“How do we get our company featured positively in the local news?”
This is the question I get asked the most as a public relations professional, media coach and as a former long-time journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC): how do we get in the local news?
The question usually comes from a small, independently-owned business owner — a company or organization that doesn’t have anyone doing marketing or communications. They are looking for LOCAL media coverage primarily — but they don’t even know where to start.
It’s understandable for them to ask this question. Earned media is the holy grail of building credibility and reputation — having your executives featured in the news media as experts on a subject. Those stories then get shared on social media and it becomes the gift that keeps on giving, living on in perpetuity on the Internet, helping your search engine optimization.
I can tell you this — the local media wants your story pitches. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll get covered. However, local media has been cutback so much and is forced to do so much work in such little time now, that they appreciate a good story idea landing on their desk for consideration — especially during a slow news cycle — and especially if it’s not coming from a slick PR agency voice on the other end of the line. They want authenticity.
So, how do you get there? Here are 3 simple tips based on my experiences. In no way am I saying this is the only way to do it — but I’ve seen others have success with it and hopefully you will as well:
#1 – Do NOT Hire An Agency
Yup. I just said that. And, yes, I do realize I am a public relations professional. However, based on experience, I can tell you the majority of small, independent businesses aren’t going to be able to afford PR firms to get local news. I reiterate we are talking about getting local news coverage — not national news. So, if they’re not going to pay for it anyways, why not give them a hand? I believe in karma. With a little bit of guidance on this blog, you’ll be able to do it yourself. In the past, I’ve helped small companies, pro-bono, get in the media (hoping they make it big and hire me later). In the future, I’ll just send them the link for this blog and save me some time. You can do this. Just stick to the basics.
#2 – Prepare A Newsworthy Pitch
This is important. And, it can be as complicated and detailed as you want — but for the sake of this blog, I recommend keeping it very simple and keeping it authentic. Answer these questions to decide whether the story you want the media to cover is actually newsworthy from the reporter’s perspective — because they are the people who assess the newsworthiness of a pitch.
- What is the story? You should be able to summarize the story in less than 30 seconds. Just like a good pitch deck for potential investors, a good media pitch typically involves the identification of a problem or a trend and coming up with a solution for it or insightful analysis in the case of a media story. This is simplified but you get the picture.
- Why should people care about this story? A good reporter wants stories that appeal broadly to their audience, the public. So, be prepared to proactively explain why people will care about this? Is it timely? Does it impact a broad group of people? Does it solve a problem that’s been impacting society?
- Who is driving this story? Is it you? Is it one of your employees? Who will be the main interview for the reporter and why them?
- (FOR TV) What are the visuals? If it’s television, what are some strong visuals the news crew will be able to capture on video? What can viewers expect to see in this story? It will help your TV pitch if you can illustrate a visual image for them ahead of time.
#3 – Pick Up The Phone
Pick one media outlet you want to pitch your story to and make the call. First decide what news media is good for your story? Is it a story with very strong visuals? Perhaps TV is the way to go. Is it a story that requires a more fulsome conversation? Maybe public radio is the best option. Newspaper is the best if you’re a nervous person and worried about being on TV or radio. Newspaper is the least intrusive of the media.
Once you’ve decided what outlet, decide which reporter specifically. No emails at first in my opinion. It’s too impersonal for local news and you risk getting lost in the inbox shuffle. Doing it by phone also allows the reporter to ask any clarification questions they may have, right then and there.
Now, if you call the general media outlet phone number, you can end up in phone transfer Hell or end up getting an editor or producer who is putting out six fires and juggling 4 balls. So, you are better to call an individual reporter (perhaps your favourite one). Do this in the first part of the morning before they get too busy. If they’re not there, leave a message and be prepared to call back later. Reporters are busy and may forget to call you back. Don’t take it personally. If you reach them, thank them for taking your call and make your pitch. Get to the point. A few minutes tops for the pitch.
If they like it, they’ll tell you. If they don’t like it — again — don’t take it personally and don’t burn any bridges. Thank them for their time. When you get off the phone, contact a reporter with a different media outlet and do it again. Shop that story around and you’re likely to get a nibble.
This isn’t a science. There are no guarantees. This process is just my personal opinion based on experience. Just be yourself. Be genuine. The reporters will like that as opposed to dealing with professional PR people or communications officers. They may find it refreshing to deal with a “real person” who isn’t trying to spin them.
Beyond the initial pitch, whether it’s successful or not, offer yourself as a research resource to them on issues related to your industry — even if it means you won’t be in the story. This is how you build a relationship with a reporter and it may bode well for you in the future. Good luck. Let me know how it goes.
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