Media Relations in 2015: How to Win F̶r̶i̶e̶n̶d̶s̶ Coverage and Influence People

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Any good financial PR professional, one who produces financial features for print, television and the web, sifts through dozens and dozens of story ideas every day. And, at the same time, the people pulling the strings behind the nation’s news outlets — editors, bloggers, reporters, content strategists and TV producers — are inundated daily with pitches from all corners.

So, how will your story get their attention?

Media may be the world’s most rapidly evolving platform, but the rules of the game are not so different today than they were 16 years ago, when I began working in public relations. Here’s what leading media professionals on the receiving end of our pitches have taught us about catching their attention and earning coverage.

• Connect early. Really early. And often. Content producers who work on a daily beat like to line up their sources  ahead of time — they have to create a fresh story lineup first thing every day and knowing who can speak to what topics helps them tremendously. Every hour of the day, we’re connecting with our sources to make certain that they’re able to connect with a reputable and smart expert while they’re enjoying their morning coffee.

• We’re not going to send your sales collateral to a reporter. Short and punchy wins the day. I’m sorry to report, but chances are that your 35-page white paper or two-page, four-color ad in InvestmentNews won’t win the interest you covet. We’re constantly condensing your concepts and solutions into an elevator pitch so that we can foster intrigue in a few lines. If it works with the media, they know the story or segment will have the same effect on readers or viewers. Simply put, some want to see just two or three sentences — if they need more info before moving on a story, they’ll ask for it. At that time, we’ll mobilize to provide additional details and story fodder on request and offer fast turnarounds with feature assets such as print-quality images.

• Know your targets. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t read on Facebook about a friend in the media complaining about off-target pitches from people in my field . I cringe. It gives the profession a bad name and supports that notion that “flacks” are simply sending out media pitches to any inbox that will accept email. I then think about how we work, and it reassures me that what we’re doing works. Want to make a friend in the media? Read their articles or watch their segments. Ask a producer what kind of stories she’s looking for, and follow up later with well-focused pitches. A major pet peeve among media types is being pitched a story that is completely unrelated to their mission and meaningless to their user base or readership. You might be drawn to outlets like Vanity Fair or Buzzfeed because they draw so many eyeballs, but they’re no more interested in your take on wealth management than TMZ is in the 52-week range for light crude. Also, be sure to reach the correct beat or department within larger news organizations — don’t pitch your story about 529s to a reporter who covers debt and fixed income.

• Go to NYC with us and shake hands. The ability to foster relationships in person is invaluable. Clients, who aren’t thinking far enough ahead, might complain about this being a waste of time. That is, until that same reporter comes back to us months later and wants to report on a trend we covered during our conversation together over coffee. So, seize opportunities to get out there and meet the media face-to-face. Whether it be at conferences, expos and other industry events, or a media tour, take the time and invest in these relationships. Understand who they are and what makes them tick as a reporter. Once you’re able to do that, you’ll be ahead of the game.

• Yes, press releases matter…sometimes. Press releases are effective for conveying company milestones like a new partner, product or person joining the team. However, this doesn’t mean they’re newsworthy to broader audiences and need to be used in order to get attention. Moreover, everyone in the media knows that press releases are widely circulated, so there’s no assurance of exclusivity. Why not work to create a story idea that solves the pains your clients face and tell it verbally? Or via a blog post? Or a simple email? You can send a release along to support an idea but customize your communication for the target. Help the media connect the dots between the trend, story idea or press release and the problems they help to solve. That will help you gain the coverage you desire…whereas the announcement of your next money management software might be news, it needs to be told as a story and how it helps consumers.

• Think beyond the placement. Social media engagement is a priority for media outlets, so be ready to share it once it is published. Every journo we work with today reminds us to “share this story” widely. Orchestrate your coverage via your social platforms. Anyone on your team with a pulse should be posting the story or segment on their own Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. What’s more, this is THE chance you have to deliver your full message as you would have liked. You can complement the story by offering your network what else you would have said on air if given the time and freedom. That way, your message is delivered and you have the media coverage to solidify your credibility. Also, consider creating and deploying infographics, images and helpful videos that can give your story legs and tell it in different ways. Don’t ignore anything that can become key assets in this regard.

• Sorry, but you’re likely not the focus of this story. Unless you’ve got an amazing background or unquestionably unique product that is launching, you’re not going to be the headline. This truth shouldn’t hurt. What makes headlines are the pains your clients face and the decisions they need to make with your advice and guidance. Think about stats, theme-based events (are you thinking about your New Year’s Resolution yet?), controversy, the consumer and her wallet, the list goes on. These things make headlines. But, if you’re able to flag key points and reframe issues as you would with a client, you’ll be positioned as a part of the solution, not the problem via the outlet’s audience. Isn’t that what you’re trying to achieve anyway?