7 questions to ask yourself to help you generate media coverage

This is the second part of a two-part guest post for digital marketing consultancy Crocus Communications. Read the first part here: Media Coverage: Is it really that important for your business?

In the previous post, I wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of trying to secure media coverage. So now you know the parameters, it’s time to look at how to go about actually getting that coverage.

This post assumes you want to – or need to – do it yourself, but the answers to the questions can also be the basis of a good brief if you want to use a freelancer or a PR agency. 

  1. What do you want to achieve?

Go back to the drawing board and ask “Why” until you work out what exactly needs to be achieved. Then you can decide whether trying to secure media coverage is the right way to go about it (or part of it), and if so, what the most appropriate channels would be.

For example, if you specifically want to reach current or lapsed customers, reaching them through e-newsletters, direct mail or targeted social media campaigns is likely to be more efficient and successful.

  1. Who do you want to reach?

Every good marketing and communications plan needs a clear idea of who the target audience is. So you need to know some basics about them, for example: Where do they live? How old are they? Do you know anything more about them in terms of likes and dislikes, behaviour, other preferences, which may help determine your messages and approach? And, crucially, what media do they consume and where do they find out about products, services and events?

  1. How will you reach them?

There’s no point in getting into the Economist or New York Times if the majority of your target audience doesn’t read it, and if your story is not relevant to the majority of the media channel’s audience.

For example when I worked for a market-leading commercial refrigeration company, target media centred on magazines that chefs and buyers of kitchen equipment would read e.g. Catering Update, Cost Sector Catering, Caterer & Hotelkeeper. In contrast, when marketing the North Norfolk Stories Festival – a  free cultural festival aimed primarily at the local community – the target titles have been very local e.g. North Norfolk News, Fakenham & Wells Times, North Norfolk Radio, BBC Radio Norfolk and so on.

  1. Do you TRULY have a case for media coverage?

Here I mean do you really have something of editorial value to a media channel, something they will feel their readers/listeners/viewers will be interested in? Is there a news angle e.g. are you launching an innovative product or service; or a human interest angle e.g. do you as an entrepreneur have an interesting or inspiring story to tell? You need to offer more than simply “my products are great, please buy my products”, as that is the basis for advertising rather than PR (and bad advertising at that).

One of the earliest and most useful things I learnt in PR was asking myself “So what?” If you think you have something of interest to others, ask yourself “so what?” and think about why other people should care about this. What’s the benefit to them in hearing about it? Will it be a revelation, something entertaining, useful, shocking, exciting, will they want to look for more information and will they want to tell other people?

  1. How will you approach media?

Before you approach media, make sure you have everything ready: your story, any photographs that could be useful, a briefed and available media spokesperson, content ready on your website, etc. It’s bad form to send something out to media and not be able to provide information or a spokesperson for interview if they show interest.

Once you know you have something relevant to share, make sure you pitch it well. Research your chosen media outlets and try to identify the best person or section to approach, e.g. is it the news desk, someone who covers product reviews, someone who does interviews with businesspeople, or a features writer? A friendly and confident phone call where you can summarise your story or idea succinctly is a good starting point, followed up by an email with a news release or more information. Having an image bank of high-resolution photographs that you can draw on is really useful.

If you are sending out the same information to many media outlets, having a well-written news release is worth it. However I would still recommend a personalised email to each person you send it to, ideally also tailoring the content to the media outlet to ensure it is as relevant as possible. If you are targeting just one media outlet, there may be no need for a fully-fledged release, providing you have the key information to hand.

If you truly have a great story and don’t hear back from a journalist, it can be worth following up with a quick call to prompt, but bear in mind that journalists are busy, get approached a lot and may not like being chased.

  1. When will you approach media?

This will depend on your timescales and the lead times for the media channels you would like to approach. One of the biggest mistakes is leaving it too late. Monthly and quarterly magazines work several months in advance, especially on pre-planned features such as Christmas gift guides, which they start putting together in early summer. Weekly and fortnightly titles can typically be approached 2-6 weeks before publication date, whereas online, daily newspapers and broadcast media can be approached 1-2 weeks in advance, or even less if it is a big and topical news story. You can also consider sending advance notice in the form of a diary date, and then follow up with the details nearer the time.

  1. What’s next?

A simple thank you follow-up email to the journalist can be a good idea. You can also use the coverage in your marketing e.g. share that you’ve been featured on your social media, newsletter, website etc.

If you are hoping to get media coverage regularly, it’s a good idea to keep some form of log, such as a simple Excel table, which will act as a useful reference guide for future pitches and also to help you evaluate your work. As a minimum log the date, the media outlet, journalist and story, angle or project featured. You could also include a short summary of the story, more detail on the coverage (e.g. what section in a magazine it was in, what time and length it was on radio), whether a spokesperson was quoted (if so who), whether the coverage included any of your key messages and/or calls to action (e.g. to visit your website). And keep a list of the contacts that didn’t lead to coverage.

Evaluation is also useful to gauge what you have achieved, whether it was worth the time and effort spent (or investment if you use external PR support) and to help you fine-tune what you do in the future, although I know this is often not top of the list. See what evaluation you are able to do. For example:

  • If an article about you appeared online, how much traffic did this generate to your website and how many sales (if appropriate)?
  • Or if you appeared on TV was there a surge in website traffic or social media followers on that day?
  • Can you ask new customers how they heard about you, and assess what proportion was through media coverage?

Finally, if you don’t get coverage, don’t take it personally! Continue being proactive and fine-tune your approach as it is likely to pay off eventually, even if it takes some time. Remember to take a long-term approach: you want to build a positive reputation with journalists that will be of value over years to come. See what you can learn from the experience and do things differently next time – was your story really newsworthy, did you pitch it to the right media, were you just unlucky (e.g. a big national news story came along which took over airwaves and column inches for a few days)?

In the meantime, use all communications channels that are relevant to you – traditional media often pick up on trends, new products and interesting stories via social media (another post for another day), so you may even end up getting that coverage without a news release after all!

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