“We want to get this story on NBC Nightly News.”
This is how a client of ours started a recent media relations strategy session. It wasn’t an outrageous request. This is an organization that has been featured on the national media stage in the past. However, given the story in question seemed better suited to local coverage, I was curious to hear why she thought this story would get the attention of a national television producer.
“Our committee chair knows someone in New York that works at NBC and thinks he can get them to cover us.”
While relationships with people in high places can sometimes open doors, it 1) doesn’t make the story automatically worthy of national coverage and 2) can result in newsroom backlash, especially if “someone in New York” is in sales or programming and tries to tell a news producer what to do.
It’s understandable to want to capitalize on relationships. And we get it: National media is nothing if not alluring. But there are times you would be better off with more targeted, local coverage anyway.
Here are a few things to consider as you determine the best way to focus your media relations efforts.
Local press can have as much, if not more, impact.
While we can access news from all over the world with a single Google search, we certainly can’t process it all. Four of the top national news engines, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed alone publish nearly 1,200 pieces of original content per day. Add in the Associated Press, Reuters, and other international news publishers, and your story can easily get lost in the interwebs.
So why even try to compete on the national level, especially if your story appeals most to people in your hometown? (As was the case in my opening anecdote.) There are an average of 5.3 hours of local news on TV that need to be filled. And, while newspaper subscriptions are down, 51% of those who consume newspapers do so by holding the paper version in their hands. Those who don’t subscribe still rely on their local newspaper—reading a story or two online or skimming the headlines through an email digest.
Getting one good story is better than sending 1,000 press releases.
I think we can agree—pitching a story to the media was more straightforward a generation ago. There were three broadcast news stations, a handful of radio news reports, and one or two newspapers in each media market. Nationally, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings were the big news personalities. Today, consumers can choose to get their news from local TV, cable, digital news, radio, podcasts, blogs, newspapers, magazines, and aggregate sites, not to mention the social media effort of all the above.
With nearly 2,000,000 media contacts in Cision’s database, it is nearly impossible to build a media list without giving thought first to who you want to reach and where they get their news. Millennials, for example, get much of their news through social media channels or news apps. Yet 46% of Americans, most of them age 60 and older, still turn on the TV at 6 or 7 p.m. for the local news broadcast. By determining the demographic you need to reach with your news story, you begin to narrow your focus from all media to reporters who write, broadcast, or post the news.
Did you mean to send that to features?
Fifteen years ago, companies wanted to see their story in the daily newspaper; better yet, on the front page and above the fold*. Placement meant credibility. It showed your business was going places. People used to frame the front page featuring their moniker.
Today, above the fold is a UX term. Rather than focusing on fold marks, concentrate on getting your story to the right reporter—the one most likely to work on your type of story.
How can you find that out? Read the stories and pay attention to bylines. If you have a personal story to tell, send it to a features or lifestyle reporter. If you are exposing a citywide issue, choose the investigative beat. Similarly, lean towards newspapers if you have data and details. Television and digital news favor the story that is easy to tell and has great visuals.
Ditch the list.
Increasingly PR teams are ditching the big media list altogether in favor of sending targeted story pitches via email or social media. This is a savvy approach because it gives reporters what they want—an exclusive angle to a news story—and it shows an understanding of the story’s appeal. In other words, a targeted pitch means you know your news and who needs to get it. That is a partnership approach that folks on both sides of the assignment desk can get behind.
If you’ve practiced public relations for a while, these tips may seem pretty basic. But they are worth repeating. You’d be surprised how many companies still don’t take the time to develop a targeted media list based on audience, geography, and reporter’s beat. Or those that rely on a committee chair’s assertion that they know just the person at 30 Rock.
*If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is a definition of “above the fold” and other quaint newspapery terms.