Improve Your News Media Relations Skills

PR does NOT stand for Press Release

I I hold an M.A. in journalism and have more than a two decades of newsroom experience, so I often laugh when I hear publicists boast about their media relations prowess. I’ve heard outrageous claims ranging from someone having a “Rolodex” (Remember those?) stuffed with journalists’ contact information, to having “personal relationships” with certain reporters or editors, or promising to pitch and place your story in “top tier” publications.

Seriously, anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows that’s all hogwash.

The straight scoop about getting news media placements

There are immutable priorities in a newsroom that a bulging Rolodex, personal relationships and persistent pitches can’t override. When considering whether or not to run a story, reporters and editors must always answer an unqualified “yes” to these questions:

  • Is it NEWSWORTHY? Does the story have an interesting, unexpected, fresh angle. Or, does it add substance, or a local angle, to a breaking news story.
  • Is it RELEVANT and interesting to my readers/viewers/listeners? Of the hundreds of press releases that clutter reporters email every day, the vast majority are neither connected to their beat (topic) nor to the publication or broadcast audience’s interests. Reporters regard these pitches as spam and will often block the sender.
  • Is it IMPORTANT enough to fit into the “page budget?” Every print and broadcast news outlet has a finite “news hole” to fill every day. Often, even worthy stories are not picked up simply because something more important had to be published that day.

The news “hole” is shrinking; news outlets are vanishing

During the past few decades, advertising revenue has been increasingly diverted to web search and social media. So the “news hole” (the space available for news stories) is shrinking fast. That’s why so many print news organizations have folded their tents and many of us now live in a local news “desert” where no one covers news in our community. Another consequence of declining advertising revenue is that staffs of surviving newsrooms have been shrinking. Reporters are now forced to cover multiple beats and post to their news outlet’s broadcast and social media sites as well.

In summary, media relations is hard. Really. Really. Really. Hard. That’s why, when you get the coverage you were seeking, it’s called EARNED MEDIA.  

Want a placement guarantee? Buy an ad!

Beware of publicists who promise coverage and claim they will only charge if your story gets picked up by the news media. Frankly, no one can “guarantee” you news coverage. Advertising–PAID MEDIA–is the only way to guarantee your information will run in a specific news outlet.

Many news outlets have sections for paid “advertorials” or “branded content” that runs adjacent to real news. But this is not news coverage, it’s actually long-form advertising.

The truth about press release wire services

There are a number of press release wire distribution services; PR Newswire and BusinessWire are probably the best known. When a press release is posted to a newswire, it gets distributed to many news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance, CNBC, MarketWatch, etc. But, that doesn’t translate to real “news” coverage. In fact, in many cases the wire release is never actually sent to specific journalists. Instead it’s automatically posted to an online press release parking lot. Newswires pay to post on those sites and news outlets use them to drive ad revenue. But these press release parking lots don’t get many eyeballs.

Nevertheless, the online links enable newswire services to produce impressive, multi-page “coverage reports” naming top tier news outlets with huge audience numbers. But those “impressions” are actually the websites’ total monthly users, not the number of people who’ve viewed your press release. The only realistic objectives of newswire distributions is to temporarily boost search engine optimization (SEO) for your news and to comply with regulatory disclosure requirements for business financial news. Good publicists would never use this as their only method to distribute your news.

Take a strategic, creative approach to media relations

Some publicists broadcast press releases to hundreds of news outlets in the hope that something sticks. This lazy tactic is called “spray and pray” in the public relations industry. It really annoys journalists. Instead, it’s much more productive to identify specific editors, reporters and bloggers at news outlets whose audience is important to your organization—based on its goals and objectives—and who are most likely to be interested in your story.

But before approaching them, read some articles written by those reporters to determine what they cover. Follow them in their social media profiles, that a good media database will provide. Then develop a short, creative email subject line to pitch a brief synopsis of your news to those reporters. Try to find an angle or national “news peg” the journalist can hang the story on. But be careful to never be gimmicky or misleading. If you get a response, it will help you gauge interest and the reporter will ask for the information they need to develop an article quickly and efficiently.

An ethical public relations professional will let you know If your proposed news is unlikely to get news coverage and be able to suggest a different angle or other ways to share your story with your most important stakeholders. After all, what you need is a strategic approach that’s tied to desired outcomes, not a list of media impressions, which is why I titled this article “PR does NOT stand for Press Release.”

Don’t ignore social media and SEO

Media relations outreach is incomplete without integrating the power of social—SHARED MEDIA and updating your website newsroom and covering the story in your e-newsletter and annual report—OWNED MEDIA. This accesses your most engaged audience and improves search engine optimization (SEO). 

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