professional societies devoted to business journalism, plus others devoted to health care journalism, religion news, government news, nonprofits and more. If your business intersects with any of these areas, consider making arrangements to attend one of their events to network. You might also find ways to offer a webinar or teleconference to members, to position yourself as the go-to expert for member reporters. This site, hosted by Arizona State University, includes a list of journalism groups.

If you’ve got other networking and relationship-building tips for connecting with journalists, we’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments below.

Coming next: Want specific tactics on how to establish yourself as an expert with journalists? That’s coming up next, so click here to sign up for email updates. Make sure you don’t miss it!

50 tips and ideas to grab the media’s attention and get the publicity you want [PART 1]

Media relations photo - man being interviewed

CC-licensed photo by {a title="TimothyJ's flickr page" href="http://www.flickr.com/people/tjc/" target="_blank"}TimothyJ{/a}.

I spent more than a decade as a journalist, working as newspaper reporter, business editor and freelancer. Over the course of that time I saw public relations representatives try dozens of different tactics to get the publicity they wanted for their companies and organizations.

I now have spent almost as long − eight-plus years working in PR and marketing. That includes stints as a freelance consultant, as head of communications for a nonprofit and, now, leading accounts at a PR and marketing agency.

In my public relations career I’ve helped clients land in hundreds, if not thousands, of newspaper articles, TV appearances and magazine stories. That includes everything from top-tier national media (think Fortune magazine, USA Today, Time magazine and more) to bloggers, local publications and trade magazines.

So I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to earning media coverage. And when it comes to tactics to attract journalists’ attention, I’ve got a pretty lengthy list. Over the next couple of weeks I will publish a series of blog posts offering tips, ideas and resources that could help virtually any person, business or organization get media coverage.

For most public relations professionals, as well as the business owners, marketers and others trying to do media relations, the problem isn’t fending off negative media coverage. The challenge is getting any attention at all from journalists.

Reporters, producers and editors, in turn, are overwhelmed with pitches and news releases that, too often, simply aren’t relevant to them or aren’t newsworthy.

This series of seven blog posts aims to help bridge that gap.

Today, we start out with some critical media relations basics.

Media relations basics

1. Read, watch and listen to the media. If you’re not paying attention to the news media, how can you expect them to pay attention to you? Know what they’ve covered recently, what they haven’t covered recently and what they usually cover this time of year. By paying attention to your target media you’ll also get a sense of what kinds of subjects they consider newsworthy.

2. Understand your media. If you’ve been consuming your target media, then this should come easily. Still, it’s worth some conscious thought. Different media outlets behave different and have different ideas about newsworthiness. Trade publications don’t function the same way (or with the same budget) as the Wall Street Journal. Local media tend to be focused on stories with clear local angles, whereas national media are usually interested in topics that will have national appeal. TV stations need video to accompany their stories; radio stations look for audio; print publications run photos.

3. Know who’s who. Know which reporters cover which beat, who dishes out assignments, which editors are in charge of which sections. Also make sure you understand the role other media company executives and employees – publishers, general managers, ad sales reps and the like – play in editorial decision making. In larger and more mainstream media, newsroom staffers make most of the newsroom decisions. In smaller publications and trade publications, these lines may be blurred more. But journalists will usually appreciate it if you go to them for news decisions first. Asking a publisher to intervene on your behalf can sometimes get you the short-term results you want, but it may sour your relationships with the journalists in the long term, so be careful.

4. Know publication deadlines. The rhythms of any news organization are dictated by its deadlines. For example:

  • A weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine have very different deadlines. Big monthly consumer magazines often work months in advance (which means they may be writing Christmas-focused stories in July).
  • Daily papers are mostly focused on tomorrow’s paper, but Sunday stories are often planned weeks in advance, and some Sunday newspaper sections may be printed on Friday.
  • TV stations and radio stations typically have several broadcasts a day.

When journalists are on deadline, they probably won’t want to hear from you unless you have urgent, breaking news. You also need to make sure you get your story ideas to reporters, producers and editors far enough in advance of their deadlines that they have time to plan for coverage.

5. Respond quickly. Sometimes the journalists come to you, via phone or email or even at an event. When this happens, act fast. You may not want, or be able, to respond to every single inquiry, but you should always let a reporter know as soon as possible whether you can help. If you don’t respond in a timely way, not only do you lose out on an opportunity for coverage, but you could give a reporter the impression you’re not interested in news coverage of any kind.

6. Understand news value. This is probably the single biggest mistake I see in media relations efforts. Many things that are important to your organization, your bosses or clients, or even your industry, may not be important in the eyes of the news media. How do you make sure your idea is really newsworthy?

  • Put yourself in the shoes of the journalist you’ll be approaching (imagine that person as a bit cynical and skeptical, not fawning and positive) and ask yourself if, “among all the story ideas that journalist will see today, would my story make the cut?”
  • If you saw the same story your proposing, but about a competitor instead of your company, would you think it was interesting and newsworthy? If your honest, objective answer is ‘yes’ then you may have a good idea.
  • Assuming you’ve been paying attention to your target media (No. 1 above), ask yourself if you’ve seen this kind of story before. If you’re pitching a profile of your CEO, has this media outlet run profiles of other business executives?

7. Keep at it. Although I’ve talked to lots of clients that believe that a single news release, story pitch or meeting with a journalist should magically produce glowing, front-page coverage, this rarely happens. Effective media relations is a long-term process that has an impact over a period of months or years. So keep at it.

Have questions about these media relations basics? Want to add something more to the list? Please chime in in the comments below.

Coming next: Networking for news coverage. This was the first of seven blog posts in this series. Sign up for my email list (via the form on the right side of the page, toward the top) to make sure you don’t miss any of these posts.