You have an awesome company. You “know” there’s a story there, one that will excite reporters and the publications they write for. So you type up a press release about your awesome company, send it out, sit back, and wait for the phone to ring. The thing is, it never does. What happened? What went wrong?
Getting a reporter’s attention involves more than simply issuing a press release about how awesome your company is. There’s an art to effectively pitching story ideas to the media, and in this post, we’ll give you tips on doing just that.
1. Make sure you have a strong hook. Your press release shouldn’t be a thinly veiled attempt for a free advertisement. Yes, you want positive exposure for your company, which is the whole reason you’re seeking press in the first place. But a reporter needs more—much more—than a release that regurgitates all of your company’s or product’s great features. That’s not news; that’s an ad.
So what makes for a good news hook? A good hook will be timely and relevant. It’s the reason why a reporter would want to run with the story, and it’s the reason why a reader would be interested in reading the complete article.
So, for example, let’s say you own an acupuncture practice. Now, let’s say allergy season is supposed to be especially bad this fall. You could pitch a health reporter on how complementary medicine, like acupuncture, Reiki, and massage, can help alleviate allergy symptoms without the nasty side effects that drugs have. You’d also let the reporter know that if she has specific questions about acupuncture—for this article or a future one—you’d be happy to talk to her.
Do you see what happened there? You’ve offered a complete story idea based on a strong news hook: complementary medicine, like acupuncture, can safely and effectively combat seasonal allergies without drugs. You even suggested three areas for the reporter to investigate further: acupuncture, Reiki, and massage. Notice that this pitch didn’t involve writing an “official” press release. This brings us to our next point.
2. Think beyond a press release. While some editors still glance at a press release’s headline, many press releases end up unread in the circular file. Why? Because too many of them fail at the first point above: there’s no news hook. They simply are looking for free advertising under the cover of an official news story.
A better way to go is this: simply reach out to reporters via email with ideas for stories—ideas, of course, that are related to your industry. Make sure you’re familiar with the publication and its audience (you can easily glean this info by browsing some print or online issues). Send a personalized email with two to three succinct paragraphs. Introduce the story idea—make sure you have a strong hook—and explain how this story will be relevant and interesting to the reporter’s audience. Let the reporter know that if he or she is interested in the topic, you’d be happy to talk further and share your knowledge.
Note: yes, there are still times when sending out an official press release might make sense. Perhaps something happened within your company that is truly newsworthy, such as registering your one millionth customer or acquiring another business. Still, any press release you send to reporters should be accompanied by a short, personalized pitch via email. Need further help in understanding this distinction? Check out this article we wrote called When and How to Send a Press Release.
Now, you might be thinking: “Wait! I just email a reporter out of the blue?” Yes. You need to start somewhere. But the thing you need to remember is that gaining PR traction is a process, not a one-off task. This leads us to our next point.
3. Develop relationships with reporters who work your industry’s beat. The best way to get reporters to pay attention to you is by developing relationships with them. Start out by following relevant reporters who write about your industry. Focus on two to three you read regularly (you can certainly follow more if you want, but two to three is manageable, even for busy business owners). These days, most reporters are active on social media, so follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (here’s a great tip on how to engage with journalists on LinkedIn). Interact with them on these platforms: re-tweet their articles and leave insightful comments on their posts. You want them to become familiar with your name.
At some point, when you have a fabulous story pitch in mind, reach out to them via email. Introduce yourself, remind them of some of the comments you’ve left on their posts, and let them know that if they ever need a source to talk about X, Y, or Z, you’d be happy to take their call or provide answers via email.
Now here’s a key point that you should keep in mind: you might not get a response to this email. That’s OK. Continue what you’ve been doing. Continue to follow them on social media and to comment and re-tweet. Occasionally send them a story idea with a strong hook. Reporters are always on the lookout for compelling stories and reliable sources they can count on. Over time, and with some persistence, you’ll show the reporter that you’re all the things they’re looking for in an expert source: insightful, reliable, and persistent, without being obnoxious. Like any relationship, it takes time for this sort of trust to develop.
4. Be prompt and responsive. Once you’ve earned a reporter’s trust, it’s imperative that you honor this trust. That means being available—just like you said you’d be—whenever they need you. Reporters operate on tight deadlines, so when they call, take their calls or call them back right away if you were unable to answer. Provide them with numbers they can reach you at during off hours or on weekends.
5. Be respectful of their time. While we encourage you to interact with reporters on social media and to occasionally send a relevant story idea via email, you should avoid going overboard on either one of these tasks. Don’t spam or harass reporters or editors via social media or email. They will notice, and not for the right reasons.
6. Think beyond your industry. It’s always great to get media coverage within your industry. But getting exposure for your company or brand outside of your industry is also important. Again, go back to the concept of newsworthy hooks. Think about your company, your employees, and everything your company and employees do.
For example, maybe your company encourages employees to volunteer and you offer each employee two paid days off a year to do so. This could make a great feel-good feature piece in the local paper or a topic for the business section of a regional newspaper on how companies balance making money and giving back to their communities. Another idea: when employees get promotions, encourage them to send notices to their college alumni associations, which often publish those sorts of updates (another mention for your company—all good).
Another great place to look for opportunities is Help a Reporter Out (HARO). When you sign up (and yes, it’s free), you’ll receive two to three daily emails highlighting requests from reporters looking for expert sources. You then “pitch” the reporters with your expertise. If the reporter is interested, he or she may contact you or even quote you based on the information you include in your pitch (so when you respond to a query, make sure your response is on point, well written, clear, and accurate). HARO provides opportunities for you and your company to get exposure both within and outside your industry.
Have you had success pitching story ideas to the media? What strategies did you use? Share in the comments.