This step is all about approaching the media. It's the fun bit!
To get you ready, we’ll quickly take you through the etiquette of contacting the media and teach you about the different types of media and how they operate.
We will have told you which media to target in the video response we sent you so you'll just need to check the link to the media contact list you got in the email when you first signed up and see if those media are on there.
If not, don't worry, we’ll show you how to find the right journalists for your story in this Step.
Once you’ve worked through this step, you will be ready to go out to the media.
Let's start with a brief background on how the media works.
TYPES OF MEDIA
Print and online media tend to have a writer that looks after a particular section or topic eg health, technology, entertainment, social affairs, small business, food and drink – the list goes on. So when thinking about magazines and newspapers, you need to decide where you think your story will fit within those publications and therefore which type of journalist is likely to cover and have a greater understanding of the issue you are trying to alleviate.
Radio stations are broken up into programs and each program will have one or two producers that look after the entire show. You tend to have two types of radio program. The first is talkback where the presenters discuss topics at length and bring experts onto the show and invite listeners to call in with their opinions.
The second is music based with light chat in between songs. These chats topics are often based on pop culture like discussing the latest episode of The Bachelor or celebrity gossip, so unless your story taps into this kind of subject, then you’re better off looking at talkback.
Then you have news. News bulletins are made up of short, sharp 5-10 second stories and cover only the top stories of the day. You need to have a seriously strong news story to make it on to these.
TV is similar to radio in that it has news bulletins and magazine style programs and the same rules apply. You need strong news to get on to the news and the right kind of story to make it on to shows like Sunrise, Today Show, Studio 10 and The Project.
They particularly like human interest stories about real life problems being solved.
You also need to be aware of the timelines that media work to. All media work to lead times but not all their lead times are the same.
Monthly magazines are known as long lead publications because their lead times are three months – this means that they write their stories and send the issue to print three months before it hits the shelves. It follows that you will need to send your story to these publications over three months ahead of when you ideally want it to appear.
Weekly magazines and newspaper supplements are known as medium lead as their lead times are approximately six weeks. This is not the case for the ‘news’ sections however, eg the Short Black section in Good Food in the SMH and The Age will be written about five days to a week before; same with the ‘gossip news’ pages of the weekly mags like New Idea.
Newspapers are short lead as they turn stories around in a matter of days. Daily newspapers may run your story the next day and Sunday newspapers like you to sell your story into them on the Tuesday before they come out. NB you cannot sell the same story into both daily and Sunday newspapers in the same state, as if it has already run in a daily, the Sunday will consider it old news. You will need to decide which is best for you.
It may take longer for your story to appear in the small business sections of the paper as the story is likely to be less time sensitive; these sections tend to be planned and written at least a week in advance.
Radio, TV and online are considered immediate lead because they broadcast stories in a matter of hours however it is best to ‘sell in’ to these mediums at least a week before, especially if the news is considered ‘light’ (ie not ‘breaking news’) or you have a spokesperson to put forward for interview.
GENERAL RELEASE VERSUS EXCLUSIVE
One thing you need to consider is whether you want to opt for an exclusive with one publication or issue your story to everyone (general release). Journalists love an exclusive and if you offer it to just one, the chances of the story running are much higher. The reason for this is that they know that a rival publication won’t be running the same story.
If you offer your story to a journalist as an exclusive you cannot give it to anyone else unless they decline to run it.
Exclusives work particularly well for softer stories, ie ones without a really strong angle. A news story, however, is usually a general release story. For example, you’re launching the Australian version of Uber – this is a strong news story that you can share with more than one publication.
As a rule, print, TV and radio do not compete so you can offer the same story to one TV program, one radio program and one print publication and still call it an exclusive.
Now we need to work on building your media list. Refer back to the Discovery Worksheet you filled in when you outlined your target audience.
Now think about what they are reading, watching and listening to as this tells you which media you need to approach to get your story across.
When you signed up, you got a link to a media list – view it, copy the media you think are right for you and paste them into a new, blank excel spreadsheet so you have a working document you can update as you go.
The list will be updated regularly, so don’t forget to go back to the link and check for any changes before you begin an outreach.
HOW TO FIND NEW MEDIA CONTACTS
So what if not all of the media you want to get into are on the list we’ve given you? Well we’ll quickly show you how to find your own contacts.
For print and online, the best way to find contacts is to Google the outlet you want to get into, then search the category relevant to you, then find a story similar to yours and see who wrote that story.
For radio and TV, you can call the switchdesk for the station and ask for the email address of the producers on each program or the expert that runs the segments on your topic (eg tech, food & drink, health etc).
Don’t forget to add your trade and local media to your list too.
CALL OR EMAIL?
The first thing you need to decide is whether you will email or call. Most journalists expect to get a pitch via email these days, however calling can be very effective too, so if you like to talk then this could be a great option for you.
Either way, you need to work out your pitch. You can’t just send your media release on its own and say ‘please see attached’, similarly if you call, you need to work out what you’re going to say to hook them in.
You need a ‘pitch’; you need to tell them why you think the story would work for them. And you need to make it personal and tailored to each journalist.
TAILORING YOUR PITCH
Don’t send the same email to everyone at once. Never send out a bulk email cc’ing or even bcc’ing everyone. They will know that you simply blasted it out to everyone you could think of and they won’t respond well to that. You need to contact each person individually.
A great way to start a conversation with a writer is to let them know you read their work or listen to their show and to mention a similar story they ran that you enjoyed.
If you don’t regularly read the publication or listen to/watch the show you are contacting, it’s worth jumping online quickly and taking five minutes to look around before you email them your release or call to check they will actually be interested in your story.
The pitch is actually more important than the media release. If they don’t like your pitch, they won’t even look at your release. This is your chance to hook them in and leave them excited to learn more.
What you put in the subject line of your email can be the difference between the journalist reading your email and deleting it without even opening it, so spend some time on this.
You need to draft a different pitch email for each journalist, making it specific to their publication or show. You can use the same basis of copy and information for each one, but try to find a way to explain why you think your story will work for their title. We strongly advise against blasting the same email out to everyone.
A good way to do this is to reference a story on a similar launch they ran recently or that simply interested you. Journalists are more likely to warm to you if you can show that you follow them. It’s a great way to kick off the relationship. Remember you are trying to build long lasting relationships with these media.
Here are some tips for sending your pitch email out.
Use the journalist’s first name if you have it.
Get to the point quickly and lead with your most compelling angle. They really might not read past the first few lines, so you need to grab their attention fast.
Keep it short and punchy. Don’t just cut and paste your media release into the email. Pick out the highlights and explain why it’s interesting to their audience.
Attach the media release to the email and direct them to it for more information. You can also paste it into the email at the end (after your pitch).
Include a link to a Dropbox folder with all the images to choose from (it’s a good idea to use bit.ly to create a shorter link that you can customise).
Be friendly but professional.
Remember to include your contact details and how best to get hold of you if they want more information.
Download the pitch email template and we’ll walk you through what you need to do.
If you decide to call instead of sending an email, then the pitch is naturally key.
Go through the same process as for drafting a pitch email and make your pitch personal to person you’re calling.
Draft some key points and keep them in front of you.
WHEN TO PITCH
Newspapers and online
The best time to pitch to newspapers is in the morning between 9-10am as this is when they decide what stories will run in the next issue. Send your email first thing so it’s in their inbox and call before 10am.
For weekly sections, you have more freedom. A good tip is to contact on the day the section comes out to talk about the next issue. Eg Good Food in SMH and The Age comes out on a Tuesday, so call on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Radio and TV
Be mindful of when you pitch to TV and radio news, their busiest times are around the news bulletins which tends to be at the top and bottom of each hour – never call just before the news. If you have a news story that needs to run that day, then it’s best to email the producer before the program starts and then call when they are on air to see if the story is of interest.
Most of your stories won’t be breaking news however, so it’s best to pitch a few days in advance of when you’d ideally like the story to run as this gives everyone time to get organised. Remember that the producers for each show won’t work normal 9 to 5 hours; they will be in from two hours before going on air, while the show is on air and roughly three to four hours afterwards.
Try to call magazines between 11am and 3pm.
As a rule for all media, it’s best to pitch from Monday to Wednesday.
WHY FOLLOW UP?
Follow up is crucial to securing coverage. This is when you call or email the journalist again to see if they’ve had a chance to read your story idea.
Give contacts a chance to reply. Hounding them with follow up emails is a sure fire way to get them offside.
If you haven’t heard back by 72 hours, it’s perfectly acceptable to email again to check in.
However, there is a big difference between being persistent and being a pain! Never send more than two follow up emails. If you haven’t heard back after that, you can assume they are not interested and you should move on.
If you follow up with a phone call, instead of asking if they got your email, say that you’re following up on a story idea you emailed over and pitch the idea again.
WHEN YOU GET HOLD OF THEM
Once you get hold of your contact, either by phone or via email, keep track of who said what by recording it in the status column of your media list.
If they are interested in running a story, ask if they need anything else and ask them what their deadline is.
Check in with the journalist a day or so later, depending on their deadline, to see if they have everything they need to write the story.
A journalist may call you for more information. Sometimes they will simply call but mostly they will email to set up a convenient time to talk. If you do get warning it pays to do your homework.
Do some research
Before you do any interviews with media, look up the journalist interviewing you. Check out some past interviews and the sort of questions they ask. Start thinking about the kind of questions they might ask you and how you could weave your key messages into your answers. Refer back to your spokesperson sheet you filled in.
Write down some key points you want to get across and keep those in front of you during the interview.
Prepare for the negative
Make sure you’ve thought about the ‘danger’ questions media might ask you and you’ve worked out how you would respond if those questions come up. Don’t just hope for the best and pray they don’t ask you tough questions. Prepare for them and you won’t fear them.
What’s on the media agenda?
Have a look at what’s topical that relates to you. The interviewer might ask your opinion on something that’s trending and if you can find a way to be a part of the discussion, it could work in your favour.
Here are some pointers for during the actual interview:
Don’t just answer the question
Think of ways to answer the question all the while telling your story. Never answer just yes or no. Expand on your answer and include interesting thoughts relating to the question that allow you to get your messages across.
Keep your language simple
Often people think that if they use big words and lots of cool jargon it will make them look more intelligent but in fact the opposite is true; you will just end up alienating people and they will disconnect. Remember you are speaking to everyone and you want all your audiences to buy into what you’re saying. Use everyday language much like you would if you were talking to your friends.
The only time this doesn’t apply is when you’re talking to your trade media and then they would expect you to use industry terms to show you know what you’re talking about.
Tell a story
Using real life examples and scenarios will help people to remember your points. Have a think about these ahead of the interview and how you might use them. For instance, if I were being interviewed on how I help people do their own PR, I might use a story of how one person that came to me had a story about how when he was talking to a journalist, he didn’t realise that everything he said in that interview would appear in print. He thought they were just having a chat. Which brings me to the next point.
Remember to contact the journalist that wrote the story to say thank you.
It can go a long way to making you a memorable contact and one they’d be happy to work with again. They may even reach out to you next time they are writing a story on your topic.
WELL DONE ON GETTING YOUR LAUNCH STORY OUT.
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There are a number of handy tools that PRs use that you might want to consider using too.
It’s a call out service that media use when they are looking for story content. There are often call outs for small business owners and entrepreneurs to share their stories.
You can sign up to get their alerts for free. You can also put yourself forward as an expert so that when a journalist searches for a person to speak on your topic, your name comes up.
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