As promised, today I’m going to talk about whether it’s possible to tip the scales in your favor in terms of press coverage. Can you do anything to get more coverage? And can you do anything to make sure that coverage paints you and/or your organization in a flattering light?
Honestly, sometimes that depends on factors outside of your control. For instance, your story is far more likely to get picked up as “fluff” on a slow news week, but it’s hard to say when that will be. Sure, there are some cultural trends to look out for. (e.g. Tourist towns will likely have more traffic and events happening during their peak season, thus more news.) But you can never really be sure something unexpected won’t happen to bump your story off the page on a seemingly ordinary day, especially if your press release isn’t so urgent that they can’t move it to a future edition with little explanation.
That said, here are some things you can do to help yourself:
- Create a list of every media source in your coverage area. This includes newspapers, local broadcast channels, radio stations, trade journals, lifestyle magazines, even digital-only or social network-only sources. (Pro Tip: Create contact lists that include several people from each outlet; that way, when one person leaves, you aren’t re-building communication from scratch.)
- Familiarize yourself with the voices on your media list. People who CCed me on a mass email for a press release were far less likely to get published than those who took time to get to know my writing and whether this was something I was likely to cover. Each time the same sender did this, their odds of getting my attention decreased because I began to assume they weren’t sending me anything specific to what I cover. (Pro Tip: When an article really speaks to you or your market, clip it and save it in your media file for future reference. Be sure you save the part that notes who wrote the article. Also, follow media outlets and their reporters’ public profiles on social media to get a feel for their communication style.)
- Make nice with the press. As a reporter, having good relationships with officials in my coverage area made my job so much easier because once they knew they could count on me for fair, reliable coverage, they came to me first with their information and gave me priority over others who wanted interviews. That relationship goes both ways. If you want them to favor you, be easy to reach when they are contacting you for interviews, even if it’s about something you’re less than thrilled to talk to them about. You don’t have to have them over for dinner, but make sure you treat them as an ally rather than an adversary, and they’re far more likely to scratch your back when you need it. (Pro Tip: Use flattery in moderation. Call it egotistical, but an email that began with “Hey Jamie, I loved your recent article on _______” could always grab my attention. Be careful though. Do it too much, and we’ll think you’re being insincere, buttering us up just to use us to advance your cause. Bonus points if you send “thank you” notes after we’ve given you great coverage.)
- Include photos and quotes. It may not all be used, but I for one always wanted to have more information than I needed when I sat down to write. Don’t go overboard. A journalist isn’t your personal PR agency or editor, but give them enough. If I was in need of some last minute “fluff,” the things closest to being ready for print were more likely to get published, assuming they were worthy of being printed in the first place. (Pro Tip: Familiarize yourself with some of the basics of press formatting, like writing in AP Style and using quotes that don’t require lots of extra context.)
- Have newsworthy content. This one should be obvious, but it isn’t always. I’ve come to understand this so much more since I began working in PR. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening in your world and think the rest of the world should care about it too. That isn’t always the case though. Make sure you’re submitting the information to the right audience. Don’t be the boy who cried wolf — er, news.(Pro Tip: Create goals and an objective for every press release. You don’t need to share it with anyone, but know exactly what it is, then decide which media sources appeal to that audience and approach them first.)
- Have a presence in your community. In order of importance, this is somewhere near the top. If you’re already relevant, people automatically care more about whatever it is you have to say. Make an impact in your community in whatever way makes sense for your organization, whether it be by donating to charitable events, providing extended lunches to employees who want to deliver for Meals on Wheels, participating in festivals and tradeshows or something else. (Pro Tip: This is more of a reinforcement than a tip, but a “bonus” to following this step is that media is often out in droves during public/charitable events anyway, so you’re likely to have an opportunity for exposure just by participating in things!)
I’d be interested in hearing what else has worked for others. What pro tips would you add to the list?