4 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Media Coverage
Because I now earn a portion of my living from gathering and curating the news in my community, I encourage everyone to subscribe to and buy ad spots that keep the lights on and the printing press rolling.
Take this blog as my suggestion of ways to supplement your paid advertising with pitching content of newsworthy value to earn that free space or air-time.
Reporters and editors always look for great stories to tell. Emphasis on the word “great” so we typically have enough discretion to ignore a story pitch if it lacks news value on its face.
Additionally, coverage increases visibility that builds authority and credibility, positioning you as an expert source in your lane. A well-told story from an efficiently delivered pitch creates loyalty and trust with both your current and prospective customers/stakeholders that translates into lasting relationships
Read on for tips that will help your organization thrive from news coverage.
Use Strategy in Your Media Pitch
In the same way you make a compelling case to get a loan at the bank, you’ve got to justify the what, when, why, and where to a skeptic because time and column inches are in limited quantities (another reason you should buy advertising). Lots of other people are also contacting newsrooms with story suggestions of their own. Which of you will win us over?
Timing and newsworthiness are key to a successful pitch to newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, bloggers, newsletters, podcasts, and social media posts of influencers. Those are all channels for distributing your information, your “story,” beyond your own immediate circles.
Ask yourself whether national or regional media are likely to run your story. Usually not, unless the scope of your story includes broad, general interest. A lot of the time, bigger news stations ignore stories until they get traction in smaller venues. They are the vultures of the news world, swooping in to gnaw upon a dish I made at a table attractively set by smaller publications like mine.
You can still pitch wide, but you might get ignored until it’s in their interest to pay attention to gain eyeballs, which translates into better ratings that manifest as greater demand as a supplier for paid advertising.
Think of it like firing a gun: You may hit a wider area with a shotgun spray, but you can get a bigger impact if you carefully target the most appropriate news outlet like looking through a gun scope. Note: I use the firearms metaphor to describe the highest ROI, not the literal use of weaponry targeting newsrooms, which would be irresponsible in these tense times of generally-directed hostility toward media.
Local media will take a greater interest in community news, but they’ll only take the bite if your pitch communicates why it is worth anyone’s time to read or watch. Remember, media seeks out information of great value to niche audiences, so a farm supply store’s pitch about a new line of high-quality animal feed (for example) will appeal as a better fit for a rural readership than a primarily urban one.
Because news outlets can be competitive in presenting coverage first or framing exclusivity, I recommend you start by making your initial pitch to the news provider with the biggest readership or influence in your community or niche industry.
If you want to be fair to everyone, you can set a date to embargo the release of information so everyone can run with your press release at the same time. Just be aware of print dates and air times because the frequency of publishing varies by news source. Nobody likes to look like they copied stories that have already appear elsewhere.
One final point on strategy and timing – remember to give readers adequate time to take the action you’re after. Creating a sense of urgency make incite prompt action, but if your pitch is outdated or irrelevant before it can even be distributed, it lacks “news” value to anyone.
Some ways to solicit the inclusion of stories about a person, a company, or promoting an event:
• Submit a prepared press release you have created (or paid someone to assemble for you) via email, fax, or snail mail that journalists can use to determine the newsworthiness of the story you want told. See more on this in the next section below.
• Use face-to-face contact with a newsperson covering an event to pitch YOUR story idea. Offer yourself up as a resource when and if a reporter follows up to do an interview or run the info you arrange to send them. Don’t get in the way of them doing their jobs; wait for the right moment to introduce yourself and get to the point in 30-seconds or less. If you don’t have a press release written up, a quick 1 or 2-sentence long email can serve the same purpose (as long as your query does not end up in the spam folder).
• Delicately persuade supporters of your cause or product to politely request on your behalf that your story be covered (without admitting that you put them up to it). A perk of belonging to an industry trade group or Chamber of Commerce is appealing to use their sway to help reach out to reporters who count on them for information and good story leads. Take advantage of trade shows where reporters may scour for press kits.
• If you are solicited by an advertising rep from a media outlet, you have every right to pitch your story to them so they can pass it along to the newsroom crew for consideration. They likely can’t promise free coverage, but it never hurts to put it out there – IF you are spending your ad dollars with them. It’s tacky to buy ads from a competitor, then expect an ad rep to go to bat for you to get free coverage.
• Buy an advertisement that presents text in a way that resembles other news stories but has a disclaimer that it is paid content. Some media run what’s referred to “advertorial” content, which is an article on some topic that appears to be of general interest to the public but prominently cites a particular company as the expert source who is offering a solution to the pain points highlighted in the story.
• A Letter to the Editor is another route you can try, but your submission may be rejected if it is too clearly a brazen attempt to get free promotion.
It’s just human nature that the path of least resistance is exerting the least amount of time and energy. As a writer, it breaks my heart to admit this, but people don’t like to read any more. A story must facilitate a worthwhile exchange of their time for useful information given.
1. Prepare your pitch to match the format that news stories traditionally follow.
2. Suggest a headline that sums up the point you want to get across and makes it irresistible to read the first paragraph.
3. Use that first paragraph to “hook” readers in a way that will compel them to keep reading.
4. Be as detailed as you want, but put the most critical information in the first 3 sentences. This is because your press release may prove useful to easily fit a space between ads on a page when nearing a journalist’s deadline, but most of it may end up cut depending on that white space.
5. Make it easier for skimmers by breaking up blocks of text into shorter sentences that get to the point and easily flow from one thought to the next.
6. Use subheads to capture the basic essence of what the paragraphs that follow will express.
7. Break lists into bullet items.
8. Don’t forget to include your contact information and a brief description of who you are so reporters can follow up, if needed, and build on the foundation of the branding you’ve suggested they pass along for you.
Need an example? In this blog, I got you to read by promising in the headline a limited number of bits of information you’ll be forced to process, then I kept you involved with subheads in larger, bolder type that allowed you to get the general point without actually reading the sentences in smaller type size that follow.
I also broke pitch strategies above into a numbered checklist that you immediately grasped because it was eye-catching and simplified highly relevant strategies into an easily digested form.
I organized the presentation of the information in this blog so the most highly critical details came first in case you didn’t make it this far down the page.
If you did, good job!
Discussion point: Is it better to send a press release or get interviewed by a content creator? A good newsperson may add his or her creative flair to telling your story, but two advantages of going the submitted press release route are limiting the scope of who gets interviewed (do you really want a reporter fleshing out the coverage by calling your competitor for a quote?) and there’s less chance of being misheard, misquoted, or not properly understood by an interviewer. And frankly, your story may appeal to news folks if it is already “page ready” to go but get dismissed if they determine it’s not interesting enough to warrant investing their limited time to go after it themselves.
When Creating Your Press Release, Go Easy on the “Marketingspeak”
To that end, you’ll need a clear “call to action” defining what specific result you want as a consequence of readers/listeners experiencing your story idea. Brevity is key.
Some common calls to action include
• directing readers to a branded website for more details (once they visit, THEN you do the selling),
• previewing an irresistible offer that entices consumers to want to get details about how they can try out the product and even have it picked up for a return if they’re not completely satisfied,
• reinforcing appeal by directing to the reviews of satisfied customers,
• directing consumers to where they can learn how to claim a credit or freebie,
• encouraging a visit to a quiz that guesstimates something fun about them or offers great tips, usually in exchange for providing their email address subscribing to an email newsletter or limited time offers designed to create a sense of urgency (most effective online),
• building on brand awareness and product loyalty through descriptive text that appeals to would-be customers who you’re specifically wanting to target, often persuasively tapping into the ethos of who products are created for and differentiating your brand from others,
• previewing something new and encouraging readers to try it,
• encouraging feedback on something,
• creating incentive to give you a shot and sign up for a service while simultaneously overcoming objections by stating there’s no obligation or anything to lose, aka “high reward/low risk”,
The marketer in me always wants to know how a product or service will help readers reduce their spending, use their time more efficiently, improve a process, or get support they haven’t been receiving. Great messaging explains how customers can take advantage of lower priced stuff, open doors to new opportunities for growth, adopt features that waste less of their time by making tasks easier, and make them feel like a partner.
Employ emotional triggers that address very specific pain points and your solutions near the start and at the very end of a press release. That’s what you need to express in your call to action in one article is to generate another action to follow.
But tread carefully when it comes to deploying your own hype. Resist the urge to use the voice of an overly eager salesperson rather than the unbiased reporter of things objectively observed.
When I adapt press releases for running in our newspaper, I make subtle changes: removing first-person references in favor of third-party citations, i.e., replacing “we” or “us” with “they” or “them” so it reads like a story about you instead of a piece created FOR you.
5 Ways to Make Your Story Pitch More Appealing
Announce something neat like the launch of a new product, a fundraising campaign, or some exciting addition to your organization.
Announce developments that could impact the community.
If a merger or acquisition is going to possibly lead to job creation or savings on public investments, this definitely has news value. Plus, your press release will ensure the media knows who to contact for future stories as well.
Preview a news conference to announce these things, thereby doubling your coverage and laying the foundation for the coverage to accommodate your branding. Reveal just enough to entice their appetite, then be prepared for anything you might possibly be asked in the same way you develop a script for interacting with and overcoming objections from customers, investors, etc.
Include a Good Photo or Interesting Infographic that can add value.
You can magnify the column inches or you receive by giving editors a sidebar “fact sheet” or high-resolution images they can include. An artist’s rendition of a new building, quotes from affected stakeholders, or executive profiles with bios and pictures are a few examples.
Include a Product Sample, if any is available.
Make your case stronger by turning a skeptic into an ally. Reporters can’t guarantee coverage as a quid pro quo since exchanging items of value might be perceived as an ethical issue. Clarify that you simply want to illustrate a perspective or facet that can enhance any coverage they choose to pursue. Many bloggers are ethically bound to disclose things they are sent to write about so they keep their credibility with their readerships. You can request that your product samples be returned, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that I’m less likely to pursue something if it will create more work for me on the back end. Make it ridiculously easy to ship your thing back to you – at your expense.
Team Up with a Charity so your News isn’t purely self-serving.
Your story transforms into a matter of public interest the moment your call to action benefits a local nonprofit to gain money as a percentage of sales, etc. This also does wonders for your branding by illustrating that you care about things more important than just your own greed or vanity. Set up that photo where you announce this collaboration or present the check to show that you didn’t take the money and run on your promises. It is absolutely gold if a loveable executive director praises your organization for helping a worthy cause. Consumers are less likely to jump ship to your competitor if they perceive you as doing good.
Your goal is not to close a sale but to present information compelling enough for someone to want to learn more. Emphasize why your ___ matters to anyone other than the folks on your payroll. Tell us how you offer affordable and practical solutions to real problems that inflict pain points.
My Call to Action?
I encourage you to check out my freelance services pages for a preview of how I can create press releases and high-quality photography on behalf of clients.
Note: Hiring me does not guarantee my newspaper will give your story coverage – not my call — but I can put together a two page document that will fine-tune your information in a page-ready format suitable for emailing out to a variety of media near you. Contact me if you would like to learn more.