When To Take a Media Break

Your media outreach has been rolling for some time. You’ve made a steady, strategic effort to tell your brand story through earned media with a well-organized media relations program (like the kind Bottom Line delivers). You’ve enjoyed some good placements and mentions, developed relationships with key reporters, and experienced encouraging results in the number of impressions, positive messages shared, customer feedback and anecdotal responses from friends and colleagues.

After this concerted, systematic effort, however, direction is changing. Emerging challenges in your business and market are requiring you to think differently about your media relations strategy, particularly as it relates to an overall marketing communications approach. Is it time to take a media break? It may be helpful to ask a few key questions to learn the answer.

1. Given your business objectives, are there other effective ways to tell your story right now? To answer this key question, consider options that still allow you to stay visible while making good use of people, time and resources. For example, you may be able to better leverage owned channels like your website, blog, social media and newsletters.

2. What’s the media environment like for your target outlets? Like all markets, media markets change. The loss of a key reporter can mean it’s time to rest while you get to know – and educate – someone new. TV stations, newspapers and trade journals change formats, merge or close all together. Ongoing staff reductions make it harder and harder to catch a reporter’s attention. Increased competition everywhere makes pitching your story more challenging. Taking a media break will allow you to refine your lists of outlets, reporters and editors, build a new library of story ideas, and maintain a strategic focus when you’re ready to try again.

3. Is the news cycle working against you? Unless your pitches tie in to the latest hot topics, your story may repeatedly be ignored in favor of political coverage, natural disasters, serious economic news or even holidays. Your approach may be as simple as taking a short break until the topic cools.

4. How compelling is your story? If you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for stories about your organization, are challenged to link story ideas to your business goals or can’t support a reporter’s interest with images, video or interviews with the right people, it’s okay to put the brakes on media outreach. When you’re rolling with something new or refreshed, you can get right back in the game.

Take that break from ongoing media relations if you need to, especially if your find yourself in one of these situations. It may be the pause that refreshes and recharges future success. 

Tips for Writing an Effective Media Pitch

There are a number of reasons your company may want to send out a media pitch—a catchy, to-the-point email to an editor, reporter or news desk. The announcement of a new product, partnership, hire, grant, book deal—something you feel is news worthy and could be shared with the media.

What you think is a great story might not make a reporter’s radar screen. It’s your job to convey the news to the media and capture a reporter’s attention. Here are some tips to consider when writing your next email pitch:

1. Send it to the right person — Finding the right reporter who covers the subject area of your pitch can prove to be difficult. Reporters don’t like to receive pitches on subjects they don’t cover. If your news is related to education, for example, be sure to pinpoint the right education reporter. Someone who covers K-12 might not cover higher education and vice versa. Take a few minutes to review the media outlet’s website to find the appropriate contact. There are online media services that can be helpful as well, but the cost might be too great if you don’t use the service enough. Oh, and be sure to spell the reporter’s name correctly.

2. Keep it short and simple — Reporters are only interested in the “meat” of the story. No editor or reporter wants to read through paragraph upon paragraph to get at whatever information you’re promoting. Save that for the news release. Give a brief introduction and get right to the point, telling the reporter why he or she should continue reading and consider covering your story. A few paragraphs should do. Attach the news release to the email, because if your pitch is compelling, a reporter will want to learn more and can look at the release.

3. Use bullet points — Short and simple. Bulleted lists are easy to scan and are not overwhelming to editors and reporters. Start your email with an introductory sentence or two followed by a few key bullet points. It also gives the editor or reporter an easy way to reference the information from your simplified list. Another effective use of a bulleted list is to give the reporter actual story ideas. This is helpful to the reporter because you’ve just made it easier for him or her to decide how to use the information provided.

4. Close with a call to action — This is key to any email pitch. If you wrote a great intro and effective key bullets, but failed to end with a call to action, your pitch likely will go nowhere. End your email with information directing the reporter to either a website or to contact you directly to schedule an interview. Better yet, let some time pass, then pick up the phone or send a follow up email to put your topic on the top of the reporter’s list and ask if he or she plans to cover your news.

5. Limit attachments – If you have photos or video to support your news, offer those in your pitch, but don’t send as attachments. They often get blocked by firewalls. If the reporter asks for more information, use that as an opportunity to send attachments.

With a little research and thought, you have a good chance at getting the attention your news story deserves.

Use Media Training to “Build Bench Strength”

We are finalizing a media training session for senior executives at one of our clients. It reminded me that training is one aspect, albeit very important. Equally important is picking the right trained spokesperson and that really depends upon the situation.

Many companies tend to have two extremes in selecting spokespeople. Some always send out the public relations person, while others insist that only the CEO speak. Neither of these rules works well all the time. Sometimes the top PR person is great. Sometimes the CEO is best. In many cases, neither is the best choice.

When I worked as a reporter, I generally wanted to talk to the person closest to the story I was covering. If a hospital announced a new procedure, I wanted to speak to a front-line doctor or a patient, much more so than the PR person or the CEO. If the news report is about a non-profit agency doing good work, I wanted to talk with a volunteer, not the executive director. If there is an explosion or fire, I wanted to talk to an eye witness or front-line supervisor. The closer I got as a reporter to the person closest to the story, the happier I was and the better story I could write.

This means that when it comes to media training, you need to use the same principle that a great sports team uses. You must train and build bench strength. This gives your organization a larger number of spokespersons to send forth. The key is identifying them and providing training that allows them to be confident and ready when the need arises.

Once you’ve got the bench trained and ready, ask these questions when choosing a spokesperson.

1. Is this person technically qualified? A lot of qualifications are tied to job titles, but titles are not always key. Don’t automatically assume your CEO or top executive should be your spokesperson, especially in times of crisis. Instead, you want someone who can step in as the face of your organization if necessary. Who the spokesperson is at any given time depends on that person, the message that needs to be communicated and the audience who needs to receive it.

2. Can this person provide factual information accurately and quickly? The person you choose needs to have knowledge of the information needed and access to that information.

3. Does this person have the communication ability/authority to speak without rehearsing? You want your spokesperson to be able to rehearse, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. There are times (during a crisis, for example) when your spokesperson will have to speak at press conferences or in media interviews with little time for preparation. Be sure your spokesperson can speak intelligently and directly on the fly, if necessary.

4. Will this person present information in a clear, concise and competent manner? You want a spokesperson who is articulate, who can communicate key points without adding a lot of extra information and jargon.

5. Will the public understand the situation by listening to this person? Your spokesperson should be able to communicate what happened that led to this point, what’s happening now and what’s next in a way that your key audiences can understand.

6. Does this person communicate concern for people in a clear, compassionate manner? Some people are more compassionate than others. Some people just have a difficult time communicating concern and compassion without coming across flat. If this is the type of information you need communicated, you want to make sure your spokesperson can handle it without sounding like a jerk.

7. Do people trust this person? Whether your target audiences will trust your spokesperson is directly related to vocal quality, confidence and appearance. Like it or not, people will decide immediately whether they think your spokesperson knows what he/she is talking about. Think about whether you would trust your spokesperson if he/she were a stranger delivering this news to you.

8. Does this person want to be a spokesperson? You really shouldn’t force someone into the spokesperson role. If an individual isn’t comfortable representing your organization, then they are not the right person for the job. Choose someone else.

9. Is this person good with the medium required? Your spokesperson represents your organization in a lot of different scenarios. It may be in front of a large crowd, a small group or in a face-to-face interview with a reporter. Understand which medium is required and which spokesperson is best at that medium.

Speaking with the news media represents an excellent opportunity to tell your company’s story, if you get it right. If you get it wrong, your company’s reputation and brand can be damaged permanently. With a strong bench of trained spokespeople, you’ll be prepared for most situations with the best spokesperson to tell your best stories. Call us if you want to learn more about building some spokesperson bench strength at your organization.