If you’re working on a public relations campaign, as it progresses, you will soon find yourself at this stage: You wrote a press release, came up with a stellar pitch angle, sent it to your target publication and the reporter has let you know that there is interest in running a story. Success!
So, what do you do now? Just cross your fingers and wait to see what happens, hoping that the coverage not only runs but also turns out well and includes all of your key messages? As entrepreneurs, we make things happen—we don’t take a wait and see approach. This situation is exactly the same, and there are some simple steps you can take right now to turn your potential coverage into a media home run.
I will always remember getting my first media “yes” while I was an intern. I ran into my supervisor’s office and proudly told her that a reporter was interested in running a story based on my pitch. After congratulating me, she asked me a few (reasonable) follow-up questions (as basic as when the coverage would run), but it was soon clear that I had none of the answers. I had simply presented my pitch and press release to the reporter and was thrilled that there was interest, but I left it at that. What I wish I had known back then is that the next steps you take after you get that yes can make all the difference with the outcome of your coverage.
After you send out your pitch, you need to be reachable. I’m not suggesting you sleep at your desk for the next week, but be aware that reporters work within deadlines and if your pitch is urgent, some may want to begin developing the story immediately. So don’t send a pitch out and leave for a three-hour lunch, or a long weekend outside of the country where you can’t be reached. Be in the (home) office, check your voicemail and email regularly and respond immediately when the media contacts you. Continue to stay available while a story is in the works–last minute questions and needs tend to arise even when you think everything is all wrapped up. Plus, the more accommodating you can be with your media contacts, the more likely they will return to you as a resource for future stories. Many publicists will tell you they lost a story due to missing a deadline; that situation is even worse when you lose that potential coverage on a pitch you sent out in the first place.
The media can be intimidating when you start pitching—I know that from experience. This seemingly elusive group can hold the key to your publicity nirvana, but don’t forget that this needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship and you also help them by providing ideas, content and exclusive news. With that in mind, you can–and should–ask questions when you begin working with a reporter on a story. Of course, you may receive a call or email outlining each and every aspect, from materials a reporter needs to when the coverage will run, but if any part is missing go ahead and ask. Really…it’s okay! The more you pitch, the more familiar you will be with follow-up questions on pending coverage, but until then here is a list of questions I share with my clients:
- What is your deadline? This is so important! There is a big difference between an hour and a week. I’ve had minutes to track down a spokesperson and prep them for an interview when news is breaking. This should always be your first question.
- Do you want to interview our spokesperson? An interview can always help expand a story, and direct quotes are one of the best ways to ensure your key messages will be conveyed. Always have a spokesperson prepped and available to speak to your media before you start pitching.
- Do you need photos or logos? A visual adds a great element to any story, so be armed with product photos, logos and head shots. Yes, even for TV interviews.
- Would you like to speak with a client or customer? The sales department always has testimonials and customer references available and they can also supplement a story. Also, keep in mind that these individuals should be pre-vetted and have had a positive experience working with you.
- When will this run? This is important to know not only so that you can track your coverage and pick up a copy at the newsstand and/or record the airing, but also so that you can alert others (i.e. investors, partners, customers, friends, etc.) to look for the upcoming coverage.
You should also offer to send additional background information (remember that press kit we talked about?) once you have confirmation that a story is in the works. It can save you and the reporter a lot of time, and increase the chances of more in-depth coverage.
Before your spokesperson interacts with the media, be sure that you have them prepped and ready (and as an entrepreneur, that spokesperson may very well be you). Here are some points of preparation:
- Make a trial run of the interview. Once you have spoken with the reporter, you will have an idea of the questions that person will ask in the interview (and yes, you can inquire as to what he or she will be asking or need to know!). Draft sample questions and answers and sit your spokesperson down to run through the interview process. Several times.
- Always speak slowly and clearly. If you are being interviewed via phone, it can be hard to tell when the interviewer starts to speak, and you do not want to end up talking over the other person. Allow for pauses between speaking, and things will flow much easier. When possible, reference the question in the answer. For example, if the reporter asks what stores will carry your product, the answer should not be “Wally’s Warehouse and Super Savers,” but rather “Our products will be sold at Wally’s Warehouse and Super Savers.” This is especially important in broadcast interviews, because editing oftentimes omits the reporter asking the question and this provides a more complete soundbite.
- For broadcast interviews wear solid colors and no stripes as they don’t look good on camera. Sit still and don’t fidget. Have someone film you being interviewed so you can review your performance and note any changes that need to be made. I had a client swear she sat perfectly still during interviews, but when we filmed her, she was twisting and turning in her chair. You will be surprised by what you see.
- Feel free to use notes in phone interviews. Don’t depend entirely on them so that you end up reading a response verbatim, but highlight key points you want to mention and keep them handy as a “cheat sheet.”
Thanking the reporter after your coverage runs will go a long way toward developing a relationship. Depending on the scope of the article or segment and how closely you worked with the reporter, you may choose to send an email, give a call or even send a hand-written thank you card. You’ll be surprised how far a bit of gratitude can take you!
So remember: a press release and pitch won’t just automatically deliver top-notch media coverage. But by adding a little more hard work and some elbow grease, you’re more likely to see some premium coverage.