Public Relations

9 Media Relations Tips for 2016

Cision recently published its annual State of the Media Report, which I find to be one of the most valuable resources for understanding changes in the news media environment. The report is jam-packed with information about the current news media environment and how most journalists prefer to work (particularly around areas like social media and working with media relations professionals). If media relations is part of your job, I highly recommend you review Cision’s report in detail.

Of course, since I know how busy media relations professionals can be (and since I’m such a swell guy), I’ve gone ahead and done the work for you. I reviewed the report in detail and turned the most interesting findings into an actionable set of nine media relations tips you can use to improve your results in 2016 and beyond. Enjoy!

9 Media Relations Tips for 2016

Tip #1: Tell Your Story with Pictures

The top trend in media right now is the evolution of multimedia journalists. What is a multimedia journalist? According to Cision’s report, a multimedia journalist is a skillful storyteller, capable of communicating not only in words, but also in images, video, and emerging multimedia formats (GIFs and 360-degree video come to mind). In other words, a multimedia journalist is capable of reporting in multimedia formats – go figure.

Multimedia journalists are expected to be able to produce or adapt content for an increasingly wider range of media, including traditional broadcast, print, and Web formats, as well as blogging, podcasting (audio and video), social media, and live content platforms (Periscope or Facebook Live for example).

As if this weren’t enough to put on the journalist’s plate, multimedia journalists are expected to be increasingly mobile-native – in other words, they should be able to do everything via their mobile device just as easily as they could from the comfort of their desktop. I have to imagine entry-level journalists entering the field today are best equipped to work as mobile natives, but any journalist can develop their skills in this area.

And guess what? If multimedia journalism is the biggest trend in the media environment, it’s safe to assume that multimedia publicists are also an emerging trend. If you’re not already a mobile-native publicist, you need to evolve your skills to work better with this emerging group of multimedia and mobile-savvy reporter. This means you have to be prepared to respond much faster to journalist requests via mobile, but also be able to produce, format, and remix your content on the fly from wherever you are via your preferred mobile device.

How can you make your content more useful or appealing to a multimedia journalist? Do you have attractive, generic infographics to accompany your story that would work for the publishing environments the journalist is producing content for? Do you have the ability to adapt or customize your content based on the preferences, specifications, or suggestions of the journalist? Is your spokesperson experienced in doing interviews for podcasts or via Periscope? These are now factors you should consider before pitching a journalist.

Above all, you should regularly be thinking, “Can I communicate this topic visually to readers of the target media outlet?” If so, provide that information with your pitch – or at least offer to produce multimedia content as part of your pitch.

Tip #2: Make Your Story Mobile-Friendly

According to the Cision report, 92% of media organizations have adopted mobile-compatible Web design (or are actively working on one). Mobile media time is now greater than desktop and other media. So most media organizations are developing content for mobile users (or at least thinking about it). What’s that say about the other eight percent of media organizations? I’m glad I don’t work for one of those organizations.

Let’s assume you’re going to be dealing with one of the more progressive media organizations that have recognized the importance of producing content for mobile users. If you’re providing multimedia content to accompany your stories, such as product images or videos, be open to providing that content in multiple formats – particularly formats better suited for the mobile experience. If you’re not sure what types of content the media organization prefers to share with readers via mobile, download their app and start reading some of their content. Do the same via your mobile Web browser – to see if there is a difference between the mobile app and mobile Web coverage. This exercise alone should provide you with enough background to understand the different types of content that a journalist might like to receive to accompany your story – which can improve your chances of securing coverage.

#3. Use Social Media to Build Media Relationships

Yes, journalists use social media as part of their news-gathering or reporting workflows. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past ten years, or you’re new to the media relations game and it hasn’t occurred to you yet, social media is one of the most-valuable tools journalists have at their disposal for researching sources, conducting interviews, publishing or promoting their content. It’s also one of the most-valuable tools media relations professionals have in their arsenal for researching and learning about the interests, behavior, and preferences of journalists (a.k.a. pitch preferences and pet peeves).

Cision explored social media usage in its report and confirmed that 71.3% of journalists use social media to build relationships – and 51.8% of journalists use social media to find and build stories. A whopping 64% of journalists use social media to monitor public opinion and 20% of journalists use social media to source stories and receive pitches. Wait, did that just say journalists are open to receiving pitches via social media? Keep in mind, only 20% are open to receiving pitches or sourcing stories via social media. Be sure that the journalist you’re trying to pitch is open to this format before reaching out, otherwise, this tactic could backfire publicly for you.

If the journalist you’re targeting is in fact one of the aforementioned 20%, remember this is a Tweet-sized pitch opportunity. If you can’t condense your pitch to 140-characters, you should consider other options. Though I encourage you to attempt to condense your pitch to 140-characters, as most journalists won’t read beyond the first sentence of your email – if they read it at all. Brevity is highly-valued among most journalists, and the faster you can get to the point, the more likely you are at getting their attention (and getting a quick response from the journalist about whether or not they are interested in your story).

As far as social media platforms go, Twitter remains the most-effective channel for conducting media relations research (learning more about the journalists you are pitching). Twitter is also the preferred social platform for journalists, making it an ideal place to find and learn more about the journalists you’re trying to reach. According to the Cision report, 39.9% of journalists consider Twitter to be the most valuable social channel. Twitter also has high marks in the report for being the social network most likely to increase in value (as it relates to their journalism-related work). This is a key takeaway for your media relations efforts in 2016 – if you’re not active on Twitter yet, you need to develop your skills on this platform to be a more effective media relations professional.

Here are a couple of quick tips for using Twitter for your media relations efforts:

  • Use Private Twitter Lists to organize the media contacts you want to Follow – Private Twitter Lists make it easy for you to filter your Twitter feed to only see Tweets from those journalists or media organizations
  • Use Twitter Search to search for relevant keywords related to the stories you are pitching – and consider using Advanced Search to narrow the focus of your results by geography or other factors to make the search results more relevant – and don’t overlook the value of hashtags
  • To build your Twitter Lists faster, consider reviewing Twitter Lists produced by the media organizations themselves – or Twitter Lists created by other publicists who have already done the work for you
  • If you want to acknowledge the journalists who have covered your organization in the past, consider creating a public Twitter List of these journalists – which also makes it easier for you to keep tabs on what they are writing about today, what sources they might be looking for, and what their overall preferences and interests are
  • If you are promoting a story with broad reach and appeal, consider testing paid social as a tactic to target journalists who might be interested in covering your story – use this tactic sparingly, and only for broad, mass media stories with a strong appeal (for example, if you were a publicist on the “Ice Bucket Challenge” – paid social could have been an effective tactic for promoting the press resources you had available for journalists interested in writing about the story). I would discourage you from using paid social to promote a link to your “new hire” press release. It won’t work and it might cause a negative reaction among some journalists.
  • When you know for sure that your target journalist is receptive to receiving pitches via social media, and the timing is right for you to pitch your story, use their preferred platform to break through the clutter and get noticed
  • Observe how your target journalist uses Twitter – is he/she on Twitter all day long, or do they come in and out of Twitter sporadically or at specific times? Observing these patterns can help you better determine when the right time to engage via this platform might be – and how receptive the journalist might be to your outreach.
  • Finally, if you have access to tools like Cision or MuckRack, most now integrate social media research and outreach as part of their core service offering. Learn the ins and outs of these features to help improve your efficiency using social media as part of your media relations efforts.
  • Okay, one more tip – use Twitter on your own. The better you understand what works (and doesn’t work) via the platform, the better you will be at using Twitter as part of your media relations efforts. Don’t learn how to use the platform by listening to others, but rather learn by doing it yourself (all the leading experts on social media will tell you this).

Tip #4: Report Your Own News Via Social Media 

If you haven’t figured this out already, social media gives you the ability to report your own news. Every social media follower is a ‘subscriber’ to your content (organic reach challenges notwithstanding – eh hem, Facebook). In general, your social media channels serve as ‘owned media’ – media channels you own and have control over the messages or news you share. If you have built a decent audience across your social media accounts, you should be leveraging them to report your own news. I’m particularly fond of the brand journalism approach here – where you act like (better yet, you use) a professional journalist when reporting on stories about your company, people, products, services, events, news, etc. Ironically, when you report on your own news via social media, these messages are typically intercepted by journalists who may be interested in producing stories on their own (or at least sharing your content with their readers – if relevant). In other words, by reporting on your own news, you can sometimes generate just as much media coverage as you would by pitching those journalists directly.

Don’t underestimate the importance of reporting your own news. Social media gives you an opportunity to tell your story exactly how you would like it told. This will provide your colleagues, stakeholders, influencers, and most importantly, relevant journalists with a blueprint to consider when telling the story in their own way. Use your social media channels to report on all your news and discover how effective this tactic can be for generating additional media coverage outside of your direct outreach efforts.

Tip #5: Tap Into Journalist Enthusiasm for Social Media Platforms 

If there’s one thing Twitter has done for the media environment, it’s encouraged journalists to stay abreast on emerging communication platforms and to develop new approaches and applications for reporting. Journalists are excited about many of the newer visual storytelling platforms, including Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat, and Periscope. While these are NOT mainstream social media platforms for most journalists, many are testing these platforms for potential professional applications.

The most-likely platform for professional journalists to embrace in 2016 is Periscope. Remember that multimedia journalist thing from above? Periscope gives any journalist the ability to broadcast live video to their existing Twitter Followers with a click of a button. This is an incredible evolution in reporting capability for most journalists and one we should expect to see an increase in popularity in 2016.

According to the Cision report, roughly 10.6% of journalists are already using Periscope as part of their reporting. This is significant. As a power tip – and I’m stealing this from a Cision presentation I recently had a chance to attend – use Twitter Advanced Search to search for Periscope broadcasts (using the #Periscope hashtag). Narrow your search results by keyword, geography, or other factors to help you home in on journalists using Periscope as part of their reporting. There is a limited window of opportunity to exploit this tactic to help you break through the clutter, as other savvy media relations professionals will quickly catch on.

Use a similar approach to research how journalists are using other emerging social media platforms. Most journalists are excited to try new formats for their reporting. If you can find journalists during their exploration stage on these platforms, you might just be able to capitalize on unique and timely opportunities to secure alternative types of coverage for the stories you’re promoting. A little bit of legwork on the research front can go a long way toward helping you capitalize on publicity opportunities across emerging platforms or formats.

Tip #6: Most Journalists Still Have A Love-Hate View of the PR Profession

Don’t forget that most journalists are busy – most are overworked and expected to produce an incredible amount of content, in the midst of constant deadlines and interruptions from media relations professionals like you who are trying to get their attention. According to the Cision report, 69% of journalists say their reliance on PR professionals hasn’t changed in the past couple of years (which includes the wise-ass reporters who might say, “Yes, I still don’t need PR people.”). It’s likely that a fair number of these journalists do in fact find some value in the information provided by media relations professionals. On one hand, no journalist wants to be distracted by an off-topic pitch that has no relevance to the work they do. On the other hand, they do welcome pitches that are brief, relevant, and professionally written. For example, 10% of journalists claim to rely on social media more as part of their reporting efforts – which bodes well for your chances of securing interest via social. Of course, there’s also the 17% of journalists who rely on PR professionals less than ever before. From my perspective, this probably means they have figured out ways to find sources and stories better on their own – which I’d argue probably means they are still relying on PR professionals for assistance, it just might not be as obvious or blatant as it has been in the past.

The key takeaway here is to always consider the person on the other end of the email or phone call has received a hundred pitches today from other publicity-seeking media relations professionals. Your pitch has to be spot-on to get noticed, and you have to connect with the right information at the right time to have a chance. It’s a reach-and-frequency game in many ways, as it always has been. But the more prepared you are for the pitch – by doing your homework and truly understanding the needs of the journalist – the greater your chances for breaking through the clutter and successfully securing the opportunity.

Tip #7: The Press Release Still Is NOT Dead

Believe it or not, 42.3% of journalists find press releases and story leads valuable. Furthermore, 19.6% of journalists find expert interviews and products to review valuable. Keep this in mind when pitching journalists, as a well-written, newsworthy press release, interview request or product review request can still produce the publicity opportunities you’re looking for. I’d simply add to this by reiterating the importance of using your owned media channels to also report on these items yourself. It’s much easier to convince a journalist to interview your expert when you can provide links to other interviews they have given – the same goes for a news release that has been shared enthusiastically with hundreds of your social media followers.

Tip #8: Email is Still King for Media Outreach

For all the talk about social media, 93% of journalists still prefer to receive pitches via email. If you want to be effective in pitching journalists via email, master the art of the subject line and the one-sentence pitch. This has been most effective for me over the years, and it gets easier and easier as you develop your relationships with journalists.

Beyond email, 37% of journalists are still receptive to telephone pitches. This is the most difficult format in my opinion – best suited for media relations professionals who began their career in sales or telemarketing before switching to PR. Why? Because you have to be able to navigate gatekeepers, be comfortable with constant rejection, and be able to get to your point quickly when the person finally answers the phone. Similar to the one-sentence email, you should ALWAYS have a one-sentence script (the one you’ve rehearsed) ready to go for either a live conversation via phone, or to leave a compelling voicemail that makes the reporter want to call you back.

A couple of additional tips for pitching via the phone:

  • Make it fast, but don’t talk fast – practice your delivery as a salesperson would
  • Know what you’re going to say – but don’t sound like a robot when you say it
  • Anticipate rejection and have at least one counterpoint to offer in an attempt to overcome the initial rejection
  • Accept “no” for an answer when the reporter is NOT interested – but always ask if it would be okay to follow up with additional information, so he/she can keep you in mind for future stories (this approach works over the long haul… be sure to use this tactic)
  • Be professional, courteous, and respectful – ask if this is a good time, thank the journalist for his/her time, and don’t use too much time (avoid the small talk and get to the point – most journalists prefer this over having to talk about how they are doing today or what they think about the weather)

As one additional point from the Cision research, 30.2% of journalists consider social media off-limits. So while many journalists are open, the advice above remains constant – be sure about the journalist’s preferences before reaching out.

And as a final point, 54.1% of journalists say they pursue pitches that are thorough and have all the details a journalist might need for the story. Remember this point if you remember nothing else from these tips – if you do the work for the journalist, you’re much more likely to get a callback. The best advice I can give you in this regard is to think like a journalist. Remember that journalists are trying to be factual and objective in their reporting. If you can include alternate sources for them to talk to outside of your company, credible third-party research, or other resources that help them produce higher-quality content, you’ll better position yourself as a quality resource for the journalist.

Tip #9: Do What Journalists Want You to Do

As my final media relations tip for this post, consider the things journalists wish media relations professionals would do when developing or delivering your next pitch. Here’s the list of their ‘wishes’ for you to consider:

  • Tailor the pitch to suit the journalist’s beat or a coverage area (78%)
  • Research/understand the media outlet (77%)
  • Provide information and expert sources (42%)
  • Respect the journalist’s pitching preferences (35%)
  • Share the reporter’s stories on social media (26%)
  • Be available on request (24%)

It’s a pretty simple formula really. Journalists are reasonable in their expectations. Is there anything in the list of six bullets above you’re not doing today? Be honest. If you do these six things on a regular basis, you’ll significantly increase your media relations opportunities and results in 2016. It may require a little added effort on your part, but would you rather be efficient and fail more often, or effective and succeed more? I’ll let you answer that one.

I’d like to highlight the “share my stories” suggestion above, as it’s unique in terms of the feedback I typically see journalists provide in this type of survey. You should do this! What a great way to say “thanks” to the journalist and let them know you’re reading what they are writing (and not just the stuff that mentions your company, spokesperson, or product). Sharing their content doesn’t qualify you for a future interview, but it at least lets the journalist know you’re not selfish and you’re at least paying attention to what they are doing. I love this tactic and think it’s a great point to end on.

What do you think? Do you think any of these tips will help you improve your media relations efforts in 2016? Did you read the report and find an additional tip worth sharing with our readers? Please share your thoughts below. If you’re interested in receiving your own copy of Cision’s 2016 State of the Media Report, you can request it here.

(Image Credit: “Reporter” by Carlos / Flickr Creative Commons)

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