Six Tips for Generating Media Coverage

I’ve pretty much given up explaining my job to people at cocktail parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs.  However, every now and then I get drawn into a conversation that begs for a more detailed response than “I’m in marketing.”  Typically, the doctor/lawyer/cable installer I’m talking to has only the vaguest idea of what an agency PR guy actually does every day and it raises their eyebrows to learn that I spend a good chunk of my time trying to influence news media coverage. Occasionally, they’ll wink conspiratorially and ask how they can get on TV or in the newspaper like my clients do. At that point, of course, I hand them a business card …and the conversation usually shifts to sports or politics or the girl in the black dress.  But for those of you who really want to know, here are six simple tips for free. You don’t even have to buy me a drink.

  1. Know the difference between an ad and a press release — Surprisingly, many people don’t. While there is neither the time nor space to fully cover this topic here, suffice it to say that releases should have a news angle to them…not a sales angle. Before you write it, ask yourself if your news is really, well, news.  If so, go ahead with the release, but try to write it in a journalistic voice, using inverted pyramid format. Keep it brief and to the point. Keep an AP Stylebook handy. And keep ad/brochure language out of it, as that will turn off reporters and editors. Also — here’s a tip inside of a tip — if your boss insists on including sales-y language, turn it into a quote. That way you’re presenting it as someone’s enthusiastic opinion, not a ham-handed attempt at an objective news statement.
  2. Tie into a trend — By itself, your news may not rock an editor’s world. However, if it ties into a larger trend, you may be onto something.  Suggest your product or service as an example of how a national trend is playing out locally and you could get rewarded with lots of ink or airtime.
  3. Tie into a current news peg — Huge new stories have an incredible ripple effect, spawning dozens of smaller, related stories.  If you can connect your news item to the bigger picture, you may be in luck. You can also anticipate news coverage based on seasons and holidays and plan accordingly.
  4. Know the media outlet — A press release on a new industrial automation product probably isn’t going to be of interest to Time or Newsweek unless it plays into a larger story or trend. Sending it blindly to them is like hunting with your eyes closed — ineffective at best and potentially dangerous. However, the same release could be of great interest to a trade magazine covering industrial automation.  Always make sure you are familiar with the media outlets you are targeting…or don’t target them.  Waste their time once, and you’ll be junk-listed forever.
  5. Know the journalist’s beat — An obvious corollary to #4.  Even if you are targeting the right media outlet, you may be going after the wrong reporter or editor.  In many cases, media outlets will readily identify reporter’s beats. But even if they do, take the time to research the reporter and read/watch his or her stories. Follow them on Twitter. Friend them on Facebook. Being able to reference a reporter’s recent work will not only show you have a clue, it will stroke their ego. Both are good things.
  6. Respond quickly to media requests — If you’ve successfully piqued a reporter’s interest, don’t blow everything by taking all day to get back to them.  Reporters don’t care if you’re out of town, on vacation or chaperoning Little Sallie’s field trip…if you can’t get back to them within two hours or less, they’ll simply call someone else who can provide the same information.