When we think of “the media”, most people lump it into one big category. It’s important to realize that different media outlets have different needs. It’s not a case of “one size fits all”.
A lot of businesses make the mistake of tossing their information out there to all media, in the hope that somebody will pick it up as a story. That’s going to waste a lot of time and won’t get you far. It’s much more effective to do the work and think carefully about the type of media that will be most likely to have an interest in what you offer.
Let’s have a look at different types of media; how they work and what their timeframes are.
Yes folks, newspapers are still around, and of course now come in many forms. Some people disregard them as “old hat”, thinking they’ve shrunk and have few resources – but it’s important to realize they’re not dead and buried. Many of us are now consuming newspapers in digital form through our tablets and other devices, and hard copy papers are still around, although they’re reduced in size.
Newspapers still have considerable reach, and this has been extended through their online presence. If you get a story in a newspaper, it’s also likely to appear on their website, in their digital edition, and be promoted via their social media platforms.
Newspapers (whether digital or in print) generally need more in-depth information for their stories than radio or television because of their format. They look for quotes to include in their stories, so if they talk to you, your quotes may well end up in the story.
If your information is very well written, you might find that it appears in the newspaper (particularly in country areas) largely unchanged – which is very poor journalism but great for you! Larger, capital city newspapers will take your information and write their own version of it, and they may well go and interview other people – but overall, newspapers can still be a very powerful way to get your story out there.
The lead times of newspapers (the time they need to prepare the story) will vary depending on the type of publication. For example, a daily newspaper is going to have specific deadlines for its print edition, and there will come a point in the day when it’s too late for them to accept stories for tomorrow’s paper – while, of course, the digital edition can be updated 24/7.
The important thing to remember is, media outlets in general don’t think a long way ahead – they’re busy dealing with the stories of that day. Don’t send them anything too far in advance of when you’d like it to appear. If you’re aiming to get a story printed at a certain time, there’s not a lot of point contacting a newspaper six weeks ahead. One to two weeks ahead of time for a daily media outlet is plenty of time.
A weekly newspaper, for example a suburban publication, will have a relatively long lead time (in media terms) before it hits the streets. For example, a weekly paper might come out on a Wednesday, but the content may have been finalised – “put to bed” – on the Friday before and the paper itself printed on Monday. You need to get your information to those publications well in advance – at least a week before the paper comes out.
Newspapers, of course, also run photos, and this is where the power of visuals comes in. A great photo can mean the difference between the story appearing in all its glory, or disappearing without trace.
Check out the website of the newspaper you’d like to target. It will probably have information about their publication times and deadlines. If you’re still not sure, call them and ask.
The potential of radio isn’t always appreciated by people seeking to get stories into the media. It’s a wonderful channel of media because it’s so immediate, and you have the opportunity to communicate directly to people, conveying your personality.
If you’re on the radio, a lot of the time you’re communicating to people while they’re in their cars, kitchens or workplaces – even if it’s only in the background. You have the chance to connect with listeners and share the passion, enthusiasm and emotion of your story in a way that can be difficult in a newspaper story.
Like newspapers, radio comes in many forms. Many programs have specific shows related to topic areas and tailored to specific audiences. Perhaps there’s a program that already covers subjects linked to your story angle. Then there are mainstream channels with talkback shows, news and music programs and stations that focus on particular geographical areas. If you come from an area outside a capital city, you’re in a great position media-wise because you have the opportunity to access local radio, which is often looking for stories about people like you.
Depending on your angle, your story might be best suited to a news bulletin or perhaps it would sit well within a live-to-air program. If you are interviewed for a news story, the interview is likely to last several minutes but only a tiny snippet will air because radio news stories tend to be very brief. If it’s a live program, the entire interview will be heard by listeners. Radio interviews can be done face to face on site or in a studio, or over the phone, and this obviously relies on your verbal communication skills.
Radio is fast-paced and journalists work to tight deadlines. Radio news bulletins usually run on the hour and sometimes on the half-hour as well, and the journalists are turning over information very quickly. If you’re scheduled to do an interview at a particular time, it’s important you stick to that arrangement.
Producers of daily programs are constantly arranging and rearranging interviews, and aren’t likely to make decisions too far in advance. Their focus is on the next, immediate program rather than the show in a week’s time. If you contact them in advance with a good angle, they might show interest in your story, but the interview itself may not be confirmed until quite close to airtime.
A weekly show will have a different timeframe for decisions about stories and interviews, so you need to factor that in. Do your homework beforehand and make your approach at a time that fits in with their deadlines.
TV is another under-used medium for a lot of people, because they think their story isn’t important enough to feature on television. Remember, though, we’re talking about interesting in journalistic language, so the question you need to be asking yourself is, “Is my story interesting enough for a television channel to run?” Again, that depends on the type of story, and the type of program you’re targeting.
Like other forms of media, television comes in many shapes and sizes. There are major metropolitan stations with their large-scale, mainstream programs, a whole range of news programs of different length and quality, and then there are regional television channels outside of capital cities.
TV is, of course, highly visual. The person making the decision about whether your story gets picked up or not will get excited by a highly visual story, with lots of colour and movement.
Television’s deadlines are also tight. Many programs are daily, so they’ll be focusing on preparing the next program. There’s not a lot of point contacting them a long way in advance – a few days or a week will suffice.
A television crew will need to interview you face to face as well as record images for their story. The interview might be live in their studio, pre-recorded in a studio or at a relevant location. The crew might also want to get visuals of you and the reporter talking together, and/or you at work, for example talking on the phone, working on your computer or speaking to colleagues. Sometimes a little play-acting is required to make the story more visually appealing.
There’s a whole world of magazines out there – many online and some still in hard copy. There are trade or subject-specific magazines, and it’s well worth considering your angle and considering which publications might be the best fit.
You’ll find there is subject-specific media for just about any area; just make sure it’s a credible publication or website that’s worth the investment of your time, not just an amateur blog with a few readers. It needs to be credible and reputable; be selective, because you want to use the story in your own marketing so it needs to reflect well on you.
You can target by geography - have a look at the media outlets in your immediate area or the region you mostly work in - you can target through your sector, or target by the type of audience you think your story will appeal to. Strong stories on general issues that will appeal to a wide audience are more likely to be picked up by mainstream media, while subject-focused stories or those with a “softer” angle are better targeted to local or trade/sector media.
How to find media outlets
It’s not hard to find the contact details for media outlets. Spend some quality time with your favourite search engine and check out what’s out there.
Jump onto media websites relevant for you, and look for any contact details that indicate where potential stories need to be directed. That information is generally openly available, but sometimes – particularly for newspaper sites - it’s buried right down in the footer of the website, so dig deeply. Radio and TV networks with specific programs often have contact details for key staff, along with information about previous stories – so you can see exactly the types of things that are likely to get them excited.
The more background information you have, the better armed you’ll be when it comes to making contact. Trust me, the homework you do will save you a lot of time and frustration.
Remember: Identify your angle first, then decide on the media outlet or outlets that are most likely to be interested in your specific angle.
Getting the idea? Following this process will greatly increase your chances of getting media coverage.