How to Get Press Coverage for yourself or your business:
Personal PR specialist Helen Croydon shares her tips on getting media attention in an increasingly competitive PR climate.
As an ex journalist, I know what it’s like to be pitched to by entrepreneurs, specialists, authors and PRs all desperate to get their story in the media. Only rarely did I, or my colleagues, receive a pitch that resulted in a story. It’s understandable that people don’t know how to navigate the media. If you’ve never worked in a newsroom, how could you possibly know that you have to get your pitches in before the daily planning meeting? How would you know that editors commission stories and journalists write them, so you should pitch some types of stories to editors, but other types of stories to reporters?
Now I’m on the other side of the fence as a personal PR specialist, and founder of an agency called Thought Leadership PR. So, I’m the one pitching to journalists. So I’ve got a rounded view of what does and doesn’t work.
Below I’ve summarized four questions to consider when pitching yourself to the media, based on a talk I did for the Sistr network recently.
What are you pitching?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of media stories and journalists approach them very differently so you should understand where your idea fits into these.
Firstly, there are news stories. This is what makes up most of the content of daily newspapers, or included in short summary-round-ups in magazines (known as NIBS – news in brief). News stories – as the origin of the word suggests – is something ‘new’. A new policy, product, event, report or revelation.
Most people, when they pitch to the media, think that they are suggesting a news story. But unfortunately, a new product launch or event in your business isn’t usually considered a news story in the eyes of a journalist (unless you are a household name company like Apple and people are camped outside stores waiting for the next release – that is news!). For smaller businesses, I don’t recommend sending out press releases for new products, new appointments, new investments. They will just get overlooked on a news desk.
What has more mileage in PR opportunities for individuals or businesses is features. Features can take many forms: Profile pieces, Q&As, ‘trends’ pieces on wider themes (written by journalists with case studies and quotes), round-ups, first-person experience pieces, reviews/listings or even opinion pieces written by non-journalist contributors.
So, my first bit of advice when approaching the media with the hope of a mention is to ask WHAT you are pitching. Is it really a news story? Or, is it more likely that your story or idea could work as a first-person story (if it’s related to something happening in the news?) Could you provide an expert comment for a story that’s on the news agenda that day? Could your business be a case study to support an article about a wider societal trend?
Clarifying what exactly you are suggesting to the journalist you pitch to helps them do their job. If you just send a long email with loads of ideas they just won’t have the time to figure out how it could fit with what they’re already working on. And into the deleted items it will go.
Does the publication where you are pitching run the format you’re thinking of?
The next question to ask is does the publication or programme actually do the sort of format you suggest? For example, do they actually run interviews, book reviews or opinion pieces? Familiarise yourself with the publication. Whether it’s digital or print or a podcast – this still applies. I host a podcast called The Media Insider where I interview editors, journalists and producers about what stories they run, how they commission and all their pitching niggles. The number one complaint from pretty much every single guest has been: The people pitching clearly have never even skim-read the publication, or listened to/watched their programme. Delete!
Can your story idea be linked to a current news story?
A crucial thing to research is whether there is anything happening in the news that makes your story / expertise / opinion relevant now. This is known as a ‘news hook’. Sometimes editors will say, that’s an interesting issue, but what’s the hook? What they mean is why is this relevant now? For example, if you are a financial advisor and you want to pitch yourself to the media to give your top tips on financial advice. Look out for when there are any new laws about financial management, or new statistics about debt etc. That puts the issue of personal finances on the map. And that’s when you should pitch your idea. Of course not everything in the media is topical. There are ‘evergreen’ pieces particularly on smaller lesser-known websites. Usually the more mainstream a publication, the more news-led it will be.
Should you pitch to a reporter or an editor?
Figure out who you need to pitch to. If you are suggesting that you write an opinion piece yourself then you should be pitching to an editor, not a journalist. If you are pitching a hot news lead then you’ll want to get in touch with the reporter who will be looking for exclusive stories to write about. Obviously, how you find out who is who is an art unto itself, but this is where professional PR support can help.
Helen Croydon is a former journalist and author, and founder of Thought Leadership PR