If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you’re keen to get media coverage for your business or brand.
- Perhaps you’ve tried pitching a few ideas to journalists but they've been rejected or ignored
- It could be that you’ve had a few successes, but would love to get more consistent media coverage
- Or maybe you’re so darn confused about how it all works (do you need to write a press release, how do you find the right journalist to pitch your idea to, should you call or email etc etc?)... you haven’t tried at all
Whatever your circumstances, what you’re doing isn’t working.
And not only do you want to know why - you’d also love some easy-to-follow guidance that will help you get media coverage.
Does this sound like you? Read on...
1.Stop talking about your business
You may not like the sound of this, but if you want more media coverage for your business, the first thing you need to do is: STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS.
I realise this might sound counterintuitive, but stick with me.
There's no way of putting this nicely, but journalists aren’t interested in your business.
It’s nothing personal.
It’s just that it isn’t their responsibility to help you promote your product, service or brand.
Their job is creating content that is a perfect fit for their audience.
So anything that looks like advertising (unless it’s paid for and clearly labelled as such) is unethical. In fact, it could land them in trouble.
This is not to say you can’t get media coverage for your business - you absolutely can.
But you have to accept that content comes first. Which leads nicely onto my next point...
2. Show don’t tell
Instead of trying to get journalists to write articles about your business, you need to pitch story ideas that allow you to show what it’s about. Take this story I wrote for the Guardian on why I was fed up with being asked to work for free.
Not only did I see a HUGE spike in sign ups for my free press release writing course (which is brilliant at generating leads for my business), ticket sales for my live events went up too.
In fact, at an event I was speaking at recently, there was a lady sat in the front row who had found my website and signed up to my email list as a result of reading that article.
Effective PR in action.
Instead of pitching stories about their business, I encourage students on my Soulful PR programme to look around the edges of their business for stories - in the areas of their life that intersect with their business.
Take this example from expat blogger and relocation expert Melanie. Having tried, unsuccessfully, to pitch stories into the national media about her relocation business, she has recently placed two pieces, which show her knowledge and expertise, in the Guardian and Huffington Post.
Both were commissioned pretty much by return and led to her being contacted by journalists from the Sunday Times and Daily Mail about further stories.
Claudia was frustrated that journalists didn’t seem interested in writing about her business and work as a cognitive behavioural therapist - not even her local newspaper. But when she pitched an article to the Daily Mail about her struggles with breastfeeding (following the publication of some new research on the topic), the editor said ‘yes’ pretty much by return. The following day, her local newspaper got in touch wanting to interview her. While the articles weren't specifically about her business, she talks about her work in both.
I was recently featured in the Metro’s property section talking about the ‘chic shed’ where I work:
This is one of my quotes from the piece:“I love it because it’s nothing like a conventional office, is full of my personality and just has a lovely, relaxed, homely feel about it. I’ve recently started using it to deliver training courses and I love that it isn’t all formal and corporate, so it appeals to the kinds of people I love working with – entrepreneurs and creative business owners. It also gives me some privacy and feels more professional than working around my kitchen table.”
Even though the article isn't about my business, it gave me the opportunity to talk about the values that drive it. People are always asking about my 'she shed' - both via social media and at in-person events - so it's another great example of PR in action.
In fact, my 'she shed' has become such an integral part of my brand it's now featured in many of my publicity photos (including the one at the top of this post).
What these three examples show is that when you stop talking about your business and start talking about the areas of your life that intersect with your business , you’ll have far more luck getting media coverage.
This can be achieved by pitching opinion articles (like Melanie’s piece on why no one had heard of Denmark until recently), 'first person' experiences (like my article on why we need to talk about miscarriage) or ‘how to’ articles (like this piece on how to write press releases - part of a series I wrote for the Guardian, that has driven lots of traffic to my website).
3. Do your homework
Imagine turning up to a job interview without researching the company, stalking your interviewer(s) on LinkedIn or thinking about the questions you might be asked (and preparing your answers).
It’s pretty unlikely you’d get the job, isn’t it?
Yet this is, essentially, what people do to journalists, every day of the week.
They send the same pitch or press release to dozens of journalists, on different publications/programmes, with little consideration of the kind of content they're looking for - or the needs of their audience.
The message is this: “I want you to help ME, by giving me column inches or airtime, but I’m not prepared to put in the time to understand what YOU need.”
No wonder journalists can be grumpy.
If you want to give yourself the best possible chance of getting coverage in a magazine or newspaper (or on radio or TV), you MUST invest time researching the publications/programmes you’re pitching to so you can get a sense of the kind of content they typically run.
Investing time researching previous content helped me pitch and place this article in the Huffington Post and get signed up as a regular blogger. Again, it's not specifically about my business, but I do talk about it in the article - which I think makes it feel more authentic.
You’ll also need to tweak your pitch slightly to suit different publications/programmes. While it’s tempting to take to take the easiest-sounding option (writing a press release, firing it off to a list of journalists and crossing your fingers someone will pick it up) but this is a pretty ineffective way of doing PR.
Writing tailored email pitches can seem like a lot of effort upfront, but will save you time and money in the long run.
4. Don’t rely on press releases (or don’t bother writing them at all)
Being able to write press releases is a great skill to have (which is why I offer a free online course on how to do it).
But having a great story idea is far more important than a perfectly written press release. In fact, some of the best stories I’ve covered over the years came from a hurried email pitch (complete with typos) or a direct message on Twitter (like this one).
So before you even think about writing a press release, ask yourself if anyone would actually care about your story.
While you might be excited about appointing a new financial director, launching your new product line or snazzy new website, will the audience of the newspaper or magazine (or radio or TV programme) you’re pitching to be interested?
Be honest; if you weren't directly involved, would YOU be interested in your story?
And just to be clear: a press release is not a story. It's an information document that helps a journalist decide whether or not to run your story.
So it doesn't matter how beautifully written your press release is, how many journalists you send it to - or how many times you ring/email to follow it up - if your story isn't interesting, journalists won't cover it.
If you've got a great story idea, a concise email pitch - that clearly sets out your story idea in the email subject header and gets to the point quickly - is just as good (if not better) than a press release).
5. Find exactly the right journalist to pitch your idea to
If you want to increase your chances of getting media coverage, you need to find out the name and contact details of the exact person who can make a decision about whether to run your story
Many publications list contact details for journalists and email addresses are sometimes included. If they’re not, you can usually work out the email format by looking at addresses that are listed (advertising sales contacts usually are).
Radio and TV producers/researchers can be harder to track down, but social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn can be useful.
Steer clear of generic email addresses (e.g. [email protected] or [email protected]) as, in many cases, these are not checked regularly. And don’t be fobbed off by people who say they will forward your press release or email to the journalist or editor concerned. Make it your mission to get the name and email address of the person who will make the decision about whether to use your story or not.
If in doubt, just pick up the phone.
If it doubt, just ring up and ask. Don’t take it personally if people are bit short on the phone, as newsrooms are busy places. Ask nicely and you should get the information you need.