It's time for those in public relations to take a kinder, more empathetic approach to dealing with the media.
OK, well maybe that's being too sensitive. But it does help to put yourself in a reporter's shoes when trying to get editorial coverage about your company or your client.
News staffs are down. Reporters and editors are forced to do more with less time. Therefore, if as a communications professional you can make it easier for a reporter to do his or her job, you stand a better chance of receiving coverage. You also stand a better chance of building a valued relationship with the person.
Granted, no matter how you work with a reporter, you still need to have a solid news or feature angle. But, assuming you have that area covered, here are steps you can take to make it easier for your targeted media to do their job:
- Know how your targeted media prefer to receive stories. If you don't know, be safe and distribute stories via mail. Better yet, simply call and ask. It gives you a chance to get some telephone time with a reporter and demonstrates that you are interested in working with the reporter by asking his or her news delivery preference.
Email is becoming more and more accepted. However, if a reporter doesn't know who you are or your email pitch becomes caught in a spam filter, it'll be easier to "delete" an unsolicited email than it is to throw away an unopened, mailed envelope.
- Be familiar with your targeted media. Of course, if you have a large circulation list, you cannot be up on all of the media outlets. However, you can be familiar with the ones you regularly send stories to. If you are targeting a new outlet, visit its Web site. Get a subscription or a tape of the program. Know the outlet's regular columns, readership, style, etc.
- Know the media outlet's writing style. Write stories as a journalist would, and view your story from a journalist's viewpoint. This applies primarily to newspapers and magazines. Your approach may be different if you are targeting online-only media outlets. Most print media outlets use AP Style. Know it.
- Television and radio have some different needs. For TV, it'll help your case if you can include a great visual. A product demonstration, for example. For radio, it will help if your news can be explained in simple terms. Not condescending, but in plain language that people can comprehend while driving, at work, doing chores at home, etc.
- Web presence: Make it easier for the media to access information about your company or your client. Provide downloadable, high-resolution images. When applicable, have video files that can be viewed without a long download time. Make releases accessible in easy file types (Word or html). Don't use PDF files, as it's difficult to copy and paste or import text from a PDF. Also, make sure there is easy access to contact information (daytime and off-hours telephone number, email). If you have a large archive of stories, consider adding a search function to your newsroom.
- Respond quickly to media inquiries—even if you do not have an answer. Replying to emails or returning calls lets the editor know you received the message and are looking into what he/she needs. Also, it gives you the chance to get more information about what the editor is seeking to better prepare your client or company source.
- If possible, don't give the same information to the all the media. This applies more if you are pitching a story, or targeting an industry or geographic region. All media—whether the Los Angeles Times or West Toledo Herald—seek to localize stories for their readers. If the story is the same, maybe offer different photography. Better yet, direct the media to your newsroom site and let them pick their own images. Or, for interviews, set up different client or company sources.
- Don't get upset if your wonderful story doesn't get picked up. If it's newsworthy, odds are it will be used some place. However, if you are pitching a story, it may not appeal directly to the reporter at that moment. You don't know what other stories he/she is covering, or the other demands on his/her time. Go on to your next targeted media outlet. Then, go back to the editor, possibly with a different angle if you can.
There is enough competition for editorial and broadcast space as it is. Anything you can do to make it easier for the media to use your news and information will improve your chances of being covered.