Back when I was the director of a television news service, I had the job of vetting the huge number of story ideas that were sent in every day from businesses and organizations.
Most of them weren’t worth a second look; they were thinly-disguised attempts by a business to get free promotion for its products. Some even resorted to tacky publicity stunts like sending cutely wrapped packages or envelopes full of glitter.
In those days, most information arrived in hard copy – and most of it ended up on the large metal spike on my desk. Once you “spiked” something, it was dead and buried. There was no going back. That baby was never going to turn into a story.
Fast forward to today, and newsrooms and other media outlets continue to receive large numbers of pitches and submissions about potential stories – and most of them are time-wasters. Today, of course, they arrive electronically. Instead of the spike, the decision-maker has a handy tool known as the delete key. The vast majority of material ends up on the “virtual spike” – never to be heard of again.
You don’t need to suffer that fate. There are still great opportunities for you to get free coverage in the media; television, radio, newspapers and magazines. The key is to understand how the media works, and what journalists really look for in a story. Hopefully by now you’re getting a good idea about that!
Where it all goes wrong
I’m going to share with you five tips that some businesses would kill to get. If they’d known this information, they would have avoided lots of wasted time and resources and they’d have an awesome media profile by now!
Instead, they fell into one or more of the five common traps for missing out on great media opportunities.
You’ll be able to avoid those shockers, because you’ll have this information up your sleeve. Here we go!
1. Expecting a free ad
If a journalist gets the faintest whiff of you trying to get a free commercial for your business, book or latest gadget, they’ll run for the hills. They don’t do ads, they do stories. If you want an ad, you’ll need to pay for one.
Now, let’s be frank here. The whole reason you’re approaching the media is because you absolutely DO want free promotion for your business or organization. There’s no crime in that. Heck, I’m actively encouraging you to go after it. But the KEY to success lies in coming up with a great story that just happens to promote you along the way. It’s not a blatant free plug to begin with.
There’s a subtle difference here, and it means the world to the media. First and foremost, they want something interesting. If they get it, they’re likely to be happy to mention your business and refer to your products (within reason) in the body of the story. Everyone gets what they want.
But if they think the story is boring or old, or just not likely to interest their audience, they’ll drop you like a hot potato – especially if they suspect it’s a cheap shot to get free marketing, with no newsworthiness attached to it.
Avoid the frustration and wasted time of having your story idea knocked back because it’s a stinker. Find your angle first, get promotion second.
2. The scattergun approach
One of the principles that’s hardest for people to get is that getting into the media isn’t a numbers game. It doesn’t matter how many radio or TV stations you approach, if your angle’s a flop your prospective story will go the same way.
I’ve seen people take what I call the scattergun approach. They Google every media outlet in their state or country and send information out everywhere, then wait for the phone to ring. What a huge waste of time and effort.
It’s much more effective to be targeted and go after the specific media that will be most interested in your information. It can be tempting to do the scattergun thing because it feels like the more media outlets you approach, the better chance your story has of being picked up. But it doesn’t work that way.
There are mainstream media outlets that cover any kind of story, as long as the angle is awesome. But then there are niche publications and broadcasting stations – or those that have programs about particular subjects. If your story angle falls within their categories of interest, they’ll already be more likely to talk to you than their generalist colleagues.
So, do your homework. Let your fingers do a little Googling, to come up with the media best suited to your story idea. Believe me, a medium-sized story in a niche magazine is better than no story on 60 Minutes. Remember, regardless of where the story appears, you can still promote the hell out of it through your own channels. Who cares if you only made the front page of the Westchester Thimble Manufacturing Digest? The point is, the story was written by a bona fide, independent journalist who just happened to think your angle was interesting. You can still get major mileage out of that.
Maybe one of the reasons you haven’t yet got yourself into the media – and perhaps your competition has – is because you’re not being targeted enough in the media outlets you approach. You can stop that right now. My course Become a Media Star for Profit and Profile tells you everything you need to know about tailoring your story angle and targeting specific media outlets. Many people don’t know this secret, and miss out on the media goodies! Don’t be one of them any longer.
You can learn all about it here!
3. Expecting the journalist to do all the work
Now hang on a minute, I can hear you saying. Isn’t it their job to do the work?
Well, yes, technically. The truth of the matter is, journalists work to ridiculously tight deadlines and their resources are shrinking. One of the main barriers to getting your story over the line may well be that the media outlet simply doesn’t have enough staff to cover it.
That’s particularly the case for radio stations, TV newsrooms and newspapers outside major capital cities. They’re putting their material together on the smell of an oily rag. They have to cut corners to save time, and usually their reporters are filing multiple stories every day.
This is a minor hurdle, and I see many people falling over it and crashing down, because they’re prepared to wait until the media outlet has time to cover the story. They could end up waiting a lifetime, and missing a whole heap of free publicity in the process.
The really savvy ones (and after this, you’ll be one of them) know how to meet the media halfway. They do whatever they can to make the journalist’s life easier, because it means they’ll have a better chance of getting their story covered. Here are some things you can do:
- Have really clear information about your story angle, so the journalist doesn’t have to sift through a pile of research to get to the crux of it (believe me, you’ll lose them right there if that’s the case).
- Be prepared to bend a little in your timeframes. If they can’t do the interview on the day you’re available but they can slot it in next Tuesday, your flexibility will go a long way. If you can rearrange your Tuesday to fit in with them, do it! So often, I see business leaders and executives digging in their heels and trying to force a radio or TV station to fit in with their agenda (usually because they are full of their own self-importance!) Those kind of people will not only miss out on the media opportunity, they’ll go down in that media outlet’s “little black book” of people to avoid in the future. Be flexible, adaptable and accommodating, even if it causes you some inconvenience. The payoff will be worth it!
- Get back to them quickly when they call. There’s nothing worse, from a journo’s point of view, than receiving information about an interesting story, then calling the contact number only to find the person has just left for a week in the Bahamas or is having major surgery. I’m not saying you need to be chained to you phone 24/7 after you put the call out to a media outlet, but make it your business to respond to their requests as soon as you can. If you don’t have the information they ask for, at least respond and tell them when you’ll have it. If you keep them waiting, they’ll assume the story has gone off the boil and they’ll move on to the next business.
4. Expecting instant results
I’ve seen cases where businesses give information to the media, assuming the story will appear at a designated time. They get offended if the story isn’t run, or doesn’t come out the way they expected.
Media outlets have a certain amount of space they can fill with stories about businesses and people like you. For commercial networks and publications, that’s determined by the amount of advertising that’s been purchased. Sometimes they really like a story, but other more urgent stories come along and push yours to the back of the queue. It may not appear immediately. Remember, it’s their publication or program – they control the timing. You’re getting a great promotional opportunity for free.
If you have a positive relationship with the media outlet you can certainly approach them and talk to them about the timing, but at the end of the day, it’s their call. That’s one reason why media coverage – awesome as it is - needs to be part of a broader communication strategy. If your story is particularly time-driven, you’ll need to also be doing other things to get your information out there. But if you’re prepared to be patient, the results can be phenomenal.
I worked with one business that achieved magnificent, positive coverage of one of its programs – a three-page newspaper spread. The catch was, it took a year for the story to come to fruition. I’m not suggesting every story will take a year, but this one did because it was a large story that wasn’t tied to a specific timeframe. The media outlet was interested, but other stories kept coming up and pushing this one further back. We kept politely reminding them about the story, and eventually it got a great run.
Your story is unlikely to be delayed by a year, but it may appear a little later than you had hoped. You need to hang in there, in the knowledge that the likely outcome will be fabulous.
5. Putting all your eggs in the media basket
This relates to the previous point, and is worth emphasizing.
Media coverage has the potential to bring you stupendous results in terms of reach, credibility and the leverage factor. But it’s not a marketing or communication strategy in its own right. You need to be getting your message out through all different channels, depending on the audience you want to reach.
Getting a media story will give all your other marketing efforts a kick-ass boost. But don’t rely solely on media, because you don’t control the channel or the timing of the story. Mix it up, but definitely incluee traditional media in your plan.
Do you learn more easily by listening to stuff? If so, tune in to my podcast on the first two common mistakes and how to avoid them – you’ll find it right here. (Laura: embed link to https://soundcloud.com/neryleast/media-boo-boos-and-how-to-avoid-them-part-1)
So, have you found yourself getting tangled up in any of these mistakes? Free yourself right now and start to build your media profile.
You’ll get all the how-to steps in Become a Media Star for Profit and Profile – you’ll be way ahead of the competition! Grab your spot here.
A quick recap:
- Always lead with your story angle, not something that sounds like an ad
- Rather than the scattergun approach, be targeted in the media you go after
- Do some of the journalist’s job for them, and watch your media prospects increase
- Be patient – Rome apparently wasn’t built in a day, and sometimes media stories take a little longer to appear
- Spread the love – make media part of your broader communication plan.
Avoid the dreaded spike. Position yourself as a leader in your field, through great media coverage.