A year after I started my first company, I got a big lesson in using media. I’d hired a publicist to help us build our authority as experts and—ultimately—bring us new clients. When she asked for my dream goal, I blurted “the cover of the Wall St Journal” since that was the biggest “get” I could imagine.
Suppressing a laugh, she explained that would be the ultimate stretch goal and I should adjust my sights. Not two months later, there we were, featured in a cover story about small firms making big waves.
The only problem? Being profiled in The Wall St Journal was more about stroking my ego than being the perfect perch to pitch clients. Our story was syndicated and ran in about 50 local news outlets. I spent the next six months fielding inquiries from consultants looking for work. Total number of hours invested: countless. Total number of new clients: zero.
So trust me. The first lesson in pitching media is to know your end goal. Who do you want to reach? Be very specific about your target (if you’re not sure, try this exercise to get clear on your perfect client ) What do you want your audience to think, feel and do after they’ve experienced you in the media?
If you’ve got deep enough pockets to buy yourself a well-connected media team, you may well be able to dive right into the deep end of the pool.
But the beauty of new media is that you can own the keys to the kingdom. You can organically build your own coverage. And here’s how you do it.
LAY THE GROUNDWORK
Frankly, an awful lot of those pitching have gotten lazy, failing to do even the most rudimentary research before dashing off a self-centered email. Even just a little bit of thoughtful preparation can jettison you to the top of the list of harried reporters, editors and bloggers.
Once you’re absolutely clear on your target audience, you need to find out where they congregate. What do they read? Who do they watch? Where and how do they take in their information?
I challenge you to go beyond the usual suspects that everyone in your niche is bombarding. Get creative. Search on your keywords and check out up and coming bloggers who will resonate with your message. They are often desperate for good content and a little homework will tell you what they value most: guest blogs, articles, interviews, podcasts, digital summits.
Spend some time at this—you may well have 20 or even 30 possibles before you can start whittling down your list to your perfect-fit targets. If you’re new to this, think training wheels. You want to build a media target list of no more than 10—and you’ll be able to better focus with just five. Have your dream outlet(s) in there for inspiration, but be sure it includes some easier wins. Your goal after all is to get your message out and build traction.
Once you’ve got your list complete, zero in on the writers, reporters and editors who cover your beat. Do your homework the same way you’d prep for a sales meeting: what do they care about? What kind of content do they publish? Tip: troll their site and/or bylines to find their written (and unwritten) rules of engagement. Your pitch needs to fit THEIR platform, not the other way around.
CRAFT YOUR PITCH
Consider starting with a piece of content for an outlet that routinely accepts outside submissions. Choose wisely—you want a post that is custom-edited for their audience and point of view.
You’ll vastly increase your chances of success if you draft your pitch (email) like you’re wooing an important prospect. Make it about them—their needs, theirdeadlines, their audience. Make it a no-brainer for them to say yes.
And then—the hardest part—WAIT. Contrary to popular opinion, sending multiple follow-up emails doesn’t increase your chances of being published. It’s more likely to get your name on the spam list. So cool your jets for three business days and politely follow-up (adding your follow-up to the original message so s/he doesn’t have to search for it). If you still get no response, drop it. Move on to the next target on your list. Rinse and repeat.
If you still have no takers, don’t be discouraged and especially don’t take it personally. Rejection happens more often than the wins, even to media stars. Take a breather and then shop your next piece of content, being sure to give that prospect at least a month between pitches.
Once you’re getting your content regularly published in your strategically targeted venues, you should start seeing the results you aimed for. How can you continue to build your authority in the media?
GET YOURSELF QUOTED
It’s much easier to make yourself sought-after for media quotes when your on-brand, thought-provoking articles are published on a handful of influential media platforms. Reporters on deadline searching for expertise will find you quickly since articles on these highly trafficked sites will pop up higher on search engines and social media.
But of course, you’d like to make it move more swiftly than simply hoping they’ll find you. So as you take off the training wheels, slowly add to your targets list the reporters and bloggers you most want to influence.
A word. A little empathy and respect for reporters’ deadlines and editors goes a long way. When one says, “I’m running this story and my deadline is 3PM”, they aren’t messing with you. Bend yourself like Gumby to accommodate them. First callback can get you the primo quote when two or three sources say essentially the same thing.
Be prepared to look at courting new media as an investment in relationships. You may give background several times before they actually include you in their story. Groaning about it only takes you out of their first-call queue. So suck it up and be generous.
Oh and save the marketing-speak for anyone but a reporter. Talk to them like a real person—give them facts and figures when you can and don’t be afraid to take a controversial opinion. They’ll love you for it. Even if they don’t quote you, you’ll be on their must-call list next time.
Organically building your influence and authority isn’t quick (assume 12-18 months of consistent, focused effort), but it does have pretty impressive staying power.
The best part? You can start right now.
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