As anyone who has ever tried can tell you, getting your story in front of an influential writer – whether it’s a traditional journalist working for an established publication or an independent blogger – is no easy task. It’s a lot like having someone try to find you in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
The reason is any writer who is important to you (i.e. anyone with the influence to move the sales needle by writing about your product or company) typically receives hundreds of e-mails, pitches, press releases, Tweets, etc., from others who also want his/her attention.
Sure, there is a chance that a writer will randomly open your e-mail, see something of interest and write about it – an event public relations professionals call “your lucky day.” But like anything else in the business-to-business realm, leaving it to chance is not the best strategy for a manufacturing company that is looking to amplify its presence among prospects.
While there are never any guarantees – no matter how good a job you do – there are some proven ways to successfully reach the most critical influencers. Here are seven of them.
Get to know the writer’s beat and interests. The simplest way to break through the clutter is to take an interest in the writers who are most important to your company. There are plenty of ways to do that – follow their blogs in your RSS feed (and add comments to them), follow them on Twitter, become a Facebook fan if they have a fan page, and, most importantly, actually read what they write. Use the phone instead of e-mail, arrange a meeting in person (for breakfast, lunch or dinner, if the writers are willing.) In other words, engage with them; become a real person to them instead of just a name on a random e-mail.
Find out what the writers’ hobbies or interests are outside of industrial marketing and match them to yours. There are cases where stories were placed with top-tier journalists simply because the writer and the person pitching the story shared an interest in baseball. The story still had to be relevant to the writer’s audience, of course, but the baseball connection is what broke through the clutter.
Knowing what the writers cover also will prevent you from pitching stories that have no interest to them. It’s always a good idea to mention something the writer has written recently and how it relates to the story you’re pitching. If you can’t do that, it’s probably not appropriate.
Get into the conversation – and give back. Up until a few years ago, writers covering the industrial/manufacturing world would make their pronouncements from the top of Mt. Olympus, and then disseminate them to the masses. As I said in the first secret, today feedback (particularly in the form of comments) is a precious commodity.
Industrial writers, especially bloggers, appreciate it when interview subjects or company spokespeople comment on their stories. They want comments. They look for comments. They covet comments.
If you regularly follow a blog or traditional media writer and comment on stories or posts, you establish a rapport that will serve you well. If you read an article that interests you, hit the “Like” button, Digg it, or otherwise share it. Post a link in your Twitter feed, or re-Tweet something the writer posts. Don’t just do it with stories you’re involved in; do it with those to which you have a less direct connection. It shows you’re paying attention and value the writer’s work. It also may help that writer reach an incentive or other goals, which is good for all.
Offer extras. Everyone offers their experts to be interviewed as part of a story. But even traditional media outlets are striving to provide more of an online presence for their stories.
When the interview is finished, offer to provide photos, video/audio (if you have it) or other graphics such as statistic-based charts. If there’s a YouTube video that helps illustrate the story, point them to that. The less work they have to do to find viral elements to accompany the story, the better. And the higher you are on the list when the next story rolls around.
Know the writer’s audience. Does the writer write for CFOs, general managers, engineers, line of business managers, business leaders, etc.? If your story isn’t right for the audience, you’re wasting the writer’s time. Worse is when you succeed in getting the story written anyway – and the audience turns on the writer. Again, that wins you no points with the writer for the future.
Make sure any story you pitch is suited to the writer’s audience. If your core story isn’t right, see if there’s another angle that might work better. A story about lowering costs by cutting staff will appeal to CFOs, and maybe even general managers, but will absolutely alienate the line-level engineering or manufacturing staff.
Know when/how to contact reporters. The other side of building these relationships is understanding what writers like and how they want to work. If they typically write their stories in the morning and look for ideas in the afternoon, contacting them at 10 a.m. is not going to get you very far, especially if it’s by phone.
The same goes for the type of contact. Some writers like the personal touch of phone calls; others are e-mail-only. Some have Twitter accounts they use to contact potential sources – they put out a Tweet and wait for responses. Or they want responses sent to a private box on Profnet or HARO (Help A Reporter Out). Learn which they prefer and follow it.
If you do have permission to call, always be respectful of the writer’s time.
Be responsive. Be very responsive. Most writers tend not to plan very far ahead. They’re constantly working on tight deadlines, especially in the current 24×7 news cycle, so their primary interest is the story that’s due next. That means you may get a request for an interview or more information that needs to be fulfilled now.
Acting quickly means the better chance you have of making it into that story since it’s often “first come, first served” when it comes to last-minute sources. Don’t be surprised if that last-minute request comes from something you pitched months ago, either. Instead, be glad that the writer thought enough of it to save it all this time.
On the other hand, if you can’t get the person, statistic, photo, etc., the writer needs, be honest about it. Let the writer know as soon as possible so the search for sources can continue.
Keep up with the influencers. Like the industrial landscape itself, the media covering it is a constantly-shifting landscape. Writers come and go from an outlet. They change beats or interest areas. The delivery methods themselves change (from print or broadcast to online to bloggers to who knows?) and so forth.
Yes, it’s often difficult to keep up, but it’s worthwhile. Knowing who and/or where your key contacts are – especially those writers you’ve spent all that time building relationships with – is essential to making your media relations program work.
Signing up for a data service that regularly updates its database is a good start. But it’s ultimately your responsibility, not theirs. Tracking them in a database designed for media relations, including space to capture those personal preferences and hobbies you spent so much time discovering, simplifies the process over using a spreadsheet. It also makes the information easier to share with others in your organization.
Check your competitors’ website newsrooms and Tweets to see who they’ve been speaking to as well. The more up-to-date your list is, the better chance you have of making a connection.
Influencing the influencers isn’t rocket science. It’s more a matter of common sense, and treating writers like the people they are rather than anonymous targets to be aimed at or prizes to be acquired.
Take a real interest in the writers who are important to you, and find ways to engage them so you become real to them too. It’s your best bet for making sure your message is easily spotted – even when competing for attention with a Times Square-size crowd.
This article was written by Dan Green, national media relations manager at Tech Image, a public relations firm that helps technology companies of all sizes accelerate sales with highly-refined messaging, content development and influencer outreach programs. Tech Image has been named a Top Tech Communicator five years running by journalists in PRSourceCode’s annual survey, and Green has been named to the list twice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.