By Sharon A.M. MacLean
You have a big event planned seven months down the road. The inspiration for hosting the occasion is genius, hundreds of people are expected, and you have confidence the media will cover it like a blanket.
Working with assignment editors, journalists, and bloggers today is considerably different compared to just a few years ago. These changes have escaped the attention of some traditional organizers and it’s heart-breaking when a good cause loses out on valuable coverage, especially in the social sphere.
Back in the day, a plan may have included a media conference to announce an event, phone calls to pitch stories to favoured reporters or columnists, and public service announcements (PSAs) to catch free time available on radio or TV.
I’ve been fortunate to see how media works from both sides of the fence: first, as a PR hack before joining my late husband–a hard newsman–to start up a magazine that covered the business community for 21 years. I discovered that publishing decisions were difficult to make because so many requests for coverage were valid. It’s even worse, today. Available space has been cut back further at the big dailies unless there’s cash attached while TV stations—often run from major hubs thousands of miles away—don’t appreciate local priorities.
Here’s how a campaign usually rolled out back in the day.
- Create a list of reporters to pitch stories in print, radio, and television with street address and phone number. Usually ignored the assignments editors and producers who assigned stories to reporters.
- Prepare a one-page advance media release for distribution about one month before the event. The pros attached photos and bios of key people associated with the event with hopes of scoring advance coverage.
- Place -30- at the end of a release to convey they were in the know.
- Send out 25-word PSAs about 60 days in advance with hopes the radio stations would run them during air time not purchased by paying advertisers. The pros knew stations were governed by law to dedicate PSA time for non-profits.
- Host a media conference six weeks before the event, so media outlets had equal opportunity to hear and write about the announcement at the same time. Considered only fair by organizers; reporters didn’t care.
- Schedule a promotional lead-up event to announce the real event. See if any media would come out to write an advance for the story. Reporters usually knew it was a non-story and didn’t show, so the guests got all the free food and beer.
- Call the reporters to see if they had any interest in attending the real event because it was considered to be irresistible. Reporters preferred hearing stories about the birth of two-headed calves on farms.
- Hand deliver news releases to local media and couriered news releases to national media in hopes that media would cover their event 3,000 miles away. Paid big courier bill at the end of the month.
- Deliver cute gifts or food to on-air personalities on the day of the event with hopes that broadcasters might say something nice about their event, even score an interview. Better food sometimes worked.
- Post a PR guard at the door to the event with prepared background materials for reporters, in case they had more than two inches of space to fill in print or air time on late, late news.
Compare the old ways to these new ways of getting out your story—including to the media.
- Understand who you are speaking to and figure out the relevance.
- Think like a reporter and answer the important questions: who, what, when, where and why. Help the writers by connecting the dots for them; they often don’t have time to research the topic enough to see the angle.
- Formal is out. Be relaxed and genuine in your conversations; people call that being authentic today. This style helps differentiate you from distribution houses using a template email to blast hundreds of reporters.
- Remember that most people read emails on mobile devices with smaller screens. Avoid attachments, including news releases. Reporters rarely open them.
- Before you ask for something, ask and answer questions posed by the reporter or blogger on social media; retweet and share their content, and then finally share a unique spin on your own story. If you can distill your message down to an elevator pitch with 140 characters, you might have the heart of a good story.
- Like all of us, journalists’ ears perk up around a well-known-name or if you’ve done something remarkable. If you can’t spark their interest immediately, this is where you spend time building a relationship with the journalists you’re trying to reach through social media.
- Become your own publisher. Build up the special event’s database for an email marketing campaign to reach those who really care about the organization and its issue. Send them content such as your blog, short video series, podcast.
- Build up the event organizations’ own fan bases on Twitter, Facebook and relevant networks. Do this several months in advance to allow for traction.
- Follow the scribes in their respective social networks to determine their preferred medium for communication, the topics they relish writing about, and how they develop their story angles.
- Create a list of journalists, reporters and bloggers in all media with addresses for email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Calculate their social footprint meaning how many and what type of followers they have.
- In the case of a PR pitch, your audience is the reporter and her or his readers. Craft the message so that it matters to the particular writer and the topics they cover.
- Have you got publishers on your list? This group of people differs from journalists as they are responsible for revenue streams. Think how the publisher might build a special edition with relevant advertisers around your proposed theme. They will become fans.
- Did you secure a story, interview or media mention? Share it on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. If it makes sense, share it on Pinterest and Instagram, too. The inherent nature of social makes it easy to multiply the effects of great publicity. Make sure to @message the reporter’s handle or username when sharing on social. A recent survey from Vocus, a leading cloud-based PR software, found that sharing their work was the number one reason journalists are using social media.
- Sure, it’s more work, but make each pitch a separate email and customize it to speak specifically to each journalist. Make them feel special.
Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.