In our previous blog, “5 Factors That Make It Harder to Break Into National Business Media,” we discussed some of the challenges to getting ink in the national business media.
In this article, we will talk about three tips to successfully getting the media’s attention.
- Understand the mission of the media outlet you’re pitching. Forbes, Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek may seem similar but they are very different. Forbes is interested in investing opportunities and providing contrarian perspectives. Fortune is interested in management (as opposed to investing though it does publish investing-specific issues) and Bloomberg Businessweek provides more of a news snapshot of the world as it affects business. Pitching a Bloomberg reporter on a company as an investment opportunity won’t work — just as you have to expect a Forbes reporter to ask about a company’s valuation even if that’s not directly relevant to the story.
- Study the sections and opportunities that each media outlet offers. Each newspaper, magazine and website has different sections and columns. And each section or column offers a different path into coverage. For example, the Wall St. Journal has sections for Chief Information Officers and another for Chief Marketing Officers. There could be a way to tell a client’s story through the eyes of its CIO that might be very different from the CMO’s. There’s a Journal columnist who handles work-and-family issues, and your client may have a story there. Fast Company has a section in which executives can offer something — an app, a book, etc. — that they highly recommend. And various publications offer a look at an executive’s interesting office. We look at all those sections for ways to get our clients considered.
- Get to know the reporters and how they approach their articles. Too often publicists, who are juggling many tasks, pitch based on media lists assembled by a database. These databases are helpful in tracking down contact info and background. But they are often not-quite-accurate. Reporters move around a lot these days, so we’ve seen a Washington Post reporter still listed as working for the Wall St. Journal — six months after she joined the Post. We’ve seen reporters listed as covering one topic when they shifted beats. And sometimes the coverage details are broad enough to not be useful. It’s important to learn what reporters cover and how they cover it. A reporter will cover news differently from a columnist. It’s not enough to respond to a single story; too often it might be a one-off story that’s not relevant to the reporter’s regular coverage. We look at several weeks’ worth of coverage and what they post on social media to get a sense of their approach and interest before we pitch. And then we look at the elements that are frequently included in their articles so that we can make sure to offer up those elements, too.
- Look for alternative ways in. For one client, we played up the CEO’s racecar-driving hobby to secure local coverage, and we got a good response from a Forbes editor who shares racecar driving as a hobby (though that did not lead directly to coverage). That’s something we ask of new client teams. For another client, we recommended the CEO post comments to articles published online by the company’s key trade magazine as a way to engage with its community. In one case, the publication contacted him to ask if he would give permission to use his comment as a letter to the editor. Of he said yes, and we got a double hit in the print edition.
Be creative get the reporter’s attention. Look, this is from a while ago but a former colleague recently posted about this on LinkedIn, and it brought back memories. On behalf of RIM, we were trying to get attention of then BusinessWeek tech columnist, Stephen Wildstrom, to review a new product: The BlackBerry pager that offered email; one of the first portable email device available at the time. The question was: how to get Wildstrom’s attention for a then-unknown startup launching a new product to compete against the Goliath of the day, Palm as it prepared to launch its Palm VII. My solution: I emailed WIldstrom several times during my commute home, always pointing out that I was emailing him while on the MBTA. After a couple of those commuting-time emails, WIldstrom requested review copies of the pager. The result: a terrific headline: “Close to Perfect Pocket E-Mail.” For Stephanie Mehta, then a Journal reporter (who then went to Forbes and is now the editor at Fast Company) we pitched a story about the sector based on BlackBerry: “For Paging Industry, a Bet on Two-Way Gadgets.”
By the way, as a side note, back in those days, people on the T spent their commuting time either reading a newspaper, magazine or book. I was something in a pioneer — taking the blame here — for spending my commute time by staring at a device. These days, we look for other creative ways to get a reporter’s attention. (We’d be happy to provide more recent case studies.)
- Make sure the pitch is relevant to the readers. This might seem obvious but sometimes agencies and their clients forget about this. They’re excited to pitch good news about the client that they forget that the news may not, by itself, interest readers. A Fortune reporter once said, “That’s good news for your client but for readers who don’t follow your client or their sector, there’s not much of a reason for them to stop and read my article about them.” So we always look for how our clients’ news fits in to what the reporter and his/her readers or viewers are interested in. What do the readers (or viewers) want or need to know? Another question we ask: why should the reporter or reader care about this story now (as opposed to six months from now)?
- Leverage interest in timely news via “newsjacking.” Newsjacking is a term that means taking advantage of a current events or news to communicate your brand’s message or your subject-matter expertise. Most news events are probably not appropriate so you have to look for a natural connection, and move quickly. For one adoption nonprofit, during the Ebola crisis we advised their PR consultant on pitching the media to help tell how the charity was helping to get children out of infected areas. Another way to newsjack goes back to the BlackBerry days: we contacted reporters we were sure to cover the Palm VII launch with a detailed fact sheet that compared the BlackBerry to the known features of the pre-launch Palm VII. More recently, we did something similar for a startup client’s digital compression technology ahead of a soon-to-launched competitive solution from a much-larger company. In most cases, what you want to do is become a resource for reporters, to be someone who can provide reliable insight into a situation.
- Use social media to work with reporters. We want to be careful about suggesting alternative ways to contact reporters, like using social media. Once, a reporter contacted us via Twitter to conduct an interview, and that was fine, but the reporter contacted us. Another time, we were trying to figure out the reporter of an Economist article on artificial intelligence for a client of ours. The Economist does not use bylines so we could not tell who had written a particular article; by searching for the article on Twitter, we identified the reporter, and then contacted him by email. We did not want to try to insert ourselves into a conversation with that reporter or to contact him directly on Twitter without any introduction. Contacting him the regular way helped us secure an interview for the client and did not alienate the reporter by being too aggressive. (Keep in mind one the key rules of social media: don’t be creepy.)
- Think like a reporter. We look at clients and the stories they tell, and try to think like a reporter would, if encountering the client for the first time. It means taking an objective look at the organization, and asking, “Is this a story? Or is it a blog post?” Blog posts are valuable; they can help with SEO and drive traffic to your website to find out more about what you do. As a reporter, you’re looking for something that will engage people outside the company, that tells a story readers didn’t know, provides insight into something relevant to the consumers of that media outlet. That also means thinking through what a reporter will need to tell a compelling story — what are the elements. For example, when pitching an NPR reporter, keep in mind they like natural sound so you need to give the reporter a sense if they can capture interesting/unusual sounds. Once you think like a reporter, you’ll be better able to develop and pitch them a story that will work for them — and you.