It is no secret that the world is seeing a decline in opportunities for media exposure through the traditional outlets of television, radio and newspapers. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 State of the News Media report, the newspaper industry is little more than half the size it once was and the number of nightly news viewers in the United States has shrunk by 52.6 percent since 1980. While this decline has coincided with a crop of new media outlets and platforms for communicating news (namely social media, smartphone apps, hyperlocal news websites and blogs), traditional outlets are still viable and valuable.
Reaching them, however, is not so simple. So how do you compete in an increasingly competitive environment to have your story covered?
Here’s the good news: With smarts, patience and some creative approaches, there is still opportunity. Along with the media landscape, the business of media relations is evolving. In order to be seen and heard, you must enhance and adapt your tactics. Here are five strategies to build into your repertoire to establish or improve your relationship with traditional media.
First, as rudimentary as it may seem, you must always know your outlet. Never pitch a story to an outlet with which you are unfamiliar. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the issues they focus on, topics they care about and the various deadlines they face. I’ve often spoken with reporters who roll their eyes and scoff about pitches they receive from individuals who have clearly never watched or listened to their show or picked up their publication and taken the time to read it.
Approach each pitch like a job interview — with preparedness. Tailor your pitch as you would customize any cover letter you send to a prospective employer so that you stand out in a crowd of carbon-copy pitches. Reporters and news planning editors will take notice and chances are they’ll appreciate your aptitude.
Second, be cognizant of the news cycle. The perfect event or story pitch at the wrong time is often useless. Conversely, a bad event or pitch at just the right time often gets picked up. The more time-sensitive a story is, the more you need to think about the news cycle and plan carefully who you talk to first.
For example, one of the oldest tricks of the trade is to release bad news after 5 p.m. on a Friday, figuring that almost every reporter and editor has gone home. Even the biggest newspapers only have a skeleton crew working nights and weekends. This trick doesn’t work well anymore with Twitter, blogs, satellite radio stations and 24/7 cable TV news fighting for eyes and ears.
It’s also a bad idea to announce your positive news (unless it is breaking news) after "normal" business hours. You’ll likely get voicemail and your emails could get overlooked in the pile of messages reporters face when they come in the next day. The best time to send news or pitch a story is in the middle of the morning or middle of the day.
A third strategy is to cultivate media relationships on a more personal level. Have casual, pitch-free meetings face-to-face rather than just communicating over the phone or through email. Connect with a reporter for the purpose of getting to know his or her interests, not solely when you have a story to pitch. If there are certain reporters you anticipate dealing with (or already do deal with) regularly, such as a legal reporter or a community affairs reporter, nurture those connections. Invite them out for coffee. If they are speaking on a panel at a professional event, take the time to approach them and introduce (or re-introduce) yourself. Investing this time and energy when you have no news will serve you well when you do.
Fourth, if you want the media to consider your news, then be an engaged consumer of their news. Email a reporter when you have thoughts or commentary on their articles/stories. I’m not suggesting virtual high-fives with messages like, "Great job, I liked your article." While reinforcement is nice, substantive feedback is of greater value. What spoke to you in the article? Was there something that the piece missed? Do you have a different perspective on the topic? Have another idea for the reporter to consider down the road? Disagreeing respectfully is allowed. However, the goal here is to show your thoughtful consumption of their news, not to elevate your own opinions.
Lastly, keep in mind that getting coverage via a newscast or news article is not always possible. But that does not mean you cannot make your news heard. If a media outlet does not pick up your story, then write it yourself. Be proactive and generate your own content. This can take the form of a column, op-ed, letter or even an article, if the outlet accepts submissions. As newsrooms shrink, there are also more openings for outside experts — including lawyers — to contribute. Depending on the format of the news shows, subject-matter experts such as legal, medical and financial experts will have more opportunities to remark on the day’s news and provide their own commentary.
Some additional tips include knowing future trends in your industry before others so that you can help the media understand them, too; reviewing the editorial calendars that many weekly and most monthly outlets publish to take note of opportunities to bring relevant stories to them on topics they are planning to cover anyway; and, if your story has a hook to a recent trend or other big news event (for example, how your industry and its local ties are impacted by the congressional budget sequester), highlight this. Don’t assume that the parallel is as obvious to them as it is to you.
I am confident that by following these strategies, you will serve both your firm and your personal interests well. The results may not occur overnight, but the prognosis is bright. •
Jeff Jubelirer is the principal of Jubelirer Strategies. He leads the development and execution of all aspects of its clients’ strategic communications programs, including media relations, issue and crisis management and community relations. He also is an adjunct professor in crisis communication at Temple University.