One of my favorite parts about working in PR is introducing family and friends to the idea of using local media to promote events, business and stories, and helping them to find success in doing so. Harnessing regional media to broadcast a message is both highly versatile and highly valuable, but it’s also overlooked by many who could benefit from it.
That said, not everyone has the opportunity, resources or relationships to work directly with PR professionals to effectively hone a story and take it to the media. It may involve some trial and error, but there are a few basic guidelines that will give you the best chance of success if you decide to try it for yourself.
Whether you are running a startup business, promoting a musical group, putting time toward nonprofit work, holding an event, advocating for a cause, or anything that may otherwise benefit from reaching a (much) larger audience, this post is for you.
1) It Starts With Your Story
This is a Pinkston mantra for a reason. In a twin capacity to PR pros, the media is in the business of telling stories - so they’re always looking for good ones. If you can convince a reporter or editor that yours is compelling, you can earn publicity that is highly visible - not to mention free.
If you have a business or a cause, you have your own story. You know why it’s compelling, and you want to be able to help a third party see it that way too. That’s one of the steps that may take some trial and error, but if it’s something you are invested in you will doubtlessly find a way to do so.
A friend of mine’s success is a great example of this. She recently opened a bakery with her mom. It’s old-fashioned and quaint, very mom-and-pop. No fancy culinary tech, no trendy branding, no other full time employees and a less than ideal location. The opening of the bakery was not newsworthy - but the fact that its opening was a hard-fought dream come true was.
Her city’s newspaper ran a story about the years of saving and planning that laid its foundation, and the made-with-love attitude that went into each of their creations. From one perspective it was a powerful, heartfelt story shared because of its intrinsic merits. From another, it was a strongly positive and highly-circulated promotion of her business - which experienced a spike in customers and has been remarkably successful.
2) Know Your News
To break your story into the news in the same way, take the time to identify and familiarize yourself with the outlets in your area. Search their websites for stories of a similar nature to yours and make a list of which reporters put them together.
The endgame of this step is to identify reporters who are particularly interested in stories like yours.
For example, if you’re trying to promote a Shakespeare in the Park event, you don’t want to reach out to an evening news anchor. Rather, find a reporter who has written about similar events in the past. This significantly boosts your chances of success - if they are demonstrably interested in the subject matter you are trying to promote, there is a much higher likelihood of getting them to tell the story.
Getting in touch with reporters is typically not difficult. Again, they are always looking for good stories, so many will openly provide an email address, Twitter handle or other social media page to receive news tips. Even if their contact information is not online, you can almost always find it; just call the outlet’s news desk - that phone number will definitely be available. Demonstrate that you are familiar with a reporter’s work and that you are reaching out with relevant material and the news desk should have no qualms about connecting you with that person.
Ultimately, who you pitch matters more than the type of media, but it is worth considering whether TV or a newspaper is the better fit for your story. TV is obviously geared toward visual news stories that usually don’t delve into complexities - events, for example, are often good fits for TV - whereas print media, like your local newspaper, can afford to dig deeper. That’s the better option for stories that are not visual in nature.
It may also be worth mentioning that regional radio stations often accept PSAs, and will announce a business opening or an event on air or their community calendar.
Newsjacking is a more nuanced part of PR that is fairly dependent on the nature of your message. It involves linking your story to a trending topic - the “hook” to your pitch - and is worth understanding before actual media outreach begins.
Some stories are “evergreen” - they make compelling news pieces no matter what other topics are trending. But many are highly dependent on the news cycle and need to bring something new to the discussion.
Understanding where your message falls in that spectrum can be a bit tricky; it’s something that’s highly subjective and thus difficult to outline a roadmap for. It’s also highly time sensitive. Today’s news cycle moves rapidly and around the clock. If an opportunity to link your story to breaking news presents itself, you may have a matter of hours to carpe diem.
But - to refer to tip #1 - nobody knows your story like you do: if there’s an element of it that correlates to a trending topic, your own familiarity will help you articulate it in pitching.
4) And the Pitch
Once you’ve honed your story, nailed down the media outlets in your area and determined how dependent your message is on the news of the day, you are well positioned to begin outreach.
The bad news is that reporters are inundated with news tips - your pitch will have competition. The good news is that most of those competing pitches are not as personalized as they should be - you will have an edge by having done your research into who you are pitching.
Put together an email to your choice reporter(s) that specifically references the stories they’ve done that are similar to yours. Hyperlinks to those pieces are a great idea.
Have an objective third-party weigh in on your pitch as well. This is important for two reasons:
- First, it will help frame why the story is worth sharing for individuals other than yourself - it may be compelling to you for different reasons than it would be to the person you are pitching whose endgame is, ultimately, to appeal to an audience.
- Second, it can help cut the message down to the essentials; expect that your pitch will be skimmed at best - wall-of-text pitches, no matter how eloquent, are basically useless.
Be both persistent and polite. Strike a balance between being patient and following up. Reporters are busy - if they do not reply, it may be because they simply have not seen your note. If your story is a good fit for them, they will typically appreciate your diligence in making sure it got onto their radar.
Another important facet of outreach in today’s media landscape is social media. Reporters often share their work on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and maintain an active presence on those platforms. “Pitches” on social media have an excellent chance of being seen as people are more inclined to investigate a social media notification than they are a new email. That said, the outreach should be concise and not seem overly solicitous, which can test your ability to cut the story down to the bare essentials.
Finally, if a reporter declines to cover your story, don’t be discouraged. Instead, play the long game. They may not have accepted the idea at this time, but that doesn’t mean your story is bad. It could easily be that your timing was off. This is where newsjacking can come in handy - scan the news every day and watch for hooks you can tie your story to and pitch it again. Odds are, sooner or later they will need a story and yours will be the one they tell.
Hopefully these basic guidelines will be of use for whatever message you are trying to amplify. For insights into the more finessed areas of PR work like branding, thought leadership, and message development, check out more posts from my colleagues on the Pinkston blog.
Kiv Hutton is an Account Executive at Pinkston. Stay updated on all Pinkston content by following us on Twitter (@PinkstonGroupPR).