One of the goals of establishing or growing a business is building brand awareness by getting your story in front of new potential customers. After all, only those that know about you can buy from you. The question then, is how do you do that? Media coverage is a great way to gain exposure, but like most things in business it’s easier said than done.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he number one complaint I hear from friends working in the media is getting poorly written press releases for topics they don’t even cover. That’s a surefire way to get your email deleted in a hot second! To avoid getting tossed into the digital trashcan, make sure you’re presenting your news in a way that’s simple, clear, and easy-to understand, and that you’re sending it to the right people.
A reporter’s goal is to craft timely, relevant stories to engage and grow their audience. Like everyone these days, reporters are busier than ever and are constantly bombarded with emails. So how do you make your media request stand out? In short, you have to give a reporter exactly what they need. Nothing more, nothing less. If you can put a newsworthy story in front of them that they want to cover, give them all the pieces of information that they need—essentially hand off a “print-ready” piece—then you’re making their lives easy, and making them look good in the process.
Crafting Your News
To share your news with the media, you’ll need to write a press release, and when you write a release it should sound like an actual, print-worthy news article. To get at the heart of the matter—the pulse of your news—consider the distinct selling points of what you’re communicating, be it your company, your products, or your customer base. What problem are you attempting to solve? What are the most compelling elements of your story? What quotes or testimonials can you offer to support your claims? What excites you the most about what you’re trying to convey? Start there and see where it takes you. If you’re not pumped about your press release, it will be hard to get anyone else interested in it.
When your press release is ready, publish it using a press release distribution service like PitchEngine. It’s basically a reporter’s dream, and I can’t recommend it enough. These services provide a handy, clickable link to your release (no attachments!), with a host of well-designed formats that include downloadable, high-res images. The days of stodgy press release attachments are over, and more often than not, they can get you stuck in a Spam filter, which leads to nowhere, fast.
Uncovering Pitch Angles
With your press release in place, it’s time to figure out ways to get your story picked up, and here’s where your pitch angle comes in. A pitch angle is a particular slant on the news you’re sharing. It’s the “juice” of your news release, and it can be catered to a specific audience or outlet. To illustrate the process of uncovering different pitch angles, I’ll use an example.
I recently managed a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for a local company with a unique food product. The company, Smiling Hara Tempeh, wanted to launch a new product line, “Hempeh,” which is soy-free tempeh fortified with hemp seeds. To source the beans and hemp for Hempeh, they planned to partner with Growing Warriors, a veteran-owned and operated farm in Kentucky—a fortuitous partnership that made their campaign really stand out. For the press release, I lead with the news: the Kickstarter launch, the unveiling of the new product, the partnership with Growing Warriors, and the fundraising goal of $20,000. (I’m happy to report that by the end of the campaign we exceeded the funding goal by over 25%.)
[quote float=”right”]Sometimes you’ll get bites right away. When I pitched Smiling Hara Tempeh to an editor at a popular national food magazine, I received a reply within five minutes.[/quote]As for pitch angles, we wanted to cast as wide a net as possible, to get the story picked up in as many outlets as possible, and so we explored as many different story angles as we could think of. In the end, our pitch angles touched on the following themes: healthy cooking, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free lifestyles, veteran farming programs, the changing laws around growing hemp, and the superfood benefits of hemp. Smiling Hara Tempeh is a small family-owned business, so other potential story angles included small business development, the trials and tribulations of running a small business, overcoming obstacles to grow a small business—all of that good stuff.
Now that we had our story angles sussed out it was time to find media outlets and journalists who would be interested in picking up the story.
Finding the Right Reporters
Finding the right reporters to cover your story is one part research, one part determination, and one part sheer luck when it comes to what’s trending. With a simple Google News Search you can find the latest news stories on the topics you want to pitch by reporters who may be interested in your story, too. The same goes for Google Blog Search. When you type in a keyword or phrase (like “tempeh”) it will pull up bloggers covering those topics. If you want to stay up to date on a keyword, like I needed to for “tempeh” during the Kickstarter campaign, you can set up a Google Alert to capture any news mentions that pop up on that keyword.
Using Google is a great way to find media leads for outreach, but it’s not without its challenges. Not all reporters list their contact info, which can make it difficult to track them down. One way around this, if your company has the means, is to subscribe to a service like Cision—a massive database that includes over 1.6 million contacts for outlets, journalists, bloggers, and social influencers who can tell your story. In just a couple of clicks, you can build a media list by topic, outlet, media type, and region, and in some cases you can even track down a reporter’s contact info in a matter of seconds. If a media database isn’t an option, you can find most reporters on Twitter these days. Just be sure to ease into the conversation before you send out a query. A thoughtful, authentic approach will yield greater results than a brash, self-serving request for a direct message.
Ready, Steady, Pitch
Once you’ve laid the groundwork and honed your message, written a clear press release, determined your pitch angles, identified reporters who may be interested in covering your story, and tracked down their contact info, it’s time to introduce yourself. (Phew!) Though you might think it will save time, don’t be tempted to send out email blasts to groups of reporters. Instead, work on sending customized emails to individual reporters with pitch angles that can provide real value for their readers. Offer short, concise reasons for why you think that’s the case, and reference an article of theirs you’ve read that supports your reasoning. Keep it short and sweet. Include an intriguing subject line that will compel someone who doesn’t know you to open your email. Then, hit send and see what happens.
[quote float=”right”]In the words of Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” So keep going until something lands.[/quote]Sometimes you’ll get bites right away. When I pitched Smiling Hara Tempeh to an editor at a popular national food magazine, I received a reply within five minutes. Of course there were many, many other emails I sent that never garnered a response. So, you wait and try again. Part of breaking through to the media is knowing when to be persistent and knowing when to back off. I don’t like to be a pest, so my preference is to follow up a day or two later. If I don’t hear anything, I might send one more email a few days later, but after three strikes, I’m out. I’d rather spend my time chasing down new, quality leads. Try not to take it personally if you don’t hear back. Simply move on, with grace, and find a better fit. The right reporters will always get back to you; it’s one of those things you have to trust. And in the meantime, you have to keep trying—tweaking your press release, adjusting your pitches, trying out new email subject lines—it’s all part of the process.
There’s no exact science for what works and what doesn’t when it comes to pitching your news to the media. It’s more of an experiment, but one that only works with strong, newsworthy content, an understanding of the readership of the person you’re pitching to, and an interesting, customized take on what makes your story stand out. In the words of Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” So keep going until something lands. When you get your first “hit” you’ll have reason to celebrate and you’ll see how quickly you can start building momentum, one media mention at a time.
Kathleen McCafferty is the PR, Content & Community Outreach Specialist for JB Media Group. She holds an MFA in writing.