Media Relations

The State of the Media: 7 Things Communicators Need to Know

Now more than ever, journalists need good PR people.

That’s the key theme in Cision’s 2019 Global State of the Media Report, which surveys reporters and editors about their working conditions and how they relate to public relations professionals.

Each year, I review the results of the survey to help pressure test how we’re approaching media relations with our clients.

And this year’s report — which surveyed 1,999 journalists — includes a number of takeaways that will help shape our media strategies in the coming months.

Here are 7 that stand out:

1. Keep your pitches short and sweet — Today’s journalists are more time strapped than ever, largely because there are fewer of them. One-third of large newspapers and one-fourth of online outlets have suffered layoffs since 2017. And that’s on top of years of previous cuts.

With fewer reporters on the beat, their time is valuable — and the number of pitches they receive is daunting. To cut through the noice, be selective with what you pitch — and keep it short and sharp.

2. Make it about them, not you — One of the biggest complaints among journalists in this year’s survey (and among the journalists I talk to regularly) is the fact that too many PR professionals spend way too little time getting to know the journalists they’re trying to pitch.

Your path to media relations success isn’t paved with press releases. Instead, it’s built through getting to know what matters to individual reporters, and being able to respond to their needs.

3. Be ready to move quickly — As a PR professional, it’s easy to forget that reporters aren’t planning all of their stories ahead of time. Many of them are jumping from story to story — and 42 percent of those surveyed say they work on stories no more than a day in advance.

This means you have to be ready to move quickly when they reach out — and that you should be paying attention to what’s breaking to see if you have something to offer for fast-moving news events.

4. Be patient — This might sound counter intuitive in light of the previous tip, but in a world where reporters are getting hundreds of pitches daily, you have to be ready to wait when you do send a pitch. “Your pitch isn’t the only one we receive in a single day, so please have some patience,” one reporter said.

With this in mind, don’t be too pushy. If you don’t get an immediate response, give the reporter some time to respond before you start sending follow ups. 

5. Have more than a release — News releases remain important, as more than 7 in 10 journalists say they rely on releases for information. But make sure you can provide more than a flat release. More than one quarter of journalists say they are likely to respond to pitches that include compelling images and nearly 1 in 5 say they are looking for useful infographics.

6. Be targeted — Journalists report the vast majority of pitches they receive are irrelevant. Most reporters say that less than one out of four pitches they receive are relevant or useful. In other words, most PR folks are wasting reporters’ time — and their own — by creating and sending off-target pitches.

Before you pitch, do your homework. Get to know what reporters cover before you craft your outreach.

7. Op-eds and submissions still matter — Newsrooms might be shrinking, but there’s still a real need for strong stories and opinions. To stretch their resources, more outlets are relying on guest opinion pieces, compelling images, and insightful data to help fill their pages and draw clicks.

We’ve been adjusting our strategies this year to focus more on how we can help our clients get their voices heard through op-eds and data — and we’re seeing some really strong results. Think beyond releases and announcements as you’re looking to get your voice heard in the media.

A PR Professional's Guide to Journalism Matchmaking Services

Services like HARO and ProfNet can help you get in front of reporters working on active news stories.

Services like HARO and ProfNet can help you get in front of reporters working on active news stories.

You don't have to rely solely on your own pitches to get quoted or cited in the media.

Sometimes, you can get coverage by connecting with journalists when they are looking to find an expert as they report their own stories.

But how can you make sure you get the reporter's call when she or he needs a source in your subject area?

One way is to sign up for an online service in which reporters and bloggers solicit sources for their stories.

These matchmaking services offer you a chance to get daily queries from writers who are working on assigned stories.

The best-known service is HARO -- or Help a Reporter Out. Three times every day, HARO delivers an email to sources that includes dozens of queries from reporters who are looking for experts. 

The reporters provide descriptions of the stories they are working on -- and the type of expertise they are seeking.

Potential sources can reply to each relevant query and say why they should be considered as an expert for the story.

But while HARO is the biggest and best-known service, it is far from the only game in town.

Other options include:

ProfNet -- ProfNet is built for public relations professionals who want to find opportunities to pitch their organizations to journalists. You can set up an online profile and set preferences for the types of queries you are interested in seeing.

When journalists are looking for sources to help them when covering breaking news stories and events, they’ll browse the database and — if you match what they’re looking for — reach out to you for comment.

SourceBottle -- SourceBottle is an online matchmaking service that connects journalists with sources. It includes a searchable online database of active queries, which makes it easy for time-strapped PR professionals to find queries that line up with their areas of expertise.

PitchRate -- PitchRate provides queries — mainly from bloggers and websites — that are looking for experts to comment or provide written materials for publication.

Each of these services can be quite useful for showcasing your expertise, connecting with reporters, and building relationships.

But they can also cost you a lot of time if you don’t use them smartly.

In my next post, I’ll provide some advice on how to stand out from the crowd when you’re using HARO, ProfNet, or another PR matchmaking service.

Press Release Makeovers: 10 Steps to a Stronger, Firmer Pitch

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

In a world where news reporters are bombarded with news releases, it doesn’t take much for otherwise interesting pitches to get thrown carelessly into the ‘no’ pile.

If you want to improve your chances of getting your story covered, you have to do whatever it takes to capture the imagination of reporters and editors.

You need to be sharp and direct — and you need to be willing to stand out.

How do you do that?

I begins by avoiding these 10 common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Flat Headlines

Your headline is your first impression -- and the headline for each release should tell the reporter immediately why what you're pitching is important to his or her audience. 

Often, news release headlines are long and dry, like a college textbook, when they should be short and pack a punch, like a movie poster. 

Resist the urge to tell your entire story in the headline and devote some time to crafting a headline that aims to grab the attention of your reader.

Your primary goal for the headline is to get the reporter or editor to keep reading, not to convey every key piece of information.

Hook 'em with the headline and save the details for the release.

Mistake 2: A Long, Repetitive Lead

Like your headline, the lead of your release is a crucial ingredient in grabbing a reporter's attention. Many news releases fail to hit the mark because the lead is either way too long or repeats (sometimes verbatim) the headline.

Try to avoid both of these mistakes by writing a short, direct lead that focuses on why what you're announcing is important and does so in a way that doesn't mirror the wording in your headline. Use your next paragraph to fill in any key facts.

Mistake 3: An Overly Manufactured Quote

Most of the quotes I see in press releases read more like boilerplate than an actual quote.

Your quote isn't just there to fill space. Ideally, it should give the reporter a ready-made quote that he or she can include in a story if time is short or if they are unable to interview that official.

Check out more advice on how to stand out from your peers and inject thoughtful quotes into your releases.

Mistake 4: Massive Paragraphs

Long, multi-sentence paragraphs work well in books and term papers.

But they don't work in news releases.

Long blocks of type are hard to read online, which is why you'll notice that most news stories you read have one- or two-sentence paragraphs.

There's a simple fix for this: your return key.

If you see long blocks of type in your draft, find some places where you can break your existing paragraphs into smaller chunks and hit "return".

Your reader will thank you -- and he or she will be less likely to lose interest.

Mistake 5: Too Much Information

A reporter who decides to cover your announcement isn't likely to create a multi-part series about your new initiative. With that in mind, you don't need your release to include every detail about what you're announcing.

Instead, focus on the most important stuff and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.

If reporters are interested, they'll reach out to get additional information and conduct interviews. That is, after all, what they're paid to do.

Aim to keep it short -- no more than two pages, if possible. If you can keep it to one page, even better.

Mistake 6: Not Articulating Why Your Release Is Important

How do you keep your releases short and to the point? You start by figuring out why what you're announcing is important and then you focus your release on selling that importance.

This crucial step will help you with everything from finding the right headline, writing a tight lead, and incorporating an impactful quote.

It will also help you determine what details aren't necessary in the final release.

Mistake 7: Sloppy Copy

Your organization loses a lot of credibility if you send a release that isn't properly copy edited. Take the extra time to make sure every word is spelled correctly, every comma and semicolon is in the right place, and every sentence is written crisply.

A well-written release can help you stand out from the crowd. A sloppy one will also stand out -- but for all of the wrong reasons.

Mistake 8: Forgetting to Fact Check

What's worse than a misspelled word? An incorrect fact.

Make sure every fact included in your release has been properly verified and every number adds up.

A good reporter is going to check your facts before he or she files the story. If your statements are false or misleading, things will go south for you quickly.

Mistake 9: Leaving Out Your Contact Information

Back in my reporting days, I was always surprised by how many news releases left out a crucial piece of information: who to contact.

When you send your release, clearly identify who to contact and provide an email address and a telephone number.

If possible, make sure the number you provide is one that is monitored after business hours. Not all reporters work 9 to 5 -- and many of them are filing their stories in the evenings or on weekends.

If they need to check a fact or get more information on deadline, it's crucial for them to be able to reach someone quickly.

Mistake 10: Sending It to the Wrong Person

Of course, all of the advice above won't matter if your release never gets seen.

Before you send, make sure your media list is up to date and that you're sending your release to the appropriate reporter or editor. If possible, avoid sending to a general newsroom email address and instead find a real person.

Taking these steps won't guarantee you a placement. But they will greatly increase your odds.

Before you send your next release, take the time to avoid these pitfalls and your releases will start to get better results.

Perfect Timing! 3 Ways to Add Urgency to Your Media Pitches

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  William Warby

Flickr Creative Commons photo by William Warby

Why now?

If you’re trying to get media coverage, you need to ask that simple question before you hit send on a news release or pick of the phone to pitch a reporter. 

And you better have a good answer. Of all the many considerations when you’re seeking media coverage, timeliness trumps them all. Journalists are news-driven. If what you’re pitching them isn’t timely, well, then it’s really not news. 

Adding to the challenge is that the news cycle continues to compress. Depending on the type of story you’re pitching, its shelf life might be only a day or two. Sometimes, it’s a matter of hours.

If you can infuse your pitch with urgency and timeliness, you have a much better shot at moving a reporter to action.

Here are three simple ways to make sure you’re pitches are well-timed. 

Look ahead: Finding a timely news hook is often pretty easy if you plan ahead. Announcing a new fundraising drive to support Little League in your community is clearly a great fit for Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. Planning ahead can also help you weave a news angle into a less obvious pitch. So, for instance,  if you’re a locally-sourced market, announcing a new line of hot dogs and other meats might also get traction if you make a timely connection to baseball season. 

Prep the press: Yes, busy reporters don’t have spare time to talk about news that hasn’t happened yet…unless it’s a tasty story. If you think your timely pitch has enough appeal to get good coverage – and you’re not revealing confidential information – give a reporter a head’s up so they can do some homework and carve out time to write the story. You can also send an embargoed press release that gives reporters a chance to do some research and get the story framed up prior to publication. (Learn more about how to get the media to cover your event.)

Lead with urgency: Don’t bury the timeliness of your pitch in the third paragraph of a press release. Make sure it’s woven into the headline, or at least in the lead paragraph so a reporter will immediately see the timely hook. Another simple trick – in the subject line open with “Press alert” instead of “Press release.” Changing one word makes a big difference. 

So next time someone in your organization calls for a press release, ask ‘why now?’

If you have a good answer, it’s time to get to work.