Often we work with clients who say they are frustrated that they haven’t gotten interviews, profiles or appearances in the press. It’s understandable. They’re trying to figure out how to work with a reporter. I often compare media relations work to making a sale. In business, timing and approach are everything to make the sale. If you’re reading this and doing DIY media relations, here are some tips to consider when working with reporters. And if you’re reading this and thinking you need more press, please give us a call to see if we can support your efforts.
1) When thinking about approaching a reporter, ask yourself, “Is this really newsworthy?”
I listened to someone tell me that he was frustrated by a business publication’s reporter because they never wrote about him and his business. His assumption was that the reporter he was emailing and calling was bias. When I asked what the story idea he was offering was, it was about him and his business. During my tenure as a reporter, our staff at the station considered that an ad. Stop for a moment and think about what you’re offering reporters. They want newsworthy items. That means timing is everything–are you prepared to talk about a trend with new data, do you have a fresh perspective, can you comment on a current topic? Human interest stories are fantastic with the data to back up what you’re offering a reporter. For example, in Indiana the need for foster parents is a constant. Writing about people who step up to help children who need loving homes will get press and help inspire others who are thinking about becoming foster parents.
2) Find the right reporter to contact.
We’ve all met reporters at social events, our kids’ schools, church and other places. Keep in mind, this professional might not be reporting on the beat that covers your topic. Start by asking not selling. It’s a professional courtesy. This tip makes me think about people I see who meet a doctor and start talking about aches and pains. The doctor is off work–professional courtesy. Some publications have a list of reporters on their website. Look at that before you call. And keep in mind, sometimes the reporter you’re pitching to cover a story is the right person but already booked with stories. That just happened at our office. We asked, are there other options in the news run down where this can fit? Yes! And we booked a segment.
3) Let the reporter say no.
Sometimes what you think is a great idea has already been covered or is just not of interest. We always let the reporter say no. We offer them that out–it’s ok to say no. Next step here, don’t take it personally. Often what happens is the reporter respects having that out to say no and comes back another time when they’re working on a story that fits.
4) Don’t give up after one call or email.
I asked a reporter a few years back, “How many news releases do you typically get each day?” Over 30! That’s a lot of information to sort through, process and make a decision about for reporting. Unless you’re announcing new jobs, a merger, a buyout–something big–your idea will be put to the side. It’s ok to follow up and ask again. We know the reporters we contact and they know us. We have to follow up, and usually get a professional apology from them for not responding sooner. Many news teams had twice the staff up to 10 years ago. These are busy professionals working on a deadline each day. That doesn’t mean they’re not interested in you. Be patient and be courteous.
5) Confirm and prepare.
You had the story idea. Now the reporter is ready for the interview. What are the three to five messages that you want to be sure are included? Prepare. Write down talking points and think them through. Maybe even do a mock interview to be ready. A good reporter will ask questions and end an interview with, “What else do you have to add?” If your talking points were not totally covered this is your opportunity to share more information. And if that question isn’t asked, you have the right to offer information before the interview is over. Just say, “Before we wrap up, can I add a few things?”
6) Know when the story will run and what it’s about.
You also have the right to ask the reporter when the story will run. Reporters are eager to share that information because most now have responsibility to share their stories and get engagement on social media. If you’re being interviewed for a story you haven’t sold to a reporter (meaning they called on you to be a source), you have the right to ask details about that story. Who else is being interviewed, is there data and what is it and so on. The reporter will get a better story if you know what they’re working on writing. And the good reporters know and understand that.
7) Use the story when it runs.
Post it to social media channels. Email it to clients, friends and family. Add it to sales kits. Post it to your website. Print it for your lobby. Bottom line, don’t be shy to share a final story in the press.