Pitching to busy media figures in various media environments

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By Leo Valiquette

Public relations, or, to be more exact, media relations for the purpose of getting a story told through some manner of media outlet, is a process that takes its cue from a basic tenet of marketing – understand who your potential customers are, what they want, and what they need.

Journalists want a good story that they believe is timely and relevant for their readers. But articulating your story to them isn’t always enough for reasons that may have to do with the nature of the medium in question, the constraints of newsroom resources and what else is needed to create a well-rounded and complete piece of coverage.

In my post last week, I mentioned that a strong media launch must always begin with two key activities: The development of the media materials and the development of the media list. As I wrote then, creating that media list is a tedious but altogether necessary grind to ensure that you have identified not only those media who would have an interest in your story, but who also have potential to move your market by virtue of their audience size and makeup.

Assuming that you have done your proper due diligence and caught the harried attention of a journalist or editor who has some interest in your story, circumstances can still conspire against you.

Like sands through the hourglass …

Chief among them is time. In today’s age of social media and budget cuts, journalists are stretched like never before to feed not only the traditional news hole, but other social media channels. Not only that, they are being called upon to fill a greater number of news holes each day. In addition, there are fewer media outlets today and less appetite for the lengthy features of the past.

To say there are fewer outlets doesn’t only mean that there are not as many titles out there. Due to a concentration of media ownership, many outlets have come to cut costs by sharing content. The good news is, if you secure one strong story, it could be replayed across a network of sister publications. The bad news is, you’ve only got that one chance to successfully pitch your story, when at one time you may have had five.

So what can you do? Even if an editor or journalist is taking a pass on today’s pitch, but you have their attention, take advantage of that to learn more about what interests them. If they are a trade or industry publication with an editorial calendar, talk about how your story, or your next story, could fit into an upcoming issue. This is not a lengthy conversation, but it is an important one that serves to create a relationship based on value.

Putting together the pieces

And by value, I mean understanding what it is that a given media outlet needs to tell the kind of story it wants to tell and responding to that need, if it makes sense for you to do so. For example:

Trade and industry press often want to hear from a customer who has provided market validation of your product or service by having paid for it. For a more consumer-oriented story that will run in more mainstream media such as a daily newspaper or on the six o’clock news, there is often an interest in having the perspective of “the person on the street,” especially if the story is more issue-based than product-based. The key difference is that you can chose and prep a reference customer, while the journalist will chase down their own people on the street.

Television broadcast is all about packaging a story around strong visuals. You may believe you have the most compelling story on the planet, but if the most likely visual is of someone sitting in front of a computer, that doesn’t make for a dynamic viewing experience. What can you offer in terms of the environment or location for an on-camera interview? What other props do you have on hand? Consider too who in your organization presents themselves best on camera. Maybe it is someone senior in the organization other than the CEO.

A radio interview may appear less demanding than television, but radio is a tricky thing. Because there is no visual reference, listeners are going to pay that much more attention to what you say and how you say it without the benefit of any non-verbal cues. My advice is to avoid live radio whenever possible and instead take pre-taped interviews, which are often edited before airing to clean up any stutters and “ummm” moments.

In addition, be mindful that the traditional news story has at least three sources. Even if you have successfully pitched your story, the journalist is likely going to be looking to speak with someone else. This could be that reference customer or person on the street, but it could also be an industry analyst or some other subject matter expert. It could even be one of your competitors, someone who is critical of your organization or who holds a viewpoint contrary to yours. This is what makes for a story that is well-rounded. Another way to create value and build that relationship is to help the journalist out and identify for them who some of these other sources could be, even if they are in some way a rival. A competent journalist is going to find their way to them anyway.

And lastly, remember that this thing called media relations is an ongoing process that develops over time. If today’s story doesn’t stick with a given media outlet, maybe the next one will. Be persistent. And be consistent by having a fresh story with which to reach out to your target media on a regular basis. But never be obnoxious or demanding.

Image: Business Review Canada

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