Here’s a newsflash: most public relations and media relations professionals have the wrong perspective when they interact with the media. The typical PR professional thinks to themselves, “How can I get the media to cover my story?”
That’s the wrong way to think and wrong question to ask.
While there’s never a guarantee of media coverage, you greatly increase your chances of a reporter or editor sharing your story if you think like a news reporter or editor. The only question media members have in their minds when they’re deciding on a story is, “Why should my audience or readers care about this?”
After more than 25 years in the communications field, I have yet to meet a traditionally-trained PR professional or marketing executive who automatically thinks that way, even though it’s the best way to crack the media code for coverage.
The reality is that reporters, producers and editors are not anxiously staring at their inboxes waiting for your email pitch, news release announcing a new store opening or a media alert naming a new CEO of your organization. If anything, news media personnel are looking for a reason NOT to cover your story. They are simply inundated with too many news leads to begin with.
The best way to cut through the clutter of possible news story ideas jockeying for the attention of the media gatekeepers is to think like one of them. Here are a few things to move your thinking towards a media mindset:
1. Be helpful even if it doesn’t help you.
A large part of media and public relations is relationships. The best way to build a relationship is to help someone whenever you can without asking for something in return. The idea is simple and analogous to your personal finances, in that you have to make deposits in a bank before you can make withdrawals. Media relationships are the same way.
You must help reporters, producers and editors with stories that aren’t necessarily about your organization, product or message first before asking them to cover you. When I was a reporter, I responded positively to PR folks who approached me in that way.
2. Do your research.
By this I mean get to know the type of stories the reporter likes to cover; understand the audience of the particular media outlet you’re targeting and know exactly how the outlet brands itself. That last point is crucial. A pitch to The New York Times will (and should) be wildly different than a story idea you would pitch to Rolling Stone magazine.
Each publication has a completely different audience, editorial mission and viewpoint. The same holds true if you want to pitch CNN or Fox News. Each of those channels require a different tact. The savvy PR person will know that and customize their pitch accordingly.
3. Create a bona fide news hook.
The best media relations folks understand that the only way to get coverage for their event, message, organization or product is to find an angle that’s going to be meaningful and relevant for the target news outlet’s respective audience. Again, you must answer the fundamental question, “Why should the viewer/reader care?”
It’s simply not enough just to say something is “new and improved.” If that’s all you’ve got to pitch, the news editor or reporter will transfer your call to the advertising department and make you pay for an ad.
So, instead of announcing that you’re opening a submarine sandwich shop, a better news angle would be to invite a news crew/reporter to tag along while you deliver free submarine sandwiches every day for a week to a different homeless shelter in your city or hand them out where the homeless congregate. You’ve now transformed a new store opening into a legit news story about a city’s homeless problem and one small way you’re trying to respond to it and inspire others to do the same.
These tips are obvious once they’ve clearly stated in an article list, but it’s been my anecdotal experience that they are obviously missing from most PR pitches to the media.