Selling Your Story — Media Relations Yays and Nays

It’s important to us at Vanguard to keep learning about what’s happening in our industry and continually improve our skills to better serve our clients. We recently attended a Public Relations Society of America webinar on media relations tips. This was a good refresher on media relations best practices, so we’ve pulled out a few key takeaways from the session.

  1. To pitch or not to pitch

Before you start writing or calling your contacts, do a check of your story. Is it newsworthy? Run your story through this checklist to find out:

  • Timing – Is there news breaking that makes the story important now?
  • Proximity – Is the story about an event or topic that hits close to home — either geographically or emotionally?
  • Prominence – Is someone famous involved?
  • Unusual/Interesting/Human Interest – Will this appeal to people’s emotions?

If the answer is yes, you may pass go. If the answer is no, wait another round.

  1. Know your audience

Always think about who the audience is for your story and pitch the outlets they’ll be reading or watching. There’s no point pitching The New York Times if your story is about a local children’s event in Panguitch, Utah.

E.g.: If you want to get the attention of business leaders, pitch trade publications and business journals. If you want the general community to hear about it, pitch mainstream outlets or try to get your client on the evening news.

  1. Switch between being a source and resource

If you’re working with a client who operates in a very niche field that only a small pool of reporters covers, work at positioning yourself as a source to those reporters. You want to establish that you work with experts in that field and can help support reporters when they need sources for information or quotes.

But don’t pigeonhole yourself into just being a source. Start representing yourself as a resource as well. It’s a good long-term strategy that will position you beyond one specific organization or client.

E.g.: If your clients work in different health topics — e.g., obesity, mental health and food safety — you should try to position yourself as a resource for reporters to tap into whenever they’re working something health-related. This means that when news on any of these stories break, you reach out to the journalist saying you have experts who are available to speak on this subject. Some journalists enjoy adding to their resource list prior to breaking news so they have experts to call on when they’re on deadline. Reach out to them beforehand letting them know you can support them in a number of ways.

  1. Respect the deadline

You nailed your pitch, the reporter’s interested; the next step is to go to your client, right? Wrong.

Before you even pitch your story, make sure your client is available to do interviews. Then, if the reporter’s interested, ask what their deadline is to get the information before you go back to your client. This way, you don’t have a situation where the reporter needs the information in the next two hours and your client doesn’t get back to you for three.

Keep reporters’ schedules in mind when you pitch them. Most news organizations have daily editorial meetings at 8 or 9 a.m. Want your story to make it to their meeting? Pitch after the last news of the day, and before the first. This means you might have to pitch later at night or really early in the morning, so your pitch isn’t lost in the pile of emails that come in during peak news times.

  1. Keep it simple

From the publicist’s end, this means keeping your pitches to reporters short: no more than a few short (there’s that magic word, again) paragraphs. Have a gripping subject line, and spell out the key story points in the first line or two.

From your client’s end, prep them to stick to the basics in their interviews. We all want that 2,000-word feature, but shorter stories are the reality these days. Make sure your client knows their talking points and can communicate them in a few sentences or if they’re on TV, 20- to 30-second sound bites. Remember: It’s better to tell part of the story than no story at all.

  1. Practice makes perfect

Interviews are difficult, and not everyone can do them well. If you anticipate your client being interviewed a lot, give them media training. It’ll be well worth their time and yours.

Always let the most well-spoken AND well-prepared person in the department give the interview. Practice the questions with them, but not so much that their answers seem rote. Your rehearsals should be more about identifying your talking points than memorizing the answers.

  1. A picture is worth a thousand words

It’s no secret that news organizations are slashing budgets. This means fewer resources to cover events. If you have an event coming up that will have particularly great visuals, offer to send photos to the media outlets. Offering photography might help you get your foot in the door. And while sharing the photos, don’t send huge files as attachments. Use share services like Dropbox or WeTransfer. Never attach anything without permission. Some places have filters that automatically send attachments to the trash. Don’t let your email end up in the junk graveyard.

  1. Accept reality

Reality bites. Sometimes you might have everything going for you — a newsworthy pitch, an interested reporter, an interview all lined up — and just when you think you’re at the finish line, a huge news story breaks. It’s all hands on deck in a newsroom when that happens and non-breaking news stories get pushed to the back burner or even worse, cut from the lineup. It’s hard when that happens. But be gracious about it. Thank the reporter for considering your client (but don’t call them to be gracious in the middle of the breaking news story) and say you hope to work with them in the future.

Just because the timing didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean it never will. Think of it as the beginning of a beautiful relationship.