How to Win Friends and Make Placements: Best Practices in Talking to Media

Media connections

In an ever-evolving world of social media, influencers, and content marketing, it can sometimes feel like traditional media is going the way of the dinosaurs. No one really reads the newspaper, do they? Don’t they just use Facebook or Twitter for news? PR professionals shouldn’t discount the impact that traditional media outlets continue to have, though, or the ways they’ve adapted. Your local cable news channel, paper, or radio station likely has an entire online section and a strong social media presence. And that’s not even mentioning the way that national outlets like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times are keeping themselves relevant through Twitter, Medium, and other platforms like Snapchat.

Traditional media is still a vital tool in any public relations strategy, and therefore media gatekeepers can often be overwhelmed or put off by contact from PR practitioners. Reporters and editors can receive hundreds of simple, impersonal pitches every day. When it comes to getting a pitch read and picked up, indiscriminately sending it out to random reporters you barely know is not the best approach. This kind of “spray and pray” method of PR will return a few hits, but nothing worth turning anyone’s head.

In modern PR, it’s important to establish a working relationship with the media contacts you want to run your stories. Getting to know reporters, editors, and publishers increases your chances of getting a pitch picked up, and contacts who like you are more likely to help you craft a compelling, impactful story. Establishing a rapport with your media contacts can lead to more placements, better exposure, and an easier pitching process. Never discount the power of making friends.

Here are a few of our best practices to turn media contacts into friends and earn better placements.

Do Your Research

Media personalities are easy to research, there should be no excuse for not looking into a reporter or editor’s background before reaching out to them. In the world of social media and connectivity, almost all media contacts will have social media profiles. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles are great places to understand what your contact is passionate about. What about their work gets them excited? What outside of their work? Doing research can help you make connections with your contacts that will make interactions more natural and less forced for both of you.

In addition, research the media outlet where your contact works. Look at the things they’ve written and their beat. What other topics have they covered? What about the other writers on that beat? Get a handle on how they write and what they prefer to write about to help you better tailor your pitch to their style and preferences.

Make First Contact

Reach out to your target contact via email or phone, but don’t let your communication become just another in a crowd of overwhelming noise. Respect your contact by keeping your pitch brief, friendly, and tailored to his or her interests and focus. If you leave a voicemail, make sure it’s short and to the point – avoid rambling!

What’s the Story?

After making contact, be careful not to pester your contact too much. With a strategic approach, your personalized pitch will break through the noise and catch their attention right away. However, reporters still deal with numerous pitches every day, and sometimes your message may get lost in the crush. As a rule of thumb, wait roughly a week before sending a follow-up email or phone call.

Through your research and follow-up, you’ll be able to get in contact with the reporter or editor you’re interested in speaking to. If and when this happens, it’s important to make the conversation about them. Sell the story in the context of their interests. Why will it matter to their audience? You can have the most exciting angle in the world, but if it only matters to you, it will never run.

Keep in Touch

You did it! A reporter or editor, impressed by your relevant pitch and friendly demeanor, picked up your story! It’s time to celebrate!

Don’t move on too quickly, however. The best way to maintain a good working relationship with media contacts is to send them a quick thank you after the story runs. Make sure the reporter knows this story wasn’t a one-and-done deal, and promise to come back to them with story ideas in the future. Even a small “thank you and keep in touch” message will help you stand out from the crowd and give you a better chance at getting regular placements in your outlets of choice.

Interested in learning more about our media relations best practices and results? With years of experience backing up our strategies, we’ll work with you to develop a personalized media relations plan that will help get your pitches noticed and your articles placed. Give us a call, and start making friends!

Making the most of your TV interview

The media is inundated with stories, yet reporters are always looking for good content. If you’ve got a great story to tell or an upcoming event to promote, with broad reach, chances are a TV reporter will be interested. If you’re lucky enough to be invited on a newscast to talk about your story or event, it’s important to make the most out of your 1.5 minutes of fame.

To capture the attention of the audience, a little prep work is in order before pulling into the TV station parking lot. Begin by researching the reporter and TV show or newscast. Take a look at social media and get a feel for the reporter or station’s style. Learn something new about the reporter and be ready to discuss prior to going live on air. It will help break the ice and make both of you more relaxed. Does the reporter post pictures of children or pets on his or her Twitter account? You might mention, “Hey, I saw some photos on your Twitter feed of cute kids. Are those your children?” Besides giving the reporter a chance to talk about him/herself, it lets them know you cared enough to do some research.

Often interviewees are unsure of where to look. When it’s time to go live, don’t worry about the camera. Instead, look at the person interviewing you. You’ll be more at ease if you pretend it’s just you and the reporter having a conversation as if you’re in a coffee shop. The more relaxed you look, the more the viewers will want to continue to watch. If the interview includes several people or a panel, look at the person speaking. Remember, the camera can pan out and capture the group, so always be camera ready!

What to wear is an important question whether you’re on TV or not! Have you ever watched the 10 p.m. news and the anchor’s tie or jacket catches your attention? If it seems to be moving and fuzzy, it’s not your eyes. Chances are the fabric has a small pattern. Checks, houndstooth and sometimes stripes cause the clothing item to dance or move. To get the viewer to focus on you and listen to what you’re saying, it’s best to wear solid, dark clothing. A white shirt and tie are great for a corporate meeting, but on camera it’s too stark. Consider a blue or other solid colored shirt instead. Women who wear dresses or skirts should consider the length and be mindful of how they sit in the chair. Cross your feet at the ankle and tilt your legs to one side. Remember Mia in the Princess Diaries?!

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If your interview is not in-studio, put some consideration into your location and backdrop. If you’re conducting an interview about highway funding, it might seem like a good idea to stand in front of a highway or stretch of road that will be impacted. Don’t do it. The noise and the traffic will be loud and distracting. When you’re ready to do an out of studio interview, it’s a good idea to turn around to see what’s behind you. The right backdrop can help tell the story. If you have a positive story to tell, try to position yourself in front of your company logo. If the news is not so great, avoid it.

Practice makes perfect, and the more you can review your talking points, the more comfortable you’ll be. Pay attention to your hand gestures, which can be a distraction. Body language is important too, so remember what your mom said about sitting up straight!

Additional advance work for the TV station:

  • A few days before the interview, provide the producer or reporter with the name, title, and company name of the person who will be interviewed so they can prepare a graphic to display on screen. Include any other important information (i.e., website, event location address, hours, phone number) to be displayed on screen.
  • Video footage or still images can be used on air during the interview if provided in advance. 
  • Ask where to park and what door to use. If you’re doing a 5:45 a.m. interview for the morning news, be sure to ask if the door will be unlocked.
  • Get the number of the producer or another staff member in case of a last-minute emergency.
  • After the interview, monitor the TV station website and social media for a link to the story, which you can reshare on your own social media.

You know your story better than anyone else, and with a little thought, planning and practice, you’ll come off as a media expert. If you’d like to learn more about prepping for an interview, give us a call. We’re experts at conducting media and spokesperson training, including a videotaped before and after mock interview and critique session, which participants find most helpful. Stay tuned for a future follow up post on how to stay on message during the interview.

Add Another Feather to Your PR Hat This Thanksgiving

As we’re thawing the turkey and prepping the stuffing, we pause to honor the PR spirit of Thanksgiving! (We’re pretty sure community relations and a savvy dash of crisis management had a hand in that first feast.)

So we’re continuing the tradition with our Top 5 Media Relations Tips Inspired by Turkey Day.

turkey-1460850_12801. Build relationships: Whether around the New World campfires or Mom’s dinner table, Thanksgiving celebrates people coming together, sharing needs and gifts, and seeking new relationships. The same holds true for media relations. Connect with reporters and editors in a way that engages them for the long-run.

2. Get creative: The first settlers thought on their feet to survive. They looked for new opportunities and new ways of doing things–just like media relations pros do when crafting story ideas and pitches. 

3. Deliver delicious morsels: Reporters want the marshmallow-covered sweet potato dish … not the green bean casserole. Serve your stories with an extra helping of relevance, timeliness and local customization, and you’ll whet their appetite for more.

4. Think in courses: Placing one great story is like that first bite of cranberry sauce; you know there’s a lot more feast to come! Instead of petering out early, think like Grandma and plan several courses of outreach.

5. Never nap! While napping after too much turkey is a time-honored tradition (one we wholeheartedly support!), media pitching is another story. News doesn’t stop for tryptophan, and neither should your story ideas. Watch for ways to refresh and renew your media relations so it doesn’t grow tired.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

And if you need a media relations partner for the other 364 days of the year, we’re your pumpkin pie!

Client Spotlight: FEI Behavioral Health

Every once in a while, we like to give a shout out to one of our clients and showcase our good work together. This month, we’re featuring FEI Behavioral Health, a longtime client who has partnered with us on media relations efforts. FEI works in the full spectrum of workplace resiliency services—from large-scale crisis management to day-to-day employee assistance programs. Here’s a snapshot of our work with them.

Media Relations

On an annual basis, we meet with FEI’s leadership team to determine strategy for the upcoming year. The team shares insight with us on the trends and products they want to spotlight. With this information, we develop a media pitch calendar and look for opportunities to gain media coverage on behalf of FEI. We have a comprehensive list of trade publications and reporters relevant to FEI’s service industries, and pitch on a regular basis.

FEI’s team of experts has a robust line-up of speaking engagements, from conference workshops to panel discussions. These speaking opportunities provide us with a wealth of topics to complement our annual pitch calendar.

From Push to Pull

After five years of pushing out news releases and pitching reporters, media coverage has doubled, and reporters now proactively contact us for bylined articles and expert interview requests. Visibility at conferences has increased as well. A reporter from a trade publication mentioned she had an opportunity to introduce herself to our client at a conference after working with us to place a bylined article. Putting a name to a face and making a connection at a large trade show is a valuable asset and our media efforts were a direct result in making that happen.

The Bottom Line team is excited to continue our media relations relationship with the FEI team to increase their network of contacts through local and trade media. FEI is just one of many clients we support with media relations work. We’re happy to talk with you to discuss how Bottom Line can help grow and expand your media coverage

Creative Ways to Get in Front of Journalists

As newsrooms continue to shrink, it is important in our industry to stay in touch with the reporters.  Those that remain may have taken on new or additional beats. To help us tell our client stories, we try to maintain frequent touches with reporters. The old method of sending out press releases and media alerts and holding press conferences is not always the best option.

Here are some new ideas to stay in touch in order to get in front of journalists:

  • Research the reporter. Find out what beats he or she covers. This helps ensure you get your pitch into the hands of the reporter who covers that topic. Beats change, so be sure to keep current.
  • Follow the reporter on social media. Retweet or “like” posts.
  • Tailor your message to the specific reporter. After you have followed the reporter on Twitter or other forms of social media, and learned he or she struggles to find missing socks after laundry day, tie your pitch to that news. You could say something like, “We’ve provided all the information you need for a great story in the attached news release. Much easier than finding the missing socks.” The reporter will appreciate the connection and know that you have been following him or her on social media.
  • Personalize each email rather than sending a news release via a mass email service.
  • Utilize social news aggregators. Reporters scroll through platforms such as Reddit and Gawker to find out what’s trending. Post a link to get a reporter’s attention.

If you are still operating under the “old-school” realm, a face-to-face meeting never hurts. Invite the reporter to take his or her break and meet at a local coffee shop. In 30 minutes, you will be able to learn what topics are of interest and share some of the work you are doing.  Follow up with a thank you and continue to have frequent check-ins. By the way, there is nothing wrong with old school!

A little investigative work up front goes a long way to getting your information in the right hands (or inbox). Reporters appreciate the extra effort you take to provide something useable and your efforts will pay off with media coverage. If you would like help telling your story, contact us—it is what we do!

How Companies are Catching more than Pokémon with Pokémon Go

Pokémon – it’s everywhere. Thanks to a new free mobile app, called Pokémon Go, people across the country can now “catch ‘em all.” Using users’ GPS and camera on their phones, Pokémon Go allows players to capture and battle virtual Pokémon who appear throughout the real world. And it’s a phenomena that’s sweeping the nation—in just five days, it has more users than Twitter and added nearly $11 billion to the value of Nintendo stock.

As marketing nerds, we’re excited to see companies taking advantage of this pop culture hit. To get new customers in the door, museums, churches and businesses are promoting that they are PokéStops, places in Pokémon Go that allow you to collect essential items, such as eggs, Poké Balls, potions and more. Others are taking advantage of nearby PokéGyms, places players can battle their Pokémon, by urging people to stop by their businesses before and after a battle.

We always guide our clients to take advantage of trends—both in their industries and in pop culture—in their PR campaigns. Here are a few ways to use hot topics like Pokémon Go to “catch” new customers:

  • Know your audience. Although it seems like something only little kids would be interested in, Pokémon Go is most popular among nostalgic millennials who grew up playing Pokémon on their Gameboys and trading Pokémon cards. If your audience isn’t interested in the topic or trend, all your marketing efforts will be wasted on them. Be sure to ask yourself, “Does my audience care about this topic/trend?”
  • Get creative! Think about your product or service offerings and brainstorm creative ways to connect them to a hot topic or trend. Use visuals, statistics, humor or a play-on-words to show how your brand relates.
  • Weave the trend into your promotions. For example, one restaurant is offering discounts depending on a player’s Pokémon Go level—if you’re on level 3 you get a free soda, while level 13 gets a free 8” pizza!

Want to take advantage of the latest hot topic or trend in your media relations or social media campaigns? Give us a call.

Making Your Own News

It’s no secret journalists are busier than ever. Publication lead times are longer and the media relations world is more crowded, making it harder for your stories to get noticed. So, what’s a PR pro to do? When the pitching gets tough…make your own news source.

Brand Journalism isn’t a new concept, but it’s definitely seeing a resurgence and fresh twists lately. Just like Netflix decided to bypass broadcast television by producing its own shows direct to consumers, more and more companies are bypassing traditional media to create news hubs of their own. These websites feature:

  • Content written by internal on-staff writers about news and topics relevant to the organization
  • Stories housed in one, easy to find place that allows editors and reporters to re-use content as they see fit
  • A great way to tell the brand story for journalists and the public alike
  • The ability to connect disparate pieces of news under a common theme or brand umbrella to strengthen the organization and its brand

By taking over the content-writing process, companies that create their own news hubs are simultaneously making life easier for reporters and fostering their own buzz. It’s a great way to capture the best of your organization’s stories without needing to earn placements or purchase advertising.

Check out a few examples:

Media during the Election Season

With the Wisconsin Primary happening last week, the news was full of election season stories. Everything from where Sanders had breakfast to the record-breaking voter turnout was covered, leaving little space for much else.

Let’s face it, it’s never a cakewalk getting your organization’s story in the paper or on TV, and during election season, it’s particularly tough. You’re competing with Donald Trump after all.

Here are a few tips to catch the media’s attention during periods when the news is jam-packed:

  • Tie your story into the hot topic news, in this case election season. Even if it’s a stretch, it could be the hook you need for a reporter to open or respond to your pitch email. This is a great strategy for social media too. You’ll be surprised by how many retweets you’d get just by incorporating a trendy hashtag like #WIPrimary.
  • Focus on timely stories. If your story is about a large, upcoming event or relates to something cool happening RIGHT NOW, get it out there! Generic, every-day stories that can be covered after election season, are less likely to get picked up than a timely story. But be sure to give the media enough notice to meet their deadlines and/or get a team together to cover your story.
  • Beef it up with extras. By extras, we mean pictures, videos, links or even attach a prewritten story or news release. Don’t be afraid to get creative. The more ready-made materials the media has access to, the easier it will be for them to write the story. And when it’s a busy time for the news, easy is best.
  • Follow-up, follow-up, FOLLOW-UP! If it’s a crazy time for reporters, sending one email or leaving a voicemail isn’t enough. Be sure to send a follow-up email and if you still don’t get a response, make a few follow-up phone calls to increase your chances of reaching someone then sell your story.

With a thoughtful strategy and a little persistence, you can get coverage during election season too.

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.