Media relations, by its simplest definition, is the process of pitching stories to journalists and publications to share your message with a larger, external audience. You could use the media to respond to a crisis, contextualize an issue, share a brand update, or highlight your key messages – the opportunities are endless. To be successful, media relations must be authentic and thoughtful with realistic goals and expectations. Not every pitch will land on the front page of an outlet’s web site, so you’ll need to be ready for some rejection.
A well-placed story has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of individuals and can work to add credibility to your story and organization.
In the event of an issue or crisis, a solid media relations strategy can help you wade out of – or at least through - the hot water. That’s why many professional communicators and public relations experts work tirelessly to integrate earned media tactics into their day-to-day operations. The benefits are numerous, however, using the media as a core component of a communications strategy is not without its challenges.
The evolving media landscape
When we picture the relationship between journalists and media relations specialists, an image of Wile E. Coyote and the clever Roadrunner comes to mind. Communicators spend much of their time trying to capture the interest of journalists with the fabled “perfect pitch”, while journalists continue the never-ending hunt for interesting, timely stories. This semi-symbiotic relationship has a long-standing history of complexity and codependence, further complicated by differing priorities and timelines.
To keep up with advancements in social media, a short news cycle, and increased competition, journalists are often tasked with reporting multiple stories a day while simultaneously uploading, creating, and promoting content across a variety of channels. This has increased pressure on journalists, making it a luxury to pursue stories that require more time and depth. To add an additional layer of difficulty, paid and sponsored content are now a fixture in digital broadcast media, leaving even less room for earned stories. This increased pressure means media outlets are often difficult to reach and unlikely to consider a pitch that fails to immediately capture attention.
Knowing these challenges, it can seem like a daunting task to pursue any form of earned content – much like the task of catching the elusive roadrunner. Some organizations have developed communications strategies that avoid it completely, opting for distribution methods that are more reliable or offer a quick win. It will be up to you to determine if working with this format is worth the time investment.
Building your pitch
To help you get started, we’ve mapped out our top five recommendations for a successful, modern media approach:
1) Explore your options
The standard news release may not be the best approach for each message. Is there a creative way you can tell your story? Journalists will ask themselves: what do people care about? What’s new and interesting? Is there conflict or tension? What will result in clicks and views?
Your first job in media relations is to develop a hook that resonates with one or more of these questions. Make it easy for a journalist to pick up your story and roll with it – the less work they need to do the better. Try to position your story in a unique way that may not have been done before or pick an interesting tidbit to highlight to help capture the interest of an audience. This is a chance to break out your creative thinking caps and have some fun with a pitch.
2) Don’t underestimate social media
Social channels can create connection opportunities, manage your messaging, contain a crisis, and clear up misinformation. They’re also an excellent method for connecting with journalists and gauging any potential interest they may have in your brand. Social media analytics can also help to show how far and fast your messages have travelled or have the potential to travel. Although helpful, social media has the potential to become an echo chamber, so it’s important to know things may seem worse than they are when using social as your only source of feedback.
3) Develop strong relationships
Get on a first name basis with local reporters and try to forge mutually beneficial relationships. Invest time in learning reporters’ areas of interest and pitch accordingly. Building goodwill is essential- don’t be afraid to invite a reporter for coffee or call to follow-up on a story at a convenient time.
To help make your relationships even stronger, you can pitch a story or idea that has nothing to do with your organization. Offering up exciting ideas with no strings attached is an excellent way to increase the chances of journalists being receptive to your stories in the future. The key here is authenticity – you need to show journalists you’re not taking up their increasingly valuable time for strictly self-promotional reasons. Show them you’re here to support them, and they will support you in return.
4) Scan your environment
You’ll need to be mindful of current events and social issues in order to be truly successful in the media space. Is there an upcoming election? Is a topic trending on social media? Your story is unlikely to be selected for use if it’s pitched during a time where media coverage is focused on a singular issue. You may also choose to alter the timeline for a story release if it conflicts with a trending social discussion, or compliments one.
Staying in the loop can also help to avoid a potential crisis for your organization by ensuring your story doesn’t appear in a time where it may be viewed as insensitive or inflammatory. Many brands have learned this the hard way by attempting to participate in discussions without knowing the full context of the issue, resulting in significant backlash and negative coverage across all channels.
5) Seek third-party validators
Although we’re sure you’re very convincing, nothing speaks louder than the testimony of a subject matter expert. If you can include the knowledge of an expert in your narrative or offer them as a resource for media to speak with, it will help your pitch go even further. This can also help to reduce the work required by journalists – increasing your chances of coverage.
Experts are also perceived well by most audiences as they demonstrate the value and credibility of your story. This is something to keep in mind for media relations efforts that are intended to help sway opinions or increase brand trust.
Making it work for you
We previously compared journalists and media specialists to the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote because the process of chasing earned media coverage can sometimes seem endless and difficult. You may feel as though your perfectly crafted plan was no match for the needs of journalists, and your efforts ultimately go unrewarded. That’s why our final piece of advice is this: be patient with yourself and with journalists. Even the best story may not get coverage if the circumstances aren’t correct, regardless of your strategy.
Learn from any failures you encounter and work to understand how the challenges faced by reporters may have impacted your success. Be creative and provide as much content as possible in your pitch to help make their job easier. Both parties are working to bring meaningful messages to the masses, with unique barriers and problems to solve along the way. Who knows, perhaps if the coyote and roadrunner had slowed down to learn from one another they would have become friends or reached common goals. Or the roadrunner would have been eaten. I guess we’ll never know…..