22 August 2012 Guest Contributor

I had the pleasure of hosting a fantastic panel discussion for the NAB National Small Business Summit the other week. The session was called: ‘How to get the media to notice your business’ and the journalists and PR professionals were incredibly generous with their frank and considered responses throughout the 75-minute session.

Sitting on the panel were respected journalists Oliver Milman, from free news and information website StartupSmart, and Jess Gardner, who writes for BRW and is the editor of the AFR’s Enterprise section. They were joined by the Corporate Communications Manager for eftpos Australia, Warwick Ponder, and the DIY PR site Handle Your Own PR co-founder, Jules Brooke. As host, my role was to ask each of the panellists a series of questions and facilitate the subsequent discussion. 

Now, if you couldn’t make the session, you’ll definitely want to cast your eye over what I believe were the most important ‘take outs’ from the session (22 in total!). Some might even surprise you. Here goes: 

  1. Every pitch – be it by phone or email – must be succinct and to the point, but should include meaningful details, like practical tips or lessons that you’ve learned that others could benefit from knowing.   
  2. B2B publications and newspapers working to tight deadlines often prefer for you to call first, then send your pitch in a follow-up email to the journalist. But consumer media generally prefer an email pitch first, attaching great photographs (low res initially). 
  3. Before you make a pitch, ensure it’s tailored to the publication and its readers. For example, if it’s a business publication, include initiatives and strategies you’ve employed or avoided to help others running a business tackling the same issue. Forget the product description (it’s not a catalogue or gift guide) and focus on the issues and trends affecting your industry. Business journalists are particularly interested in financials (generally revenue only), and if you’re not keen on sharing those, then you should probably pitch to another media outlet.  
  4. Most media organisations have a policy that bans journalists from accepting expensive gifts, so give this option a miss. 
  5. It’s ok to follow up with a journalist after making a pitch (wha?), but ONLY for feedback or to pitch a new angle.  
  6. Blanket press releases can (and should) be sent, but make it clear that it’s a blanket release you’re sending. Don’t try to suggest to the journalist that it’s a personalised pitch when it’s not. Worse still, don’t send the same pitch to more than one journalist within any media organisation. (This is a real bugbear for journalists and may cast a dark shadow over any future publicity attempts you make.) 
  7. Offering exclusives to journalists is still appreciated, but it’s wise to stipulate a time/date when the exclusive period expires so you retain control over the story and can pitch it again, should the journalist not wish to pursue it.  
  8. Journalists often prefer to speak directly to the source, rather than the PR professional representing them. This is because some PR professionals assume the role of gate keeper, which can convolute and slow down the process. However, journalists do value the facilitation role PR professionals can play in making the source available to the journalist and supporting them throughout the process. 
  9. Media training is strongly recommended for sources who wish to speak directly to the media. 
  10. Many journalists use social media to follow thought leaders on topics of interest and watch news breaking. Nevertheless, some regard it as a platform for them to engage directly with their target audiences, rather than to source experts for comment. (Journalists may question the credibility of a source gained via social media unless they have established a relationship with the contact over time.)  
  11. Persistence does pay off (because it keeps you front of mind), although it irritates most journalists.  
  12. Social media can be used very effectively by businesses to ‘build a story’ that will appeal to journalists and bloggers, rather than to just pitch stories. For example, Warwick mentioned that his company posed a question on social media that resulted in 42,000 votes on their website and the story being covered by two radio stations, without them needing to pitch the story at all.  
  13. If you’ve got a great product, find out who the best bloggers in your industry are and send them your product to review. Not only will the blogger’s audience see the review, it’s likely to turn up in Google searches as well. Remember, journalists use Google for research too. (Check out the media bag for help with this as well.) 
  14. While blanket press releases generally aren’t followed up with as much enthusiasm as personalised pitches, they’re often used as filler stories by print publications. Better still, online publications have greater space flexibility, so (for example) of the five to six stories run by StartupSmart per day, two to three are likely to have originated from a press release. (But, just to qualify, the release will only be used as a starting point for the story.) 
  15. Think about what your target audiences are reading/watching and only pitch to THAT media. Forget the rest.  
  16. The media loves surveys and it’s of note that journalists will consider using the results of surveys with smaller sample sizes if they’re from a reputable source, eg. a recognised expert or credible voice in the industry. Likewise, journalists will accept anecdotal, rather than statistical trend information, if it’s from a reputable source.  
  17. If you send a blanket press release, make sure you also send personalised pitches (that include something extra) to key journalists that cover your area. 
  18. Bloggers are an important resource for many businesses, but not just because their readership may include your potential customers. Bloggers often invite commentary on your relevant industry and are more likely to regard you (a small business owner) as a credible source.  
  19. Before you pitch over the phone, always check if the journalist has a moment to talk. Then give a quick introduction of who you are and briefly what your story idea is.  
  20. Try to give your pitch ‘a human face’ by including case studies or real world examples. Journalists love it!  
  21. Many journalists use Facebook as a personal tool rather than a sourcing tool. However, some find LinkedIn useful to search for employees within a company they’re interested in. (I think it’s time to brush up your LinkedIn profile, don’t you?)  
  22. Approach journalists with a view to establishing an enduring relationship. To do this, it’s important to always be honest and to deliver on anything you say you will. 

What’s your take on these ‘take outs’? Do you agree? Have a few more tips you’d like to add? Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you.