Yesterday, we talked about the six things every business leader should consider before they hire a PR firm.
If you take only one thing away from that blog post, it’s this: Know the difference between media relations and public relations.
There is a common misconception among business owners that media relations means writing a news release, sending it to 1,000 journalists and suddenly they’re all writing about you. I always joke that they must teach it in start-up school because every tech founder wants to approach PR that way.
The truth of the matter is the news release, while still valuable for certain things, is no longer a great tool. And sending a mass email to a big list of journalists violates the CAN-SPAM Act, not to mention, if you have Canadians on your list, you can face serious fines.
It takes a lot of time and energy to do media relations really well. You have to think about it as you would business development or supplier relationships. A relationship has to be built before a journalist will pay attention to you. And sending a news release to their inbox is decidedly not the way to do that.
Just like if you were dating or chasing a new client, you’d never send out a bunch of emails to see who responded.
Ten Ways to Treat Media Relations Like Dating
If you think about media relations like dating, you’ll have better luck. Also consider employing some of the following tactics.
- 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.
- Personalize your pitch. Rosemary O’Neill, the co-founder of Social Strata, the makers of Hoop.la, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: A comment I left on a USA Today article that led the journalist to reconsider.)
- 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.
- 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 . 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.
- 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.