Free publicity is available when you develop relationships with the press.
by Pam Lontos
As a business owner, you’ve probably heard media exposure can greatly help your company, especially during tough economic times when marketing budgets are low and competition is high.
Learning to leverage the power of the media can help you stand out from the competition without expending your resources. If you are new or inexperienced in dealing with editors or reporters, you might feel intimidated. But you don’t need superpowers or be famous in order to approach the media.
People interview people they like. If you can develop a good rapport up front, that’s half the battle. Media professionals, like everyone else, gravitate toward someone they enjoy talking with. You can adopt strategies that will cause interviewers to come back to you, time after time.
First and most important, be respectful of the reporter or editor’s time. Deadlines are 24/7 these days, and you are one of many people approaching the media with articles, ideas and pitches. Media professionals are among the most overtaxed and pressured people you will ever meet. If you have initiated the contact, your first question should be, “Are you on deadline?” If they say “yes,” never sabotage the relationship by forging ahead anyway. If they are on deadline, ask, “When would be a better time to call you?” No need to risk alienating or annoying them. You can always call back.
You don’t want to be someone reporters interview once and never want to again. Here are a few ideas to help you relax and make sure editors and reporters accept your articles, book you as a guest on shows or interview you for pieces they are writing or videotaping.
Become familiar with the journalists you would like to cultivate relationships with. Follow their work, and let them know when you enjoy something they have written. Comment on something specific. Watch the TV broadcast or the talk show. Read the magazine, newspaper or blog. Listen to the radio show or podcast. Familiarize yourself with the content. Look at the ads to see what audience the advertisers are targeting.
Once you become familiar with the audience, you will understand what the audience wants. This will allow you to tailor your content, making it more valuable to the reporter or editor. Providing great content is the best way to motivate reporters to contact you in the future. Another good way to target your material correctly is to ask the reporter or interviewer if there is anything else you need to know to better understand his or her audiences. That way you can fashion the content of your remarks as you prepare for an interview or, if you are writing an article, you can strike the appropriate tone. Reporters, editors and talk-show hosts will respect you for the extra effort you make to ensure your ideas are valuable to their audiences.
Be observant during conversations and pick up personal details. You can then e-mail or mail the reporter an article with relatable topics. This costs nothing, and therefore there will be no breach of ethics on the reporter’s part to accept it. At the same time, he or she will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Reporters and editors often spend most of their time in the world of ideas. They like to think and talk about challenging ideas. When you are engaged in conversation, remember to bring up the topic they like to talk about. If you see a subject come up in the news you know will interest a reporter with whom you are developing a relationship, copy and send it to him.
Don’t let months pass without contact. If you stumble across an event or idea related to an area of the reporter or editor’s interest, call and leave them a quick voice mail about it. They will get the message that you are thinking about them as people, not just using them for your own purposes.
The goal is relationship building. If the reporter or editor you would like to get to know is local, you can drop by the office (with appropriate notice), suggest coffee or even invite him or her to lunch. And when you do this, be sincere about it. Treat the reporter as you would any other friend or acquaintance you value. If it’s all about you, if you’re in the game just to advance yourself, this will become all too readily apparent, and you will alienate the very people you are trying to impress.
When you are interviewed, give good quotes. Strive for simple, declarative sentences. Use concrete images. Answer the question. Don’t go off on tangents that interest you. Remember the reporter is working hard to gain the knowledge he or she needs to write a good story. Or the radio host is looking for that pithy quote the listeners can relate to. Help the reporter do a good job, and your effort will be appreciated.
Be enthusiastic on the phone. Even if you’re not doing an interview for broadcast, the reporter will appreciate your passion for the subject. Stand up and smile, your energy and cheerfulness will come across. Laugh or get the interviewer laughing.
If you’ve written a book on the subject you are being interviewed about, offer to send it. This will help them learn more about the topic they are researching.
At the end of an interview, ask about other stories the reporter is currently covering. Explain how you may be able to contribute and offer a unique angle that may interest their audience. Always remind the journalist that he or she can call you back with questions. And make it clear that you’re eager to be an accessible source of information in the future.
Don’t forget to maintain your relationships once they are established. Again, thoughtfulness is the key. Sometimes the reporter will call you as a source, but you just aren’t right for that particular subject matter. You can still be helpful by suggesting another person. Or, if the reporter needs a second or third source to interview, suggest names of other people. If the story is not something you can help with, steer the reporter toward a more productive source of information.
Effective media coverage is all about developing and maintaining relationships. If you develop, nurture and maintain good relationships with reporters and editors, you will become the expert source they seek out time after time, which will help you stand out from the competition and boost your sales.