Travis Claytor

The Hunt for Standout Story Leads in Media Relations

By: Travis Claytor | January 29, 2020 | 
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Hunt for Standout Story Leads in Media Relations

There’s no better feeling than getting confirmation a journalist is going to cover our story—or loves the pitch.

But pressure to deliver the next one is always there.

Just when you’re basking in the glow of a key placement, Janet Jackson lyrics ring in your ears, “What have you done for me lately?” 

“When are you getting the next story placed?”

“Can’t you just call the reporter and have them write about us?” 

We’ve all heard the media relations tips: establish relationships, get to know reporters, be specific, make it relevant…

The list goes on and on. 

With PR pros now outnumbering journalists six-to-one, what can you do to stand out and get journalists to bite on your story when they’re inundated by pitches? 

But First, Find the Right Stories

Opportunities for story ideas are everywhere.

Most of the time, we find them through conversations with peers, reading, email distribution lists, and even social media. 

It’s easy to get complacent and look for stories from our computer or wait for them to come across our desk. 

But there’s not a lot of power in being reactive and passive. 

The power in media relations lies in making great story ideas happen ourselves. 

In this digital world, sometimes we forget the answer can be personal and a lot more hands-on.

Sometimes you just need to get out there and be creative. 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever spent time in a newsroom. 

I’ll wait…

Hopefully, many of you have.

But there’s a good chance some have never set foot on a news floor. 

It Helps to Have a Lemur

Let me take you back a few years.

I was overseeing public relations for a theme park in Central Florida, which featured some of the world’s best rides and amazing animal interactions. 

I was leading a media mission to Atlanta, where we were discussing new and exciting events.

On this trip, we had a few fun animals with us, including one really energetic ringtail lemur, for TV and radio appearances. 

And I thought, hey, I’m up here and have worked with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution many times before.

I bet they could use a break to interact with some animals. 

So, I called my contact and offered to bring the animals by for a meet-n-greet—no strings attached. 

No expectations or requirements for stories or coverage, just a cute and cuddly experience for the journalists, editors, ad sales reps–pretty much anyone in the building that day. 

It was a full hour meet-n-greet and walk through the AJC.

Everyone in the building had an amazing experience and learned about what our theme park had to offer. 

Plus, nearly all of them posted on their personal and professional social media channels (and tagged our brand so we could engage with them).

They shared photos and videos with friends and family talking about the experience. 

The best part is I got to connect with journalists, talk through potential story ideas, and generate leads. 

This is a process I repeated many times over the years with great success.

And with many different media outlets, regional TV stations, national newspapers, and others. 

Each time, I left with multiple story leads and everyone thanking ME for coming in that day.

Can you imagine…they’re thanking a PR guy for pulling them away from their deadlines for an hour?

Cute Animals Not Required (But It Helps)

Don’t worry, you don’t need animals or something exotic to make this happen. 

You just need a contact to help you get through the door (security is tight), and a compelling reason to pull people aside.

Think about what that could be for your brand or client. 

Seven Tips for Successful Media Relations

I know it can be intimidating, which is why I’m providing seven tips for a successful media relations: 

  1. Make it fun. Don’t put too many rules in place for engaging in something fun. Otherwise, they’ll just go back to their desks. I mean, who could be mad at an adorable lemur making noise?
  2. Respect relationships. If you relied on a relationship for the opportunity, don’t do anything that will get that person in trouble.
  3. Don’t sell—engage. Nobody wants a door-to-door salesman, especially while they’re at work. If they think you’re just trying to pitch them a story, they’ll put up a wall and you’re toast.
  4. Make it about THEM. You’re there to find out what they want to report about, so listen with your ears, not your mouth. This is a relationship-building opportunity, so build away!
  5. Respect private spaces. Not every newsroom floor is wide open, and there might be places you shouldn’t go, such as offices or editing suites. Good rule of thumb: if the door is closed, move on to a different space in the building.
  6. Be flexible. If you do get the opportunity to pitch a story, it will very rarely be a perfect fit for your story idea. If you’ve done a good job at listening, you can tailor your story idea to their needs.
  7. Follow-up. Send an email, or better still, a hand-written note. Make it meaningful by calling out a specific conversation point or something that happened while you were engaging them.

Be proactive, get aggressive, find the stories, practice ethical media relations, and show your stakeholders what you’ve done for them lately! 

How do you find story leads? Share your ‘stories’ in the comments below.

Photo by Janusz Maniak on Unsplash

About Travis Claytor


Travis has led teams that have developed and executed national and international integrated strategic communications plans around some of the world’s top media events, including the NFL Super Bowl and Republican National Convention. He’s also led the international launch of theme park attractions, promoted destinations to global audiences, and developed communications campaigns for organizations like Feld Entertainment, Gaylord Palms Resort, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Travis has also led crisis and issues management and strategic communications planning for brands like SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Today Travis runs TC Strategic Communications, an integrated communications firm with a passion for strategic solutions that produce real business results.