A Local Journalist Explains How To Get Media Coverage

As I work in between jobs now and explore the world of options ahead of me, I am looking at all kinds of positions. From News Director jobs, my comfort zone, to jobs in Public Relations, Communications, Media Relations, and Public Information Officers.

During this transition time, I am watching videos to learn about topics I never really had time to with the 60+ hour workweek of a News Director. One I stumbled upon was a PR person explaining how to stand out and have a better chance of getting news coverage. Some of the points were really good! Others made me laugh.

Here’s how to really get the attention in a local newsroom if you have an event, product, business, person, etc. you are pitching.

THE PITCH

I’m going to be honest, we get hundreds of emails a day. In some newsrooms, we have our OWN accounts AND the general news email account. That’s a lot of emails to siphon through. The majority of news releases get ignored for these reasons:

  • We don’t know you. If you aren’t the Fire Department, Police Department, City or County PIO, or someone we speak with regularly, it’s going to be hard to get seen. If you are targeting a certain city then you need to make personal connections with the people in the newsroom. You’ll get more attention and get a better idea of what we want in a news story.
  • If it’s a general news release with a call to action that doesn’t impact us, we’ll block your email from getting through and SPAM it. In the plains, we don’t need an interview about hurricane preparedness. Read the room.
  • You aren’t keeping up with the news cycle and don’t realize when you are sending it. If you send a news release in the middle of a snowstorm, we’re going to ignore it. We are slammed. If you send it at 9 pm, it will move WAY down an email list so we have less of a chance of seeing it.
  • You are pimping a product/person/place, not pitching a story. We see right through that. We aren’t here to give you a free ad. That’s why we have a sales department. Pitch us a STORY.
  • Sending it to the wrong person. Understand WHO makes the decisions in a newsroom for day-to-day coverage. As the News Director, I got SO many news releases. Yes, I’m the FINAL decision maker but I am not a slave to email like the assignment desk, EP, or Assignment Manager might be. Find out WHO the person is who makes those decisions and send it to them.
  • You call too much to follow up on it. When a call starts with “Hello, I am calling to follow up on a news release I sent….”, we stop listening after that point. What’s NEW about why you are calling? Trust that your email got to us if you have nothing else to add.
  • Calling it a Press Release. I had a News Director who would get SO mad when it was called a Press Release or Press Conference. He would bellow, “It’s a NEWS CONFERENCE, not a PRESS CONFERENCE, if they just want the PRESS to handle it then let the newspaper people go!”. He would then mumble about the printing press and times have changed. So, to cover your PR rear end, just call it a news release or news conference. JUST in case.

As I can’t speak freely about how PR works behind the scenes, I respect the job you are trying to do. You just sometimes miss the mark.

Here are some best practices, albeit some are costly and unique.

  • Send your message with free food. A cake. A cookie. Candy. This will get everyone in news, who LOVES free food, gathered around saying “Where is this from?”. Then we’ll be talking about you. Someone might pick up the topic and say “We should do a story on that!” (NOTE: Sending free food does not guarantee you coverage. We are trained to NOT post social photos when free food is sent. You can hope the message gets to us, but we’re not being “bought” with free food.)
  • Send it first thing in the morning, right before the hustle and bustle of the day. 7 am might be a good time. Then it’s closer to the top of the email hoard.
  • Have a title that grabs our attention. That’s sometimes the only chance you get. Instead of “MEDIA ALERT: New Invention Rated 100% By Consumer Reports”, which will get ignored, how about “Springfield Techies Rave About New Product To Simplify Life”. You’re making it about my town and my people.
  • Include any pictures or videos you can. That helps if we can’t get to the “big” announcement because we are grossly understaffed. Do NOT write a VOSOT for us. We can’t use that and you are trying to pitch your message, not tell a news story. We have to tell a news story.

THE SPECIFICS

Now that you know how severely overloaded our email is, you should take note of that with each line you write in a news release. How are you going to stand out among the other ones we get? I can’t answer that for you unless you want to pay me :), but you have to find your own way to be the news release we want to read.

Also, people in news move around a lot, and yet the news releases from a previous market follow me. I’m sure there’s some magical combination that makes this happen, but when I’m getting Florida news releases and I’m now in Nebraska, you are likely to get blocked. (And that’s a real thing. I keep an ongoing list of Blacklisted emails to be sent to IT. )

You need to jump on trends or stories as they happen. The day a new announcement comes out about breast implant information, don’t wait 3 days to have a surgeon lined up ready to talk. We need it THAT day. Be quick about it.

Focus on morning newscasts. They are generally understaffed, with one person producing multiple hours. They need all the fresh content and interviews they can get. Yes, that might mean a 6:10 am interview, but it’s to one of our best audiences.

Again, focus on the news cycle timing. If you call at 4:30 pm for an update, you are calling in the middle of chaos as we get ready for the 5 pm news. Check out our website before hitting SEND and see if we’re in breaking news coverage. We won’t even consider reading your email or answering your call.

Know how you show up on Caller ID. Sometimes it’s a bunch of random letters and we’re aren’t answering that call. Sometimes it’s “ANONYMOUS”. It’s a hiccup you can’t really avoid because we can see it even if it’s your name, but an out-of-state number is going to also trigger a “Do Not Answer” in most journalists.

I saw one video where the trainer talked about getting the journalist’s name right on the email. I’m more forgiving of that but mostly because I realize it’s a mass email (that I am more likely to ignore), but it does punctuate the point to make each pitch personal if you can. Emailing a Consumer Advocacy station? Tailor it to that. Action News station? Probably isn’t going to do the fluff piece you are pitching.

Also, tag us on social media if it’s an event you think is worth covering. While we might not have been there, seeing the video and how good the story was (after we ignored your numerous emails), we might jump on board. After coverage is better than no coverage, right?

Get people to talk who can give good interviews. It’s awful when we get a “Top Doctor At Harvard” and they speak like they are giving a lecture to doctorate students. We need real people with good personalities who can water down tough topics to a “Happy Hour” level discussion.

Afterward, don’t ask for a link unless you’ve been unable to find it on the website. Sometimes all we have to do is go get the link for you, so do research beforehand. We don’t have 5 minutes in our day to stop and do that all the time.

Don’t tell us what questions to ask. We don’t do it for politicians and we won’t do it for you. We ask the questions. We don’t give those in advance. We can talk about “in general” what the topics are, but not specific questions.

THERE’S A REASON IT’S CALLED “The Other Side”

If we understand we BOTH have jobs to do, this will go much easier for everyone. We have a fundamental belief in telling the truth. You have a fundamental goal to protect your company/product/person. They are different goals but can overlap when handled correctly.

You are going to find some green journalists who don’t play by these rules and you’ll be able to manipulate them. Keep in mind if this is your tactic, that person is going to get scolded by a boss. Think they’ll ever use your pitch again? Don’t play games. Play by the rules and we can both get a good day’s work out of this.

I hope some of this helps the eager PR Rep to see better ways to reach out to any newsroom. To my newsroom people, I will also say this – you are missing some great content in the emails you aren’t reading!

I’m happy to hear your thoughts and continue the discussion.

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