Is public and media relations dead? With the backlash of sponsored content from consumers and the hundreds of posts and articles about journalists not wanting to be bothered, it’s a reasonable question. My answer is: Definitely not. However, the road to PR success has changed significantly.
I’m probably not the first to tell you there’s been a giant shift in the public relations industry and what qualifies as effective PR strategy over the years. You most likely already know or have read that the days of endless pitching, sending the same templated email to a blanket list of reporters, then cold calling to follow up are behind us.
But now, more than ever, a PR strategy remains important. You can’t buy credibility, today’s consumers are too smart for that, you have to earn it. An effective and well-executed PR strategy can be one of the best ways to “earn your stripes”.
So what does an effective PR strategy look like today?
Public Relations Is Not Media Relations
Media relations is an important component of most public relations strategies, but they are by no means one in the same. Today, in some ways, a content strategy has almost replaced a traditional PR campaign. Think about it, all pieces of your content strategy: blogs, videos, social media, SEO, etc. are tools for engaging with the public…with your target audience. Use your content tools to reach relevant journalists. Think carefully about this as you craft your messages. Remember that you are using your content strategy to build a reputation and develop a rapport with consumers and reporters alike.
Become Your Own Reporter (…initially)
My favorite thing about the Internet today is that with enough dedication, hard work, thick skin, and decent writing skills, anyone can create sustainable “buzz” about their brand or product. Create a blog and contribute to it regularly. In addition to supplying industry trends, helpful tips and tactics, you can also use this as your platform for your own company announcements. If you’ve been successful in building industry credibility, the word will spread and the media will pick up on it.
And if you’ve been successful in building a blog with a strong or dedicated following, you’ve most likely been pitched to. This is potentially the best way to learn what to and (more likely) what not to do. You’ll start thinking like a journalist and be able to sharpen your communication skills.
But Media Relations Is Still Important (…just different)
Whether implementing a traditional PR campaign or a hybrid content strategy, your goals are likely to remain the same: increase awareness among new relevant audiences, convert leads to customers, drive traffic to your site, etc. In many instances, of these, driving traffic to your site is easiest to measure of any campaign. What some may not realize is that media coverage, if secured correctly with strategic content, does impact SEO.
6 Tips For “Pitching” To Today’s Journalists
I’ve scoured my favorite success stories and articles with tips and tactics from journalists on how to “pitch” them, and compiled the tips I have found to be most useful.
1. Build relationships with up and coming reporters
Buffer Co-Founder Leo Widrich suggests to look for newcomers among tech reporters (or whatever industry it is you’re targeting), rather than the veterans who get 1,000 emails a day — at least.
2. Focus on the media outlets that matter
Your story made it to the front page of the Indianapolis Star…fantastic! But is that where your potential customers, investors, or partners are going to learn about you? Keep your topic in mind when building or filtering your media list for a specific story. Ask yourself if your target audience is going to find you. Maybe they don’t read that publication, but will it appear in page one of search engine result pages for your target keywords?
Assuming you’re trying to reach an intelligent audience, you want your company mentioned in intelligent media outlets. Dharmesh Shah of OnStartups.com said “Any media outlet that will do a story based on a crappy pitch is a media outlet that will get you crappy exposure.” Makes sense.
3. Do your research (seriously!)
I feel that this is one of those situations where everyone says they do something but no one really does it. Gini Dietrich notes on spinsucks.com that media list services such as Cision and Vocus are great starting places, but they do not do the necessary research for you. The Internet is at your disposal – use it. Almost every blog or author page has an about section where you can at least check out the author’s bio and recent work.
Know what the journalist has written and don’t pitch them on a topic they just covered. Looking at their past work is more of way to gain insight into the types of stories or topics they’re interested in covering: innovation, education, startups, enterprises, finance for small business, consumer electronics, etc. Take note of their passions. Even if it’s not in their “beat,” they may cover your story if it’s something they’re interested in.
Examine the tone they use to address their audience and consider picking up a similar one in your pitch to them. Your message will likely resonate with them if they can relate to you. Do this without patronizing them, of course.
4. Keep it relevant and interesting, consider making it exclusive
Whether you’re communicating to a reporter, editor, or blogger, journalists want targeted, customized messages with a piece of news or story that is relevant to them and their readers. They want it short and easily digestible; accurate and backed by facts. Most importantly, they want it to be compelling and unique. Even better if it’s exclusive to them.
Note to startups: Keep in mind that your story just isn’t that special. Today’s reporters have heard every shoestring story out there. Some helpful questions to ask yourself: How is your startup solving a problem in a new and innovative way? What new business solution did you create in order to reach success? Or give the next tip a try.
5. Provide anecdotes, useful tips
If you’re trying to pitch a company profile piece rather than a piece of news, consider taking the approach of explaining how you reached success in a certain areas. Perhaps wait for a milestone announcement such as, “The secrets behind how we attracted $2 million in round-one funding.” Or “Why our product saw 100,000 downloads within 48 hours of launch.”
For example, Buffer Co-Founders, Joel and Leo recently shared the deck they used to secure $500,000 from 18 angel investors including HubSpot CTO Dharmesh Shah, Mightytext Co-Founder Maneesh Arora, and AngelList’s Graham Jenkin — posting it to Onstartups.com. It was was then picked up (along with a write up) on Business Insider.
Content that’s going to be valuable to readers is going to be more attractive to reporters. As digital marketers, we want our content and content we develop for clients to spread wide and far, right? So obviously that’s exponentially more important for journalists. Pitch them a story that’s likely to have high share count.
6. Monitor engagement on earned coverage
Treat the coverage you’ve earned how you would treat your own blog post. Monitor comments and answer questions. This is an effective (and easy) way to build relationships with new potential customers. Clearly they were interested in your story, keep it that way! Same with social media. Keep an eye on the story, thank people for sharing, and answer any questions or comments that arise as quickly as possible — before someone else does!
The 3 Rs of Media Relations
Overall, when pitching to journalists, I suggest keeping the three Rs in mind:
- Relevant: The story being pitched should have meaning to the journalist and their audience.
- Reliable: Use updated and accurate facts; don’t go making any false claims for dramatic effect.
- Reluctant: Just because you’re excited about your company’s new logo redesign, doesn’t mean the world will be. Think long and hard about whether or not what you have to share is “media worthy.” Hold off till you have something truly valuable to share. After that, audiences will be on the lookout for your next big announcement.
There are plenty of other helpful PR tips out there, these are just my favorite. What are yours?
Shannon Byrne is a freelance content and social media strategist based in St. Petersburg, FL and a full-time comedian in her mind. She’s an enthusiast of coffee, sunshine, live music, and digital marketing. Read her blog at shannonleebyrne.com or follow her on Twitter at @ShannnonB.