Media Relations Done WellBy Gini Dietrich

Earlier this week, Jason Falls—no spring chicken when it comes to media relations—decided it was time to “out” PR firms who add bloggers and journalists to their lists without permission.

It is, after all, spam, yet it happens Every. Single. Day.

If you are on the receiving end of these pitches, it gets to be really overwhelming. And then it moves to annoying. You spend half your email time deleting media relations emails that shouldn’t be in your inbox to begin with.

The Media Relations Conundrum

Just yesterday I received an email from a PR pro that said a Broken Egg Cafe had raised nearly $4,000 for local nonprofits during its grand opening.

I just shook my head and deleted it, but I also feel badly for the PR pro who sent it. He’s going to have to go through his list and email me again (and again and again) to see if I’m interested.

And then I’m stuck in a conundrum: If I answer him, he engages in an email debate (which happens way more often than not). If I don’t answer him, he’ll keep filling my inbox with statements such as, “Just putting this at the top of your inbox so you don’t miss it.” (I HATE THAT!)

But if he’d done his research, he’d know that I no longer write for Franchise Times and haven’t in FOUR YEARS.

So, rather than try to figure out why I’m not answering him, I wouldn’t be on his list to begin with.

If he read the magazine, he’d know who covers these things and he’d send a personalized email to that person instead of the same news release to a big list.

Ten Ways to Personalize Media Relations

It takes a lot of time and energy to do media relations really well.

If you want to do it on your own (though it’s sometimes far less expensive to hire a professional the first time around), here are some things to consider.

  1. Read blogs, publications, and online sites, and watch the programs and listen to the shows where you want to appear. It takes time, but it works because you figure out what the journalist, blogger, producer, or host really care about. Either your story fits or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, no matter how badly you want a story in that publication, move on. In the case of the PR pro working for Broken Egg, he’d know who covers franchise openings at Franchise Times and he wouldn’t have sent it to me.
  2. Personalize your pitch. Rosemary O’Neill, the co-founder of Social Strata, the makers of, decided to offer unlimited paid time off to her employees. The company has an office in Seattle and Rosemary reads a Seattle Times journalist daily. She already knew what the journalist covers, and knew what would be interesting to her. She sent a two sentence email about the new policy and the journalist ran a story about it. But it didn’t end there. National media picked it up as a new business trend and Social Strata was put on the map as a trend-setting tech company.
  3. Comment on blog posts and articles. This is the very best way for a journalist or blogger to get to know you. When you make smart comments on the articles they’re producing, you build a relationship. When you build a relationship, they are much more willing to talk to you about your story. Some, in fact, will even help you mold the story if it’s not an exact fit. Think about that from your own perspective. How many of you have commented here and we’ve become friends that way? It works.
  4. Don’t send a long email. We are all busy. If you send an email that has everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about you, it won’t be read. Take the approach Rosemary used and send a quick, attention grabbing email. The details can come later.
  5. Lose the idea of control. Yes, when you have an interview, you should be prepared. You should ask the journalist or blogger ahead of time what kinds of questions you can expect to be asked. Use those questions to figure out what you want to say. But you cannot control the end result messaging. Your one or two messages might get repeated, but you cannot control the interview.
  6. Use the social networks. If you have targeted publications or journalists in your industry, find them on their social networks. Find them on Twitter, then add them to a Twitter list so you see everything they tweet. Find a reason to connect with them there, even if it’s just to introduce yourself, and keep the conversation going every day. Soon enough you’ll find something they are working on that is a fit for you.
  7. Read their articles. Unless they’re in TV, most journalists have something you can read and comment on. Many will read the comments on their articles to source new people to call. If you offer a differing opinion or provide more information on the topic, it’s highly likely they will contact you for future stories. (Case in point: The comment I left on a USA Today article that led to the journalist to reconsider.)
  8. Send something in the mail. The joke among authors is, when you publish a book, all you really have is an expensive business card. But it works really well as a gift to journalists whose radar you want to get on. If you haven’t written a book, send a copy of a book from an author you admire. Even a handwritten note works extremely well in todays fast-paced, impersonal digital world.
  9. Personalize your pitches. It’s pretty easy to write a news release about your latest big new thing, copy it into an email, add a bunch of email addresses, and hit send. But that rarely works (see example above). You’ve spent all this time getting to know your industry journalists. Don’t insult them by sending them the same thing you sent to everyone else on your list.
  10. Be available to talk about industry trends. There will be times you don’t have any new news to share, or the news you do have doesn’t fit what your targeted journalists are writing about. However, they may draw on you to comment on industry trends or news. While it may be just a quote in a bigger story, the strategy here is to be helpful as often as possible. The you scratch my back philosophy comes into play, and you might end up with a bigger story centered around you.

Going through this media relations process takes time. A lot of time.

The reason you hire a professional is not just because they have relationships you need. It’s  because (if they’re good) they use this process every, single day.

But you can do it yourself if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, get your hands a little dirty, and be patient.

Today’s Exercise

Set your timer for 30 minutes and get to work on the following exercise.

  1. Choose one newspaper, magazine, or blog that makes a difference in your industry. It can be the Wall Street Journal or it can be one of your trade publications. Choose just one.
  2. Once a week, comment on one article, blog post, or editorial. If you disagree, fantastic! Say so. But do it professionally. Being negative or criticizing without a solution isn’t helpful. Professional discourse is.
  3. Hyperlink Web-based resources related to your comments. Cite professional journals in your own work. You want to make it easy for the journalist.
  4. Keep this up.
  5. After about six weeks, the journalist will feel like he or she is beginning to know you and a relationship will begin to blossom. At that point, you can begin your give and take relationship. They’ll likely take your phone calls or return your emails, if you’re smart about how you approach them.
  6. Every quarter add another publication, so you have four that you focus on each year.
  7. Don’t be afraid to go after the big publications. If your expertise adds value to the stories they’re reporting, comment away!

All you need to do today is create your list, prioritize them, and leave your first comment.

Set your timer and go!

The Scavenger Hunt

And speaking of Rosemary O’Neill, if you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit her blog.

The secret word is in her blog post, “Is Running a Branded Online Community Risky Business?

Just write down the secret word in Rosemary’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through March 3, so keep playing along (and you can work backwards, if you’re just starting out).

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office, including a Spin Sucks computer sticker, a Spin Sucks Sharpie, and more. I’ll even personalize and sign a nameplate for you to put in the front of your book.

Just email the receipt to [email protected]. Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

Now get to work! Thirty minutes. Go!

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.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich