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.

Five ways to guarantee journalists will reject or ignore your story pitch

I work in public relations and marketing, but spent about a decade as a journalist — newspaper reporter, newspaper editor and freelancer. As such, I have been on the receiving end of lots of story pitches from PR people. That’s experience I now put to work on behalf of clients.

Here are five ways to pretty much guarantee that you won’t get news coverage from the media.

1. Call or email when the journalist is on deadline. Unless you’ve got a huge breaking news story – like a giant corporate merger, for example – calling a journalists when they’re on deadline is a sure way to get rejected. A couple of tips for avoiding this:

  • On phone calls, start by asking if the journalist has a minute or two. If he or she is on deadline, you’ll find out.
  • Know the deadlines of the media you’re pitching. Morning newspapers are deadline in from mid-to-late afternoon. Weekly papers usually have one day where they’re on deadline. TV broadcasters have to hit deadlines for each of their daily broadcasts. Avoid these times.

2. React slowly. When a journalist does express interest, respond fast. Reporters have real deadlines that they must meet; if you don’t help them meet those deadlines by responding in a timely way, they’ll find someone else who will. And often, once that deadline has passed, your chance for coverage may have passed, too.

3. Contact the top editor or producer. Most of the time, the top editor or producer is not who you need to pitch to. Figure out who the beat reporter, assignment editor or bureau chief is who is most likely to be the one who will actually make a decision on whether your pitch is a story for the news outlet. For small news outlets, the top editor or news director may indeed be the right person to pitch, but for most outlets, it’s not.

4. Bait and switch. Imply something is available – previously unreleased financial data, a high profile interview subject – and, once a journalist has expressed interest in the story, tell that person that something isn’t available. Most journalists can and will walk away; once they go away, so does your chance for publicity.

5. Emphasize your publicity needs over the news outlet’s news values. Whether you agree with their approach or not, most news outlets are focused on certain news values – local interest, a particular kind of news (business, lifestyle, politics, etc.), timeliness, strong personalities in their stories. Since you need the news outlet’s cooperation to get the coverage you’re seeking, know the media’s needs and look for ways to meet those needs. These news values widely from outlet to outlet, so the pitch to The New York Times should be different than the pitch to a trade journal or a local TV station.

Of course not doing these things is no guarantee that you’ll get coverage. In the United States, at least, there are fewer journalists and more PR people than ever before, which means even with a well-crafted, on-target pitch, it’s still tough to get a response from busy news people. But I can guarantee you that avoiding these five bad practices will put you a step ahead of many publicists.

What are your top do’s and don’ts when pitching stories? Please share in the comments.