Before the Internet, blogging, and social media, businesses relied heavily on advertising and public relations to build brand awareness. The joke among marketing leaders to clients was, “You either pray for space or pay for space—or both.”
Fast forward from Mad Men to 2016, and advertising still plays an important role in the marketing mix and social media’s relevance is undeniable. Yet for many, it’s the “earned” media placements secured by PR that businesses covet the most. Why? Because it’s not perceived as pay for play.
A feature article or mention of your company in a newspaper or magazine can provide external validation for the products, solutions, and/or services you provide. Furthermore, these earned media placements tend to boost company rankings in popular search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, as they carry more weight than paid or placed media, including press releases and company blogs. And last, but not least, when placed properly, these articles and placements are read and seen by customers and prospects, which results in increased relevance and could lead to more business or new relationships.
So, how do you go about engaging the press and getting your name and the company brand out there? My first recommendation, hire an expert. If you can’t afford one now, make it a priority for next year. Whether it’s an in-house hire, an outsourced firm, or a freelancer, the investment should be easy to measure. In the meantime, if you’re going to go DIY, here are a few tips:
- Do your homework. Before you pick up the phone or fire off an e-mail to the reporter, take time to read previous articles they’ve written. Get a feel for what interests them most and what sets them off. Do a quick search to see how the publication has covered your industry or your competitors in the past. This will help prepare you for the types of questions they’ll ask about your business should you find an “in.”
- Keep it simple. Reporters are almost always on deadline, which leaves you with very little time to pique their interest in whatever story you have to offer them. If you’re e-mailing, make sure the subject line is short and compelling so they’ll want to open the e-mail. I recommend including the name of your company and a few words on topic.Once you have their attention, don’t overload them with too much information. Keep it short. Bullet out the key points with links to your company website or blog where they can find more details. If applicable, cut and paste your press release into the body of the e-mail so they don’t have to download an attachment, which can take more time and easily piss them off if it’s a PDF, or somehow messes with their device.
- Be relevant, positive, and polite. Don’t ask the media to cover you simply because they’ve covered your competitors. Wrong! Focus on what their readers want to read. Talk about what is trending in the market and how you’re enabling it, addressing it, or protecting businesses from it. Tell them what’s unique or different about your company, product, or service. Above all please avoid being negative – especially about your company, clients, partners, and competition.
Two final considerations, or best practices, before you talk to the press:
- Everything you say and do will influence the reporter and the story. Keep it clean. Keep it relevant. And be responsive, but not ridiculous in the amount of information you provide.
- Note that your entire conversation is on the record. Talk with the utmost confidence, clarity, and consideration to the reporter and the readers. “Off the record” comments are always welcomed by reporters – for them it’s a gift that keeps on giving! And even if they never make it into the story, they influence the story, are easily passed on to others for comment, and often times will come back to bite you if not managed properly.
On that note, watch out for that last question from reporters: “Is there anything more you’d like to say? Something I missed and didn’t ask?” This mostly innocent, sometimes a Hail Mary question can lead many folks – especially those who have not been media trained or have little experience with press – to bleed out and go off message, giving the reporter something else entirely … maybe even a whole other story.
Avoid the pass, anticipate the ask, and have a closing statement ready that reiterates what you want to communicate to the readers. Once you’re done, be done. Resist the urge to talk more, and simply say thank you to the reporter and let them know you’ll be on the lookout for the coverage.