Sick of sending pitch after pitch without a single journalist or blogger writing about your business? Join the club.
Media relations is a finely tuned skill that most businesses don’t fully understand.
Heck, most PR and marketing companies don’t even understand how to work with the media in a way that results in actual publicity for their clients.
In a marketplace chock full of startups, do-it-yourself press releases, and mass email pitches, it’s become painfully obvious that most people are doing something terribly wrong in the pitching process. I’ve been there, done that, and learned a few things along the way.
Here are a few words of advice now that I’m on the receiving end of those pitches, as well as easy to implement tips from five business owners who have been featured in the mainstream media.
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1. Timing is Everything
Think your new product, business idea or expansion is the coolest thing since sliced bread and that every journalist this side of the equator will be beating down your door to write about it tomorrow? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, it’s never about your timing, and always about the reporter’s or blogger’s timing and editorial calendar.
Case in point, Shailesh Kumar, the founder of Value Stock Guide, finally got featured in The New York Times, two years after he initially pitched the reporter. And the real kicker is when the reporter finally reached out to him it was a different story than the one he originally pitched.
Kumar offered these words of advice to business owners pitching the media, “Just keep at it and put yourself out there even when it seems it is not working. You never know when you will get a call out of the blue. “
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to media pitching. After all, consider what you’re asking. You’re more often than not, asking a complete stranger to write about your business and get your business visibility in front of thousands of people for free, when they likely have at least two dozen (or more) equally qualified sources to choose from.
I’m not saying to give up or throw in the towel, but being patient with reporters and bloggers, rather than being entitled and demanding truly makes a world of difference.
2. Use PR Tools to Your Advantage
Amy Baxter of MMJ Labs has been featured in the Huffington Post, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and a handful of other mainstream media sources. While that’s certainly impressive, she has only one secret to success; using PR tools like HARO (Help a Reporter Out).
If you’re unfamiliar with HARO, it’s a platform used by media sources (reporters, bloggers, journalists) to connect with story sources for stories they’re currently writing about.
Prior to Baxter getting her first mainstream media coverage, she had not seen success in pitching reporters multiple times and didn’t have any existing connections to mainstream reporters.
She says, “Be diligent about checking HAROS and fastidious about only replying when you fit the query well. Respond to HARO within an hour, give them exactly what they want ”
Cold pitching reporters and bloggers does work sometimes and should be a part of your media pitching strategy (more on that in a minute), but it would be completely remiss to ignore warm leads from reporters already searching for sources.
The key to success with HARO is not only to respond as quickly as possible but more importantly, to give reporters exactly what they’re asking for. This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be shocked how often I receive HARO pitches that completely fail to answer the questions I asked in my original query.
Copying and pasting a blanket response or biography to HARO reporters is a surefire way to never, ever get quoted as a source. If a reporter has a question in their query or very specific requirements, be sure to answer the question and meet their requirements before you throw your name into the hat.
Don’t be lazy or half-hearted in your responses. If you want to be quoted in major media as a professional in your industry, behave in a way that shows you’re worthy of that recognition.
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3. Learn to Newsjack
Newsjacking is the skill of inserting your brand (or your client’s brand) into trending news stories and current events.
An example of newsjacking done right is the time Market Watch released the story “7 Management Lessons From the Walking Dead” to not only share valuable information relevant to their audience but also to capitalize on the popularity of "The Walking Dead" TV show. At the time this article went live, the Market Watch article has been shared more than 650 times and has reached more than 36,000 journalists.
Madeline Johnson, a PR pro from The Market Council, also used newsjacking to her benefit and was featured on the "Today Show" after pitching a story related to a current trend.
Her advice: “Don't think that top tier media is going to produce a story about you. Newsjack your story but tie it into the news and include a trend [about] other companies.”
The keys to successful newsjacking are; staying on top of current trends, being timely with your pitch and pitching the right person. Using that winning combination lends you much better odds of success than strictly pitching a product or service.
4. Get to Know Reporters...Like, For Real
Have you ever had a complete stranger come up to you and ask you for a huge favor? Probably not, because that would be extremely odd and the likelihood of you doing it would be minimal.
So then, why do so many business owners (and even PR people) send pitches to reporters and bloggers essentially asking for this huge favor before they’ve even had the chance to get to know them?
Now before you say, “Well my business is different and everyone will want to read about it”, just stop yourself. Don’t you think the hundreds or thousands of other people pitching the same reporters think the same thing? You may have a really cool business idea (I meet people every day who blow me away with amazing products and ideas), but good business ideas are a dime a dozen.
But knowing how to build relationships and a real rapport with media contacts is something that’s far rarer. Nine times out of 10 when I’m working on a story I’ll go back to a source I already know and have already worked with, rather than open an email from a new source who hasn’t taken the time to get to know what I’m about.
Linda Parry of Product Launchers was featured on the "Today Show", by getting to know an expert in her field and having him introduce the product idea to the show.
She said, “We contacted a well-known home improvement expert to introduce him to our product, My Paint Saint. He fell in love with the concept and raved about it on his radio show. We further cultivated the relationship and began selling product in his two hardware stores. We were top of mind when he was invited onto the "Today Show" to introduce new home improvement products.”
I’m not suggesting that you show up to your favorite reporter’s house or invite them to play golf (we’re busy, after all). But interacting with them on social media, commenting on your favorite stories and providing value to them before you pitch, all add up to your success.
Earlier last year I was contacted by my local ABC 4 station twice in one week to do TV segments on one of the non-profits I volunteer for. The reason they contacted me as opposed to someone else is because I had been a valuable source in the past, and I cultivated the relationship even after my first TV appearance. I never approached the relationship in a selfish way, and it completely paid off.
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5. Focus on Being a Thought Leader
Stop thinking in terms of a pitching a product or service, and start thinking in terms of pitching yourself as an expert in your field. You’re far more likely to be used as an expert source on a related news story than you are to have a media contact run a profile piece on your business.
Margie Zable Fisher explains it best in an article on Guy Kawasaki’s blog, “Every client wants a big profile of the company on the cover of a major magazine or newspaper, but most stories are about a “trend,” several companies, or some recent news with quotes from experts. Profiles are few and far between.”
So, if your line of business is real estate, it would be far more strategic to make strides in positioning yourself as the real estate expert and let media contacts know you’re available to weigh in on stories they run in your niche.
Nancy Reagan of Bella Reina Spa was featured in the New York Times by approaching media contacts as a valuable source.
Her advice is simple, “...The reporters get to know you and some may just add you to their go-to sources for information. Because of all of the pitches that I answer, I now often get emails from the reporters asking for comments on specific topics or stories.”
Conclusion: Stop Trying to Be a One Hit Wonder
Getting featured in all your glory on the front page of Forbes might seem like a dream come true, and it can be. But if you approach your media relations strategy the wrong way, you’re far more likely to be a one hit wonder than a long-term business success. And if MC Hammer has taught us anything, it’s that you don't want to be a one-hit wonder.
Sure, not every media placement takes years to obtain, and you can get some very worthy publicity on your first attempt. But by and large, your media relations strategy should be a long-term strategy that includes real relationships, adding value to relevant conversations, and a healthy dose of patience.
After all, would you rather spend the rest of your day's mass pitching and risking your credibility with a marginal success rate, or put more effort into pitching the right way so you can build relationships that will catapult you to success and credibility?
The choice is yours. But whatever you choose, in the meantime, please, for the love of business, stop copying and pasting press releases into mass email blasts. Nothing will annoy your favorite reporters or bloggers faster.