Jodi Amendola is CEO of Amendola, an award-winning healthcare and high-tech public relations and marketing agency based in Scottsdale, AZ.
A public relations agency’s primary function is to build the reputation of its clients through owned, earned and paid communications. Of these, “earned” coverage is often the most influential and effective at increasing awareness and share of voice. It is also the most difficult to generate. Securing earned media requires establishing trust with prominent media outlets and providing value that elevates the reputation of their respective publications. When successful, the resulting unbiased, third-party articles give clients exposure to a larger audience—an audience that is loyal to their chosen media outlets and trusts their content to educate, inform and guide decisions.
Developing the strong media relationships necessary to pave the way to earned media is part art, part science. In the nearly 20 years we’ve been in business, my staff has documented several effective ways to endear our agency (and our clients) to leading media outlets. Here are the top 10:
Get personal. Media outlets are the products of the editors, reporters and writers that produce the content. Establishing close working relationships with the individual contributors that cover the beats most closely aligned with your clients is essential. Reach out to these journalists personally and know how each reporter prefers to be contacted—whether that’s via email, phone, Twitter or any combination. These preferred contact methods, as well as the times of day specific reporters prefer to receive pitches, can often be found in media databases such as MuckRack.
Customize your pitch. Every media outlet is different. Each has a unique audience and editorial approach. It is important for a PR agency to not only understand these differences but to customize media pitches accordingly. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to pitching is likely to result in failure. Make each pitch publication-specific, ensuring it communicates a clear understanding of the target audience and why the angle being suggested will be compelling and valuable to their readership.
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Be succinct. Editors and reporters are inundated with numerous media pitches every day. Most simply scan incoming messages in search of potential fits. It’s vital that a pitch not only grabs their attention but also communicates its value quickly. If your pitch is too long or wordy, it’s likely to be passed over in the interest of time. Keep your pitches short and to the point. You can always add more detail in a follow-up once the editor expresses interest in the pitch.
Be prepared. Nothing derails a media relationship faster than finally securing an interview between a client and a targeted publication, and the client shows up woefully unprepared. PR firms must take the time to fully prep their clients for media opportunities, asking for questions from the reporter prior to an interview and coaching the client in their responses, ensuring they aren’t overly promotional. An agency should also provide the client with a media briefing sheet that outlines the publication’s audience and editorial style, as well as links to some of the reporter’s past articles.
Be vendor-neutral. Some media outlets are willing to accept and publish contributed byline articles in addition to reporter-authored pieces. These articles provide an opportunity for agencies to position a client executive as an industry thought leader, but these pieces must be vendor-neutral to be accepted by the press. Media outlets aren’t in the business of providing free advertising. Any byline that is deemed promotional will be rejected outright. Work with clients to create bylines that offer unique insight and actionable information related to key industry trends, challenges and opportunities.
Respect deadlines. The media industry is extremely deadline oriented. Deadlines are fixed and taken seriously. They rarely fluctuate or change. Print publications, email newsletters and online journals all have expected delivery dates, and consistency is key. If an article isn’t ready for an expected issue, it doesn’t run. In the unlikely event that you are granted an extension for a client interview or contributed byline, that extension typically comes at the expense of the time reserved for a reporter or editor to work the piece. In short, if you want to stay in the good graces of the media, adhere to the deadlines they give you.
Provide supporting materials. The more your agency can help ease the workload on an editor or reporter, the more likely they are to work with you repeatedly. Simple tasks such as providing writers with photos, graphs/charts and biographies to support and add color to an article can go a long way.
Connect editors with end users. Sometimes a PR firm’s best route to gaining earned media for clients is by connecting reporters with end users of their products and services. Many outlets are more inclined to interview and quote customers than they are vendor executives, viewing user insights as more credible since they aren’t paid employees of the client.
Scratch their backs. Media pitching is a two-way street. Editors don’t always get the information they need for a story from incoming pitches, so they often must reach out to trusted contacts for potential sources to meet their deadlines. It’s important to help these reporters whenever possible, even if the story won’t advance the PR agency’s clients. Editors will remember agencies that helped them when they were in a bind, making them more receptive to future incoming pitches.
Engage with their content. It is important for PR agencies to show ongoing interest in the media outlets they are courting. Regularly read and engage with their content online and promote it via social media even when the pieces don’t include your client. Editors take notice of their outside influencers, and this recognition can help get your next client pitch picked up.
With journalists busier than ever these days, it’s incumbent on PR pros to make their jobs easier, not harder. If you follow this advice, you will build stronger media relationships that will benefit your clients, journalists and their readers. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
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Author: Jodi Amendola, Forbes Councils Member