You need media to get your story told, but those in media need your story, too (maybe even more). That said, how do you get your story told before all the other stories out there? Foremost, you must have a good story; then it’s largely about being the better farmer.
Reporters, journalists, editors, news directors, columnists—they all get hundreds if not thousands of story pitches a day. Emails, calls and faxes sluice across their desks, and, generally, right into the recycle bin. You have to do something to get your story to settle out of the mix and take root. To that end, I offer the golden bough and six golden fruit for getting the media coverage you need.
The Golden Bough: Cultivate
Cultivating relationships with important, influential members of the media is critical to your communications success. “Cultivation” is the perfect analogy for the process of getting the media coverage you want: throw a couple of withered seeds onto untilled earth every now and then, turn your back for weeks on end, and you will reap only barren dirt.
The Six Golden Fruit
- Have healthy story seeds in hand. By having well-developed, robust stories ready to be told (see my blog post Star Stories in Six Simple Steps), you can take advantage of what the person you are pitching needs when you call.
- Prepare the ground by digging. Know the people and outlets—and their audiences—you are going to pitch your story to, and be able to comment on recent pieces. Find out where they get their information, i.e., who they “like” on Facebook, who they follow on Twitter, etc.
- Know your seed can grow there. If your story is not relevant to the reporter/editor/news director/outlet you are pitching (out of season, wrong soil conditions, bad climate…you get the picture), you have wasted everybody’s time. Go to your seed bank before you pitch and find an angle to your story that you think works for that particular person or outlet.
- Plant lots of seeds (of the right type, at the right time, e.g., pitch a sunscreen story in the summer, not the winter). By pitching relevant story ideas and offering updates to earlier stories on a consistent basis, you drastically increase the likelihood of getting fruit from your labor.
- Nurture what you’ve sown. Show your appreciation for their interest in your story, issue, organization or company. Respect their time, i.e., deadlines, by always asking first if it’s a good time for them to talk. Have something to offer at the end of the call, e.g., more information, a follow-up email, your cell phone number in case they have a question or an expert they can contact. Also, follow them online and comment on any online articles that are germane to your issue.
- Share the harvest…because givers get. Send your key contacts in the media something useful every week or two. Show them there is fruit for them in the relationship. (Remember, reporters are people, too—they’re also asking, “What’s in it for me? Why should I care?”) Offer new angles to existing stories they’re covering or that you’ve already pitched. Ask what kind of story they really want from you. Get them in touch with other people and resources that can help them produce good stories (even if they’re not your stories), e.g., an article, a useful link, a new item on your Web site, an expert you’ve come across, etc. Get on HARO—Help A Reporter Out—to have reporter queries sent to you during the day so you can scan them quickly and see if a reporter needs help working on a story on your issue.
To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, 100 percent of the seeds you don’t plant, don’t grow. But to be really successful at getting the media you need, you have to look at the process as cultivation, not just randomly pitching seeds all over the place.
Food for thought—
“An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.” —William Bernbach