Getting media coverage is not easy.
Sure, it may sound simple enough.
Find a reporter, send the reporter an email about how awesome you are, then sit back and wait for the coverage to roll in.
But if you’ve tried this before, you know how it usually goes.
Pitching the media and getting them to write about you is a complex mix of art and science.
Adding to the complicated nature of media outreach is the fact that, like everything else in marketing, the rules are constantly changing.
What worked today won’t work tomorrow. And every day that bad pitches go out, journalists get more and more angry and frustrated, often publicly venting about the bad pitches they receive.
To help you avoid these types of situations, we’ve put together this post to educate you on the best practices you should know in 2018.
But before we jump into the technical best practices of media outreach, we will first explain the core traits you’ll need to develop to become a master in media outreach.
These key core traits lay the foundation that you need in order to find success. Failing to understand and implement these traits can throw off the impact of the 9 best practices we explain later in the post.
4 Keys to Successful Media Outreach: The Foundation
Key #1: It’s Not Us vs. Them!
People and companies trying to get in the media constantly make the mistake of viewing it as an “Us vs. Them” scenario.
Viewing it this way makes it clear why so many journalists hate those who are doing PR outreach. Instead, all media outreach should be approached with a long-term partnership mentality in mind.
You should be thinking about what you can do to add value up front in exchange for nothing and how you can help make their jobs easier, not just “How can I get this person to write about me!?”
Key #2: Add Value, Ask For Nothing
The goal should be to position yourself as the ultimate resource for your specific niche or industry. And eventually, over time, you can begin to form a relationship.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking for a second that journalists owe you anything. While you may think you have the next big thing, so do 300 other people that emailed them that day.
Instead of being just another person spamming them, focus on rising above the noise. Prove you can be a trusted expert resource. And then, when the time comes, you’ll have a better chance of getting coverage if it’s a good story, relevant to their beat, and information their readers would benefit from knowing.
Key #3: Think in Terms of Their Readers, Not Yourself
Before you ever even consider reaching out to a journalist at a specific outlet, think about the story that you’re trying to get picked up.
Does it actually add value to their readers? What would their readers write in the comments — Great story! or WTF is this?
Journalists have an obligation to their readers and outlets to deliver stories that they’ll actually want to read. So before you waste your time or theirs, do your research, remove yourself from the day-to-day, and determine if it’s actually the right story for that journalist, outlet, and audience.
The key to focus on here is the ability to remove yourself from the day-to-day. Because you’re buried deep in what you’re doing, it’s sometimes hard to realize and accept that what you’re doing may not be that exciting at the current stage — at least not enough to warrant a full-feature story in the WSJ.
Key #4: Understand That Speed is Everything
Speed is everything when it comes to media outreach.
When it comes to methods like newsjacking, you need to be able to see breaking news taking place, develop your pitch or content, and execute an idea. All within hours — or, ideally, minutes.
This chart, which was created by marketing strategist and author David Meerman Scott, shows what takes place during a newsjacking opportunity:
A great example of newsjacking happened during Super Bowl XLVII, when a blackout caused everyone to scramble — everyone except for Oreo, that is. Oreo quickly executed a perfectly timely and highly relevant newsjack by tweeting this:
When journalists are scrambling for a resource or addition to a story, you can create a win-win scenario by being there and helping them complete the story.
It’s also extremely important to make sure that when you do manage to get a reply from journalists, you get back to them right away. Our internal rule is 15 minutes or less for all media opportunities. Sure, sometimes we may need to speak with a client before responding if they asked for additional information or we can’t take it any further ourselves. But no matter what, we always reply right away to confirm that we’ve received their request, and we give them a timeline on when we’ll get back to them.
Now that we’ve covered the key core traits that you need, let’s get into those best practices.
[Part 1: Planning]
#1 Ask the question: so, what’s the story here?
This one is the most important of all because it requires you to step back and ask yourself an honest question: what’s the actual story here? It sounds obvious, but you can often get so caught up in sending out a pitch that you forget to step back and consider what the story you are trying to get placed actually looks like.
#2 Focus on the Headline
This is a supplement to #1, and it’s one of the best ways to see what the actual story may look like. It’s also useful to do because many journalists are interested in receiving pitches that have subject lines similar to types of headlines they write. It’s a good way to demonstrate that you actually did your research and have crafted a story based on the types of stories they write.
#3 Create Collateral
Having a piece of collateral to include with your pitch is extremely important. When we say collateral, we don’t mean executive headshots. We mean collateral that offers value up front and gives the person you are pitching the chance to determine up front if it’s something they are interested in.
For example, let’s say you are pitching to get your CEO featured in the media talking about predictions on where the media industry is headed. Instead of just sending a pitch with bullet points, you could create a visually pleasing blog post or infographic that explains in detail the predictions and aligns those predictions with facts and statistics.
Then, when you are doing your pitch, instead of just sending an email, you have support material behind you.
#4 Begin Before You Need It
One of the biggest mistakes we see companies make is starting the media outreach process when they need media. This is a mistake because a large part of journalism is about relationships. Instead of waiting until launch day to begin connecting with journalists who work in your industry, you should put in the time and begin building those relationships and adding value at least six months before your launch date. These can be simple things like commenting on their articles, retweeting their posts, and sending them information that adds value but is not meant to promote you in any way.
[Part 2: Execution]
#4 Have a Soul
Journalists get a lot of emails. And people often forget that the person on the receiving end of an email is human. Write emails like you are actually talking to another human being, and understand that journalists go through the same daily ups and downs as everyone else.
Journalists have a magical ability to spot emails that are mass pitched. They can tell right away. Sure, sometimes if the pitch is good enough, or if they really need a story, they will bite. But for the most part, the moment they realize they’ve been mass pitched along with 1,000 other people, they will delete that pitch and move on to the next 300 emails in their inbox.
When it comes to personalizing, what you are trying to show them is that you took the time to research them and crafted a totally personalized pitch based on what you found.
#6 Be Relevant
This ties back into personalizing: be sure that what you are pitching is actually relevant. We often see people who contact a journalist because they wrote about a specific topic back in 2014 while working at another outlet. But today, a pitch referencing that outdated article only comes across as irrelevant.
#7 Follow Up (Automated)
Internally, we use tools that allow us to automate the follow-up process.
When we send out an initial pitch, we set a sequence to follow up automatically. But just because it’s automated, that doesn’t mean it’s not personalized.
We suggest creating a sequence of three emails. (Never follow up more than three times!) This includes the initial email, then two follow-ups. Fully personalize these three emails and schedule them to send once a week for three weeks.
If they reply at all, the sequence automatically turns off. This saves countless hours that would be spent following up and frees up your time to focus on more important creative tasks.
And whatever you do, do NOT send out spam follow-up sequences to mass lists. This is the fastest way to ensure the media will hate you. Automation should be used to reduce time, but it should only be used for an extremely targeted list that is highly personalized up front.
#8 One hour (or less) rule
Internally, we have a policy that ideas can’t take more than one hour from start to finish. We have this policy because in the past, we’d come up with an idea, fall in love with it, invest a massive amount of time and resources from ourselves and the client, then execute the idea — only to see it not go as far as we thought it would.
Then we’d have other ideas that we’d spend 15 minutes on, and they’d go on to generate massive results. This made us realize that any idea we have should be able to begin to be executed within one hour of the idea’s inception.
You can of course make tweaks and changes as you go, and it’s fine if those changes take up more time. The goal is to at least get moving — especially because things often change as you go. You want to get a feedback loop going as fast as possible. Following this rule is the key to getting there.
[Part 3: Optimization]
#9 Unemotional Data
The ability to collect honest and accurate data, than analyze it to determine which actions you should or should not take, is a science and skill that many people fail to master. While in the past, people might have gotten away without great data, today, those with the best data win.
The first step is to build a system and process that allows you to collect data. From there, you need to schedule time to carefully analyze and review the data to see what it’s telling you. Based on what you find, you can tweak and optimize your outreach campaigns.