Want to get your business in here? It'll take work and luck.
By now, you should be on your way to public relations awesomeness. In this series of posts, I’ve discussed how to write a press release, how press releases can be used in a marketing strategy and how to deploy a press release through your social networking channels and through paid PR newswires.
That just leaves one last step – getting some authentic media coverage.
Many business owners believe that paying $99 – $499 to send their press release through a PR newswire will result in immediate coverage in large, national publications. Well, I have some bad news. Unless your press release announces something truly groundbreaking, the majority of the media will be woefully unimpressed, and you’ll open your email inbox to crickets.
In my experience, the best way to get media coverage is not to go through newswires, but to roll up your sleeves, build a highly-targeted media list and reach out to individuals with tailored media pitches. It’s a lot of work, and your pitches will, by and large, be ignored, but it only takes one big “Yes” to make all the effort worth it.
In this blog post, I’ll show you how to get the “Big Yes”.
The Current State of the Media
You’re in luck. There have never been so many media outlets available or as many niche media channels to pursue – and they all need content. Whether we’re talking about your local news anchor, the editorial staff at the New Yorker, or a popular nutrition blogger, each of these people are working furiously to feed a ravenous creature, known as their audience.
Feeding the beast is an exhausting job, and journalists are always looking for quality stories that they can serve as a delicious entrée. You might just be the person to help some of those journalists out by providing them with a relevant story for their audience.
Notice that I said you are helping the journalists, not the other way around. This is an incredibly important distinction. If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this:
No one will cover your news just because you think it’s interesting. To get media coverage, you must convince your target media that your news will be of interest to their audience.
Journalists of all stripes get bombarded with pitches and press releases every day, and the vast majority of them suck. All sucky pitches are defined by one overall trait: they don’t tell the journalist why the news would make a great story for his/her audience.
Before I show you how to write a great, enticing pitch, let’s look at the first step in putting together your press release media pitch campaign.
Step One: Build a Tailored Media Contact List
Roll up your sleeves, mark off a couple of hours in your calendar and get ready to do some serious research. In order to get media coverage for your press release, you’ll first need to develop a list of the media personalities who are the most likely to cover it.
Before you even open up an Excel grid, take some time to consider what type of media you want to contact. Remember, your best chance of getting coverage is to make a convincing case that your news is relevant to the journalist’s audience.
Who is the main audience for your news? What type of outlets would be the most likely to cover your news story?
When my business partner, Leslie, and I launched our business, Grub Street Reads, which evaluates and endorses quality indie books, we developed several different media target lists. The first list focused on journalists in the mainstream press who had written about self-publishing and self-published authors in the past. We compiled a second list of book review bloggers, since they target our secondary audience – book readers who may be interested in reading indie novels that have been endorsed by our company.
Our third list consisted of writers for mainstream magazines, as well niche webzines that focused on authors and self-published authors. Throughout our research, we found dozens of blogs that focused specifically on self-publishing. Even though these blogs didn’t get the same type of audience as USA Today, their readers were our main target audience, and the news of our business launch was highly relevant to their readers.
Don’t limit yourself to large, mainstream media outlets. These are the most difficult to earn coverage from. Consider niche, industry publications and blogs as well as local publications. Local papers and news stations love to cover local businesses. If you’re putting on a big event, or have done something that has impacted the community, you have a good chance of getting some local coverage.
While researching, take care to learn about each publication instead of blindly sending out your press release. Make sure that their audience is a good fit for your news story. The best way to do this is to read the publication’s archives and see if they’ve covered topics related to your business or your press release topic in the past.
Next, pick a specific person from the publication to pitch. If you’re targeting a blog with just one writer, then this task will be easy. If you’re targeting a larger publication, like a national magazine, target the journalist who has written the most about your topic in the past.
Find the publication’s submission guidelines – most should have some guidelines on their website – and then look for contact info. You may find email addresses for the staff or just a contact form on the website. Even if you can only find a general email address, like email@example.com or there’s only a website form, still make sure you address your pitch to a specific person.
Step Two: Develop An Awesome Pitch
As I mentioned earlier in this article, most popular journalists are bombarded with pitches every day. A writer for a top publications can receive upwards of a hundred messages or more in a single day.
This may come as a shock, but most of these busy people don’t have the time to sit down and read through that press release you spent so much time and effort crafting. That’s why you need condense your press release into a “Pitch”. A pitch is a short and direct message that lays out your news in a couple of sentences and explains how it can be turned into a great story that will wow and amaze the journalist’s audience.
In other words, you’re pitching a story that relates to the news in your press release. In some cases, your press release itself may not be the main story. For instance, let’s say that you are a business coach who specializes in coaching veterans. You may pitch a profile of yourself as a story to a local media outlet. That would be an okay angle, but an even better angle might be a story about all the new business resources available for veterans who want to become business owners, or a story about what type of business owners veterans make or even a profile of three local veterans who have started their own businesses. In each of these pitches, you can put yourself forward as an expert who can provide quotes for the article.
Those who are just learning how to pitch media stories have a tendency to write long, rambling pitches all about themselves and their business. This will not usually result in a positive response. The journalist wants to know three main things:
- What’s the story?
- Why should I care?
- How do I learn more?
Your job is to answer those questions as quickly and clearly as possible.
Even though they are short, pitches are extremely difficult to write. They take a lot of practice and a lot of fine-tuning. Here’s an example of how a good pitch should be written.
Subject Line: Big BOLD Headline that snag’s the journalist’s attention
Hi [journalist first name],
Hook – Start off with a bold, clear statement that introduces your news in an enticing manner.
Supplement – Add a few more lines about the news, but not too many and pitch a specific news angle
Relevance – Explain exactly why this news story is perfect for the journalist’s audience. This is the section where you prove that you’re familiar with their publication and writing
Closing – Wrap up, provide your contact info and point them toward your press release if they want more information, which is either pasted below or attached
Personally, I struggle with writing pitches. Mine tend to be way too long. If you want to see an example of a pitch I wrote HERE’S A PITCH TEMPLATE I use to request book reviews of my novel Falling – Girl With Broken Wings from book review bloggers.
In many cases, you may need to write two or even three different pitches, depending on the types of media in your list. For instance, with Grub Street Reads, I created three separate pitches. One was geared toward mainstream press. The second was for author-focused publications, and the third was for reader-centered publications.
Step Three: Sending Out Your Pitch
Your pitch is just a template. Before sending it out, you’ll need to tailor it to the publication and the specific journalist you are targeting. This is the same way you would write a cover letter template when looking for a job. Hopefully, you don’t send the same cover letter to every job you apply for. Instead, you carefully review the requirements of a specific job and revise your cover letter to play up how your skills match those requested in that particular job description.
Take your time with each pitch, and use your knowledge of the specific publication to tailor that pitch.
This is where most people take shortcuts. They create one general pitch and send it out to a huge list of journalists, hoping that even if the vast majority of journalists ignore the message because it is irrelevant, at least a few will reply.
Again, consider a job search situation, except this time you’re the employer. Let’s say you receive ten applications for an open position your just advertised. Nine of the cover letters and resumes are extremely general, but the tenth addresses every skill you asked for in the job description and demonstrates a strong familiarity with your company. Which candidate are you calling in first?
Tailoring each pitch will add a significant amount of time and effort to the PR process, but it will help you stand out from all the other sucky pitches that a journalist receives day in and day out.
Step Four: Follow Up and Maintain Real Expectations
The sad truth is that public relations is a numbers game. The vast majority of your pitches will be utterly and completely ignored, even if you take the time and effort to become familiar with a publication and tailor your pitch to a specific journalist. You may think your story pitch is a perfect fit for a certain publication, but the journalist on the other end of your email may disagree. Or they could just be busy that day. Or maybe they already wrote a story about your topic last week. You can never know why someone doesn’t respond, so don’t take it personally.
If you don’t hear back from a journalist within a few days, it’s acceptable to follow up. You may shoot the journalist a quick email just asking if they received your original message, or you may call and introduce yourself if you have access to their number. When following up, always be polite and direct about why you are calling or emailing. Be sensitive to the fact that journalists may be working on a tight deadline or may have already been harried by a dozen other people pitching stories.
Some journalists, especially if they write for large publications, may be short or even rude on the phone. Don’t take it personally. Living from deadline to deadline could make anyone cranky.
In most cases, you’ll get a voicemail, or your email follow up will go unanswered. Personally, I only follow up once, though there are plenty of PR experts who advise multiple follow ups. My thinking is that if they didn’t respond to the initial pitch and the follow up, they can’t be that interested in the story. I think it’s better to continue down your contact list than to keep badgering someone who hasn’t responded positively.
Send out pitched to your entire contact list and don’t let being ignored get in your way. If you’ve spent time and effort to put together a focused contact list and created a tailored pitch, sooner or later, someone should bite. If not, go back to the drawing board. Maybe your contact list was a little too much of a reach and you need to consider smaller, more niche publications. Maybe there’s a different or stronger news angle that you can pitch. Maybe your pitch isn’t as clean and dynamic as it could be, or your subject line is uninspired.
Public Relations is all about “ try, try, try again”. The more you do it and start to get positive results, the more you’ll get the hang of the process. Over time, you’ll also start to develop relationships with journalists. Once they cover one story from you, they’re much more likely to respond to your next pitch, making it easier and easier for you to place your story and get free media coverage for your business.
Even though this blog post was super-duper long, it still only scratched the surface of media interactions. If you have questions about getting media cover or anything to do with writing or distributing a press release, please leave a comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.