One of our favorite job functions in public relations is working with reporters. Maybe it’s because our public relations expert, Sharon Thomas, once dreamed of working as a social justice reporter. Her journalism classes in college actually have helped her frame stories and understand the needs of reporters. She’s always insisting that if PR students want to become an expert PR professional or storyteller, they need to enroll in a journalism class. She’s good at building relationships with reporters and getting to know what their story preferences and personal interests.
Although reporters and PR professionals have a love/hate relationship, we try our hardest to be an asset to a reporter, not someone who takes up more of their time by sending them news they don’t care about. Here are our rules when pitching stories to reporters:
- Build the media list very broad
- Narrow the media contact list by researching reporters. What interests them? What stories and topics do they cover?
- Then send a personal email to them, talking about the news item or story and why we think it would interest them.
- If we don’t receive a response within a couple of days, we follow up. Typically we leave out one tidbit of information on the press release so that we can use that as an update and a reason to call. Never call a reporter and ask, “Did you get my press release?” (And yes, we hate making the cold call, just like everyone else but we do it!)
- If a reporter does call, we stop everything we’re doing and try to get the information they need. Responsiveness is key to a reporter working on deadline. If our clients send out a news item, we require that they keep their wireless numbers handy at all times and answer when we call! An hour could make the difference between a story being aired or not! And we want the awareness for all of our clients!
This method may be time consuming but in the long run our clients get better results. Even if they don’t use our clients’ stories, we learn a little bit more about the reporter and hopefully they learn a little about you so when they are working on a story within your niche, they’ll contact us. Often when a reporter does call, and we’re unable to get them the information they need, we try to offer referrals or other story ideas.
When Sharon was working on an event called Rampathon for Master Builders Association, it was her responsibility to get media coverage. The event consists of local home builders designing and building ramps for families in the community who are disabled. It’s basically giving the gift of greater mobility! There’s a showcase ramp and then several other projects happening. The showcase ramp typically is how media is drawn to the event. The story was sweet. Two families moved into together to help each other out because both their girls are disabled, can’t walk and have tracheas. At the event, three local TV stations showed up, although only one aired a story. We were very disappointed! It was a great story but there wasn’t any work being done on the ramp. It was already completed so b-roll was people talking, the finished ramp and the mothers’ of the girls. The families were the best interviews but B-roll was lacking. The rest of the projects received media coverage through local print, online media and blogs. There were 18 hits. And each of those stories, including the TV coverage, got retweeted, liked on Facebook or shared. Overall the campaign was successful, even if we were disappointed with only one TV story that aired. We got the media there but the story wasn’t compelling enough for all three stations to air their coverage.
Media coverage brings awareness to your company story, through the story itself and social media shares and retweets. It’s also a great way to build your company’s search engine optimization (SEO). Reporters most recently have received a lot of flak for the story they cover. Sensationalists. Incorrect information. Most reporters want to tell the correct story and often it’s their assignment editors who make them chase ambulance stories. We’ve met some amazing storytellers, who have won many Emmys and Edward R. Murrow awards. Their stories talk about social issues and change. If you work with the reporter, clarify they have the correct information, most of the time, they do an amazing job that helps bring awareness to your story.