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Exposing your products to the huge audiences of mainstream media (newspapers, national business publications, television and radio) can generate a large number of sales leads and also provide exposure that can get you on prospects' short lists very quickly.

But convincing journalists and others who write for publications and shows with audiences of hundreds of thousands (or millions!) to cover your products or services isn't a simple task. This article will provide some tips on how to overcome the many hurdles involved in obtaining product coverage in major mainstream media.

Finding the Right Angle

The biggest challenge in breaking into the mainstream media is coming up with an angle that editors will see as newsworthy. Simply describing a better product or an interesting application isn't going to cut it.

You need something that is either truly extraordinary from a technical standpoint, which is usually hard to find, or a story that shows how technology can affect the average person.

For example, a recent CNN article explained how computer simulation was used to determine why some of the bubbles in a glass of beer go down when you would normally expect all of them to rise. The article, which shows how the average person is affected by technology in an out-of-the-ordinary way, provides a perfect example of how to get mass media interested in a B2B product.

Putting Together the Proposal

Once you decide on the right subject matter, the next critical step is putting together a proposal directed to the editors, producers and reporters who will be considering the idea.

The proposal should not be intended to be (nor should it read like) an article. Unlike many trade journals, nearly all mass media outlets produce all or nearly all of their own material and would be insulted if they thought that you were submitting an article that you expected them to run as is. Instead, the proposal should be a brief summary of the facts surrounding the angle you have selected and why you think it would be of interest to their readers.

It will greatly improve your chances of success if you can provide a third-party reference in the proposal that validates your main point. In most cases, this is a user of your product or service but might also be a respected industry figure, such as someone working with a research organization. The proposal should also explain how the person you are sending it to will be able to obtain what he or she needs to complete the story, such as names for possible interviews, opportunities for shooting photographs and video, etc.

Selecting Target Media

Pick as many appropriate targets for pitching your proposal as possible. The proportion of publications that will be interested in your pitch is naturally going to be much smaller among mainstream media than trade publications in your industry, so you need to start with a large group of targets to get a reasonable response.

These media outlets often have a very large staff, so selecting the right person is usually more difficult than selecting the publication. It's essential to have a media directory that provides a detailed listing of the responsibility of key staff members and their beat, or the types of stories they cover, such as business, computing, automotive, energy, science, medicine and so on.

Pitching the Proposal

Email has become the media of choice for pitching articles. Rather than considering article ideas as an unwanted intrusion, most editors welcome appropriate submissions, and a high percentage provide a response even when they aren't interested.

With the amount of email received by a typical editor, the subject line usually determines whether the story will be read or not. Having a subject line that does a good job of summarizing the angle while calling out its relevance to the publication will substantially increase the response rate. The response rate will also be improved if the proposal comes from someone that the editor has worked with in the past and views as a source of good story ideas.

And, of course, each editor should receive an individual, personalized email rather than being simply being on a copy list with many others.

Being Ready to Respond and Follow-Up

The most crucial time in the life of the proposal comes just after you have submitted your initial proposal. The publications that are interested will usually immediately begin responding by sending requests for more information, interviews with customers or your technical people, graphics, opportunities to shoot footage, etc.

Keep in mind that the timeframe of these publications is typically much shorter than the average trade journal's. Rather than looking for an answer in a week or two, they usually need it in a day or so, in some cases in hours. So it always makes sense to anticipate their request and, as much as possible, be ready to fulfill them even before they respond.

Once you have met their requests, the next step is regular follow-up until the article or broadcast actually appears. Maintaining contact will help ensure that the idea doesn't get lost in the shuffle of putting out a paper every day or derailed because of a minor snag that could easily be resolved.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry Fireman (jerry_fireman@strucinfo.com) is president of Structured Information (www.strucinfo.com), a company that provides marketing communications services on a project basis.