Getting your business and its achievements mentioned in the right publications can be a hard slog. Fortunately, there are some key rules to gaining press coverage.
Fortunately, there are some key rules to persuading a journalist that your story is worth covering – you just need to have a clear strategy and a basic appreciation of the way that journalists work.
Here are some top tips for building strong media relations and gaining press coverage:
Know who you are talking to
Before you make contact, find out about your journalist. (Of course, you will have rung the newsroom or publication first for a name, rather than having sent your press release straight to the abyss of news@ or features@ or info@.) Time spent researching the type of content they write in the publications you’re pitching to is time well invested. What topics have they covered recently? If your story simply duplicates an existing story without introducing a unique angle, it won’t be of interest.
Look at the journalist’s Twitter feed and LinkedIn profile to see what really interests them. When you feel you’ve got their measure and can give them what they want – the benefit – it’s time to make your approach.
Build a relationship
Most journalists are busy, hardworking, on constant deadlines and inundated with a lot of unnecessary and useless information. So they don’t like their working day and concentration interrupted unnecessarily, or to feel they have to jump through hoops to get the information they need. Their job demands that they get hold of facts and statistics quickly, so give them what they want – stories that interest their readership.
If possible, give an advance heads-up on a news story or important development. An embargoed release can be given to allow them time to prepare the coverage and do interviews prior to the official release – rather than just landing a major news story on them as soon as it breaks.
You could do a call before sending it to flag up that it is embargoed and to give them the opportunity to speak to the CEO etc ahead of time if they are interested. From experience, this type of approach goes down well as there is so much pressure on news desks to get the story out as soon its released – but only do it if you’ve got a really good story.
And while they may be newshounds, they will still appreciate time spent on a few pleasantries… did they mention a busy weekend with their children last time? Or that they were getting ready for a holiday to Spain? Start with a quick personal question before diving right in to business – it makes everyone’s day a little bit nicer. And be prepared for them to take an interest in your life as well!
Grab email attention with a great subject line
Remember that journalists get dozens, if not hundreds, of emails a day so unless they know you, you’ll need to grab their attention – otherwise there is a chance your email will get lost in the ‘noise’ in their inbox.
Unless you have a killer news story, it’s often better to email first – in which case you need a strong subject line to get their attention. Using a powerful statistic is a good way to do this. Has your company made great strides into Japan? Instead of, ‘Toremipso Group closes substantial Japanese deal’, try ‘Toremipso Group acquires Japanese competitor in £1bn deal’.
Keep the pitch short and sweet
Get your point across as quickly and concisely as you can. Use a maximum of four paragraphs to explain what your company does, its achievements and what you would like to get out there in the media. Stick to simple language and avoid jargon. Don’t give them the extra work of clicking links, opening PDF attachments or scrolling through text.
It is also worth adding some key quotes and a line at the end of who is immediately available for comment to make it easy for the journalist to pick up the phone and say to you: “Tell me more…”
Avoid the dreaded ‘We are delighted to announce…’
Of course you’re delighted that Peter has been appointed MD, but who else will that delight? Instead, find an interesting hook or fact about Peter. Did he lead his previous firm’s stock market flotation? Previous senior roles, companies or time at the current firm are all useful background to get appointment coverage. Give the journalist anything but your delight at Peter’s appointment.
You’ve had your call or sent your email but it’s a good idea not to hassle. If it’s worth covering they’ll be all over it – or their bosses will want to know why not – so for now you’ll just have to sit tight. By all means, send a follow-up email a few days later, but don’t fire off more emails on the same topic or phone and ask: “Did you read my press release?”
While most journalists loathe phone pitches, they loathe email pitches followed up by phone even more. When a positive response comes, though, follow it up immediately.
Don’t be afraid to manage negative press coverage
Mistakes happen, things go wrong and the media can make or break an organisation. Preparation is key. You WILL be contacted for a comment and it’s unlikely journalists will wait for your internal approvals before running the story, so you need be ready. If a negative, untrue story is circulating, get on the phone to the journalist to quash it. If it’s negative and true, still speak to journalists and be honest – everything has a context.
They understand that, and a better story (and PR), may emerge as a result. A company’s share price may have tumbled but so have many others. You won’t be the first organisation that has temporarily fallen into a dark place, only to later emerge in the light.