How to Make Friends With the Media

Want to win press coverage? Follow these four steps to building a successful media relations campaign.
5 min read
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If you think PR is all about sending out press releases and hoping for coverage, think again. In fact, successful PR is rarely based on one-shot or random tactics. To propel your business forward, you need a media relations program.

At its core, a media relations campaign centers on creating relationships with exactly the journalists, producers or editors who can tell your story to the right audiences. It can get a new product or service off to a successful start or even breathe life back into an established business that's floundering. PR coverage often has greater credibility with target audiences than advertising, so when used consistently, media relations can be an invaluable component of your company's marketing communications strategy.

Just follow these four steps to set up a media relations program for your growing business.

Step 1: Look at the Big Picture
By thinking of PR as a long-term endeavor, you can shape your campaign based on your long-range goals. With media relations, you can foster ongoing relationships that raise awareness of a product or cause, elevate your company's visibility, communicate key messages, and aid in positioning your business. Your public relations themes should be tied to your central marketing messages. In other words, focus your media relations campaign on getting coverage that hammers home the same benefits and key selling points communicated by your advertising and marketing support materials.

2. Find the Right Media
No matter your target audience, there's a form of media to reach it. Television offers everything from big budget news and talk shows to local access, plus all the specialty programming on cable TV. Imagine you've invented a new kind of concrete stain for driveways--there's an abundance of how-to shows with producers to approach about on-air demos. Get the idea?

There are radio shows, specialty newspapers and major dailies that provide excellent public relations opportunities. Best of all, the enormous proliferation of magazines targeting every niche market imaginable are a bonanza for small-business owners seeking coverage. Many media outlets also have highly trafficked websites with separate editorial staffs actively looking for content.

Where do your best prospects look for information on the type of product or service you market? Identify the best traditional and online media, and then put together your own list of targeted journalists, editors or producers. Your list doesn't have to be long. Just include the best media and journalists to help you achieve your PR goals.

3. Shape Your Story
Media outlets are primarily interested in stories that'll have special appeal to their unique viewers, readers or listeners, so it's critical to tailor your story to meet their specific needs. Become familiar with each of the media you target and note the types of stories or story angles they look for beforecontacting them. Media outlets are inundated with press releases and pitch letters--sometimes hundreds per day--and off-target or ho-hum pitches get, well, pitched.

The bottom line is the journalists and editors you pitch genuinely care about presenting the right information to their audiences. If you can get inside their heads and learn what they need most, you're golden.

4. Create Lasting Relationships
A press release--even a great one--is merely a knock at the door. It's the first step in a chain of events that, with consistent effort, will gain you the coverage you need. You can begin with a press release if you're announcing something that's new or newsworthy. Send a pitch letter instead if you're "pitching" a story idea. In some cases a "media alert" is called for to announce a specific event, such as your availability for interviews on a specific date as part of a radio media tour. Send whichever of these is appropriate for your particular message either by e-mail, postal mail or fax, depending on the preference of the media outlet. Then, follow up shortly by telephone. Don't be surprised if the journalists you contact don't recall having received your initial communication and ask you to resend it. Remember: they get inundated every single day.

Your follow-up calls are as much about listening as they are about explaining your story. Your goal should be to try to discover the long-term needs of the journalists and how you can work with and support them. Be prepared to send full press kits that include background information, any photos, copies of other coverage you've received, and information on your company to journalists who express interest in your story. But don't overload the kit--send only what's relevant.

Once you've opened the door to these new relationships, it's important to make periodic contact with fresh ideas and information. Develop your relationships over time and soon you'll find that media relations have become indispensable to building your business.

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