By Rieva Lesonsky
In the pre-internet days, getting publicity for your business was a relatively simple matter: Write a press release and mail it off to the media to get media attention. Today, with seemingly limitless media outlets to choose from — online and off-line — getting PR has gotten more challenging. Here to help: a recent survey of what journalists look for when deciding what news to cover.
First, here’s a reality check: The majority of journalists (47.5 percent) receive about 100 business-related emails a day; more than one-third get about 200 emails; and nearly 15 percent get between 250 and 499 business-related emails per day. In contrast, the majority of journalists get between one and four pitch phone calls per day. That means while email is definitely the most convenient way for you to send your pitch, it’s not necessarily the best way to get media attention.
How do journalists find the stories they decide to cover? Apparently, the way everyone else finds things: by doing Google searches. Google is the top-ranked source for story ideas, cited by 20 percent of journalists in the study. However, pitches from sources came in second, cited by 18 percent of journalists. “Breaking news” ranked third on the list, followed by social media and finally by press releases.
What makes a difference when journalists evaluate you or your business as a potential source or topic?
- More than three-fourths (77 percent) want sources that are recognized experts in their field.
- Nearly half (49.4 percent) look for original research they can share.
- About one-third (34.5 percent) want their sources to have well-developed media materials, such as an online press kit.
- Personal connections, such as developing a professional relationship with a journalist, are also an important factor in who gets written about.
What lessons can you take away from this survey that will help you get a journalist’s attention? Speaking as a journalist myself, here’s my two cents:
- Get to know the journalist you’re pitching. I don’t necessarily mean actually getting to know them (although that certainly can’t hurt); I mean getting to know what they prefer. For example, I get hundreds of emails a day, but calling me on the phone doesn’t make me more likely to write about your business — it just adds to my stress level! On the other hand, I’m sure there are many journalists who like to get phone calls. If you’re contacting a journalist, most will include some indication of how they prefer to be contacted on their media website. Don’t forget about basic courtesies such as spelling someone’s name correctly and getting the name of their media outlet right.
- Develop a reputation as an industry expert. Surprisingly, having written a book — often considered the mark of an expert — only matter to about 8 percent of journalists in the study. Instead, you can develop a reputation by speaking at industry events, boosting your profile on social media by sharing and posting useful information for those in your industry, and by doing original research.
- “Original research” isn’t as intimidating as it may sound. You don’t have to conduct a scientific experiment: You just have to share some information, such as the results of a survey of your customers or interesting statistics you’ve noted in your business. For example, if you own a children’s toy store, surveying your customers about the toys that will be most popular for the upcoming holiday season is “original research” that many journalists will be interested in.
- Work on your website. Start by boosting your SEO. Not only does search engine optimization help you get customers, it can also help you get the attention of journalists searching on Google. Next, set up an online press kit in the “About” section of your website with all of the information that a journalist might want about you, your business mission, your startup story—whatever makes your business stand out from the pack.