A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted on LinkedIn that he had recently emailed a handful of pitches to reporters. He said, “Guess how many responses I got? Zero.” He went on to say he then picked up the phone and called every one of those reporters—and ended up with an 80% return. Nearly everyone answered the phone and 80% of them were willing to cover his story. 

Eighty percent, y’all. 

If he had waited for email responses, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. But, by picking up the phone as we did in the good ol’ days, he was able to secure significant coverage for his organization.

It seems counterintuitive in a time when no one answers their phone. I have that app set up on my phone that if the number isn’t recognized, it goes straight to voicemail. But then, again, there are people like my husband who are so extroverted, that when his phone rings, he’s like a puppy, ‘Oh, someone is calling me! Let’s see who it is!” Even if it’s spam, he very much enjoys giving them a hard time.

If journalists on your list are like me, unless your pitch is crazy relevant and almost exclusive to Spin Sucks, I’m not answering your email or returning your call. But if they’re like Mr. D., you’ll probably have a fruitful conversation. 

All to say, there is a lot of work to do in your earned media efforts. Craft an exclusive and relevant pitch for everyone you send it to—and then use multiple touches to talk them through it. Which, in today’s world of overstimulation and too much information, is a fantastic way to get results.

Paywalls Make Things More Difficult

In a recent discussion in the Spin Sucks Community, we were bemoaning the fact that so many articles are now behind the paywall, which makes earned media even more challenging. 

Many communicators don’t want to pitch local news outlets or trades because of paywalls. If the content is protected, it doesn’t help with your search engine optimization and you can’t share the article on social or on your own website, let alone share it with your internal team.

It also is seemingly frustrating for journalists. They want their work shared, not hidden behind a gate only a few can get through—and many are even incentivized based on the number of views their stories get. Something that is hard to do if they can’t share it online. 

What is one to do?

Multi-Opportunity Approaches Work

There is an argument to be made that content published behind a paywall has greater value than content that is not. After all, people pay to read/view/listen to it. But that isn’t an easy argument to make when you can’t share the content with the executive team or your client, let alone on your website or on social media.

We’ve taken a multi-opportunity approach: we grant fewer exclusives, we do a ton of contributed content (I like this better anyway; we have more control), we submit lots of OpEds (those are always in front of the paywall), and we’ve widened our reach to organizations that have launched streaming services or media properties, such as Salesforce and HubSpot (more on that after the break).

But this is only one challenge we face when it comes to earned media in 2022. I used to joke that, because I live in Chicago, every prospect on earth would call to see if we could get them on Oprah. Even during her later years, when all she did was paid brand promotions and celebrity interviews. 

Lots of Earned Media Opportunities

Thankfully, that challenge no longer exists, but in the work we do with SaaS organizations, they all want TechCrunch and the New York Times. All of them. 

It makes me laugh when I talk to a prospect and that’s what they tell me they want. It happens so often, I am convinced there is some secret club or school only startup founders know about where they all go and learn that if they just get one really well-placed article in TechCrunch or the New York Times, they won’t have to worry about anything else because they’ll hit their 10-year targets within a year.

As well, trust in media continues to decline (although journalists remain optimistic about their jobs, according to the 2022 State of Journalism Report from MuckRack). The decline in trust makes our earned media efforts challenging, too. The third-party credibility doesn’t have the same cache it did pre-2016.

There are lots of challenges when it comes to earned media—an entire one-fourth of your PESO Model™ program—but there are lots of opportunities, too.

New Types of “Media” Outlets

Michael Smart has an email he sends once a week that has tips, case studies, and ideas in it. It’s also well-written and not very long so it’s something I enjoy receiving in my inbox. If your job is earned media heavy and you don’t already subscribe, it’s a must.

A few weeks ago, he talked about this phenomenon of corporations buying or starting their own streaming services or popular blogs/newsletters.

For instance, Salesforce started its own business news streaming service last year. HubSpot wanted a media arm so they bought The Hustle. Netflix hired the editor of Allure to run their publishing arm. Andreessen Horowitz launched “Future” last year, which includes talent from Wired, Dow Jones, and CNN.

In his email on the topic, Michael says, “You get the point. And you’ve heard of the concept of brands telling their own story through content marketing. But have you considered adding these new types of media outlets to your media lists?

Use Data to Tell Your Earned Media Story

While I know everyone wants TechCrunch and the New York Times and there are even some stragglers who still want Oprah (who I guarantee is not coming out of retirement for anyone unless you are Meghan Markle), these other types of media are just as viable and, in some cases, even more credible. 

One of my favorite things to do when a new client gives us their wish list of media outlets is to take their list and compare it to what we already know will work for them. We do this in a side-by-side comparison in a spreadsheet. 

In some cases, TechCrunch is on there, particularly if they’re an interesting vertical SaaS company that is doing a big raise. But, in most cases, our list is vastly different from the client’s and that’s because we have experience in which media outlets are the most effective for the clients that we work with.

Rather than stop there, though, we do some pitching and get some stories placed with one important distinction—we ensure there is a link included in the stories we place from their list and the stories we place from our list.

After about 90 days, we pull a report that shows how many people visited their website after each story ran (from their list and ours) and what those people did.

In almost every case, TechCrunch and the New York Times included the qualified leads all the way through sales conversion do not come from their wish list of media outlets. They come from untraditional sources of information, trade publications, and influential blogs.

It’s Hard to Argue Against Results

This test works for every type of business from nonprofits and healthcare orgs to B2B and consumer businesses and everything in between. Heck, just choose two from their list and two from yours and test it out. I’m willing to bet the big-time publications they want will get them a pat on the back from their buddies on the golf course, but your relationships and your well-researched media list will get them results.

It’s hard to argue against results.

We’re past the point of complaining about paywalls and media consolidation and limited resources and no one answering their phones or email. If you have earned media chops, you can take untraditional approaches (such as—gasp!—calling people) to get results. You can also test out your theories and then let data help you make your case.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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