If Paul Krugman wrote in the Sunday New York Times, "A young economist named John Smith has written the clearest, most compelling and most frightening prediction about the next economic crisis that I have ever read," I would be much more likely to seek out and read Smith's message than I would be if Smith had instead:
- advertised on a billboard
- sent me an email
- friended me on Facebook, or
- sent me a discount coupon to buy the book on Amazon
Getting written about, or publishing your work, is an excellent way to demonstrate credibility and get an audience for your ideas, a donor to your cause or a buyer for your product.
In the fictional example above, I'm interested in John Smith's book because a news medium I trust and a writer I respect have endorsed it. But getting that kind of endorsement is not easily accomplished. Media relations (the part of public relations where companies are trying to generate media coverage) only works if your company really has something newsworthy to say, and if you say it to the right person.
If you really want to waste a bunch of time and alienate reporters and editors, start spewing press releases to every email address you can find. Tell them about every new hire, new client or new step in your ongoing project to conquer the sharpest-pencil-in-the-world market.
But if you want results from media relations, treat the media like the other relationships you're initiating, nurturing and eventually closing. Target the right people with a message that meets their needs better than anyone else does. Build credibility with each one individually by sharing information only when the match between message and target is right.
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Start with the right audience
To make media relations worthwhile, you must do your research. Identify the media outlets writing about your industry. Find the reporters who cover stories like yours and the editors who assign the stories.
Go beyond the local newspapers. Where are your clients (or prospects) getting their news? Ask them, or take a look at the magazines on their waiting-room tables. Consider trade publications that cover your target industries. Don't overlook blogs and online publications, which are more likely be seeking content than print publications, and offer added benefits for search engine optimization (SEO).
Pitch the right stories
Josh Merkin, vice president at rbb Public Relations, tells me: "There are a couple of ways to go about this. One is to approach the media with a trend or issue that you are seeing in your business. Another way is to approach them with perspective on a story they have already written. A third way is to contact them to offer perspective on a news item of the day, e.g., the fiscal cliff or Obamacare."
HubSpot, one of the leaders in inbound marketing, recently released a useful e-book about public relations, and had some good tips. But HubSpot suggests that successful PR requires remarkable stories. "In reality," they write, "exceptional press coverage typically starts with a truly outstanding idea, product or narrative."
Sure, it's great if you can find remarkable stories to pitch. But in real life, companies don't have exceptional tales to tell every single time. Stories that are truly newsworthy (see Merkin's three approaches above) and are properly tuned to the reporter and his or her audience can often create excellent opportunities to be featured right where your buyers are looking.
Can't I just use one of the press release distribution services?
If you're looking for more than SEO, press releases aren't the way. The more expensive services (BusinessWire and PRNewswire) are the most credible, but they won't get editors' attention. Instead, find the right publication, write a persuasive pitch and send a quick email to the right reporter.
What do editors and reporters want?
Editors and reporters want sources that provide unique, well-thought-out perspectives, and have an understanding of the way journalism works. Research the publication and writer to make sure they are the right person to target. Follow reporters on Twitter to see their topics and styles. Understand deadlines. Act with courtesy. Be realistic and humble when approaching the media. Don't be arrogant and make statements that aren't true, like "we are the only law firm in town doing this." [
If you believe you have news that reporters will cover, try filling out this chart with strategic topics that someone in your organization can write about or talk about in the next six months.
Janet Kyle Altman is the marketing partner at the accounting firm Kaufman, Rossin & Co.