Media Relations: The Nice and Naughty List

Did you know the majority of the news you read in newspapers, watch on TV or hear on the radio is initiated by public relations professionals? According to Robert McChesney, public relations expert and communications professor at the University of Illinois, “In the 1960s and 1970s, about 40 to 50 percent of news came from public relations. Now, 86 percent of the news comes from public relations, and sometimes, those stories have no editing.”

This figure may lead you to believe that almost any company or professional can obtain media coverage to promote a particular product, service or agenda. But that’s not the case. While much work goes into media relations efforts – press release writing, media list development, pitching the story, media follow up, etc. – they do not always guarantee media coverage.

Though journalists ultimately decide whether your story is newsworthy, there are some valuable media relations strategies that can better your chances of gaining coverage. Here are some guidelines to follow – and some to avoid – when trying to get your story in the news.

NICE: Compiling a comprehensive media list.
NAUGHTY: Reaching out to the wrong journalists or only major media outlets.

Never underestimate the importance of smaller or niche outlets like community newspapers, blogs, cable TV, trade journals, etc. It’s essential to look at the entire spectrum of news media to determine which outlets and their audiences would be interested in your story. Once you’ve identified a variety of media outlets, you must then research their staff positions or beats to discover which journalist(s) to add to your media list.

NICE: Tailoring your pitch for each journalist and his or her medium.
NAUGHTY: Sending the same general pitch to your entire media list.

You must tailor your pitch for the needs of each medium and journalist. It’s a good idea to include a personal greeting and explain why the story would be of interest to the journalist and the audience they reach. Additionally, you will want to offer to arrange photo opportunities, interviews and/or special event invitations based on the individual needs of each outlet or journalist.

NICE: Fostering relationships with journalists you may work with often.
NAUGHTY: Making several cold calls to pitch a mediocre story.

Whether you send an e-mail or invite them for coffee, make it a point to introduce yourself to everyone on your media list if media relations is something you will do regularly. Establishing and then fostering relationships may mean your phone call/e-mail will often be answered or lead a journalist to deem you a go-to resource for future stories.

NICE: Preparing and practicing interview skills with your spokesperson.
NAUGHTY: Rescheduling an interview and showing up unrehearsed.

While he or she should be available at a moment’s notice if the journalist’s schedule demands, you shouldn’t allow your spokesperson to walk into any interview unprepared. You both should do your homework, rehearse questions and answers, and have facts and anecdotes ready to use for the interview.

We consider these strategies “insider secrets,” but we’re more than happy to share our knowledge. ‘Tis better to give than to receive during the holiday season. Keep this advice in mind the next time you share your story with the media so you’ll have a better chance of making the nice rather than naughty list of media relations next year.