Media Relations

Why You Need 'Real People' to Make Your Media Pitch Stand Out

Volunteers can often be great spokespeople for nonprofits that are looking to tell their stories in the media. (Creative Commons photo courtesy of DC Central Kitchen).

Volunteers can often be great spokespeople for nonprofits that are looking to tell their stories in the media. (Creative Commons photo courtesy of DC Central Kitchen).

It's not what you're pitching. It's who you're pitching.

You face an uphill battle when you pitch stories to the media.

Today's reporters get bombarded by a constant array of ideas and releases from organizations that are competing for their limited attention and time. Many of these pitches are legitimately interesting -- but these reporters only have the time and space to cover a fraction of those stories.

However, there's an ingredient that can help give your pitch an edge: real people.

While it's tempting -- and easy -- to position your top executive or spokesperson as the ultimate voice in your pitch or news release, journalists know that the best stories are told not by figureheads, but by the people who most easily identify with their readers or viewers.

After all, most people in their audience don't work in a corner office. 

Audiences can, however, quickly see themselves in a story about someone who could easily be their next-door neighbor or a classmate of one of their children.

And here's the thing -- reporters often struggle to find these real voices when they're gathering information for stories.

It's not hard for a reporter to pick up the phone and talk to a spokesperson or executive.

But it's often difficult to quickly find people who are willing to talk about their struggle to make ends meet or why they are giving less money to charity this year.

If you can solve that problem for them in advance and identify a real person or two who is willing and able to be interviewed in your pitch, you dramatically increase your odds of getting your story covered.

As a result, before you send an email to a journalist or draft a press release, take a little extra time beforehand to see if you can find a person beyond an executive or spokesperson who is willing to be interviewed for the story you're trying to pitch.

This is true whether you're working with a nonprofit, a company, or even a government agency.

I recently offered advice on how to identify real sources at nonprofits for Nonprofit Marketing GuideCheck it out if you're looking for more ideas.

Make the Most of December: 5 Holiday Hacks for Communicators

Flickr Creative Commons photo

Flickr Creative Commons photo

We’re heading into the home stretch. 

Black Friday is behind us, Giving Tuesday is upon us, and the ever-busy month of December awaits.

For communicators, December offers some unique opportunities to get your message out and the chance to lay the groundwork for a strong start in 2019. 

Let’s dive in with some ways to make the most of the last month of 2018. 

Wrap the year up right 
The old newsroom standard—the year-in-review story—can be your friend in December. It’s usually a light lift to look back through the highlights from the past year and piece them together for a year-in-review story or series of blog posts.  For internal communicators, it’s a great way to reinforce key messages, highlight successes, and set a tone for the coming year. For nonprofits, a year in review reminds donors and volunteers of the great work you did in the previous year and provides a platform to say thank you to your biggest boosters. 

Procrastinate no more
The year is winding down and that long-awaited, much-talked-about website refresh is still stuck in neutral. We get it, website refreshes are like the Land of Misfit Toys of the communications world. They never seem to get the attention they need with other priorities always seeming to squeeze them out. December is good month to break the cycle by crafting an action plan to get it done. Commit to lining up the resources you need and create a timeline to get that stale website refreshed and relaunched in the first quarter of 2019. 

Tug some heart strings
News reporters can’t resist is a feel-good holiday story. If your organization has a heartwarming success story – particularly one with a timely Christmas or holiday hook— start pitching. Such stories are easy to find at many nonprofits. For businesses, maybe you can repurpose an internal story about an employee whose making a real difference in the community could be pitched to an external news outlet. Whether it’s a story focuses on client you helped or an employee making a difference, make sure before you pitch that they are willing to participate and know the story’s angle. It’s also a good idea to prep them for the interview so they can think about how much of their story they’re comfortable sharing.

Be resolute
According to U.S. News, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. That means the odds are against those of us who are using the new year to set new goals. To beat those odds, take specific actions now that will make it easier to stick to your resolutions once the new year begins. That could be as simple as scheduling meetings now that will keep you on track through the first half of the year, or  signing up for a conference or webinar that focuses on a skill you want to strengthen. Last week, for example, we talked about the importance of getting an early jump on your annual report. Establishing a firm timeline now and lining up the resources you need will help keep the project on track. 

Say thanks
I just read an article about how Chik-fil-A is killing its competition with kindness. More specifically, the fact that their employees are trained to say please and thank you is reportedly having a big impact on their bottom line. Makes sense to me. A simple thank you to customers, volunteers, donors, employees, friendly reporters…just about anyone goes a long way. 

And finally ...

Peter and I would like to say thank you to our great clients and the many friends and supporters of Turn Two Communications. We couldn’t do it without you! 

We’re looking forward to a great 2019 – which will feature our refreshed website … we promise! 

Spice Up Your Media Outreach With These Ingredients

A few excellent ingredients can help brand your leader as a media rock star. Flickr Creative Commons photo by   Enric Martinez   .

A few excellent ingredients can help brand your leader as a media rock star. Flickr Creative Commons photo by Enric Martinez.

There are three key ingredients to branding your organization’s leader as a media rock star.

We covered the first — a compelling origin story — this week in our newsletter.

But while an origin story can be incredibly valuable in capturing the imagination of journalists and audiences, to become a true rock star, it’s important to also include these two additional ingredients in your media relations recipe:

A Succinct Vision

While many media rockstars have a strong and interesting backstory, they are also able to connect that backstory with an equally strong and compelling vision for what they want to achieve.

Organizations such as Share Our Strength, which has a concise and clear vision -- to end childhood hunger -- are able to quickly convey their objectives and capture the attention of reporters and other journalists who are looking for sources.

If you can find opportunities to clearly connect your messaging and mission with an easy-to-grasp vision, you have a strong chance of branding your leader as a capable and strong spokesperson.

Smart, Focused Media-Relations Support

While a compelling backstory and vision can help capture the attention of reporters (and their readers and viewers), the most important ingredient is sustained media relations support.

Branding your leader as a viable source in the media requires skill, experience, and a true willingness to invest time and resources to support your leader and build connections with the media.

If you truly want to establish your expert as a thought leader, you'll need to develop and execute a thought leadership strategy that includes:

  • Creating original content by your thought leader. This can include research papers, speeches, blog posts, or even social media musings. The important thing is to make sure you can provide source material that shows your expert knows their stuff.

  • Coaching your expert. Not everyone is a natural in front of a microphone or camera. And even the most polished speakers often need help honing their messages and talking points. It's important to work regularly with your thought leaders to help them put their best feet forward.

  • Building relationships. Your thought leaders typically don't have time to cultivate relationships with reporters. That's why they have you. The most effective media rockstars have a strong promoter working the phones and helping establish the connections that will yield feature stories and interviews.

By taking these steps, you're not guaranteed to have your executive director profiled on 60 Minutes or quoted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

But you will have a much greater chance at getting your leaders to appear more regularly in the outlets you care most about.

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Preparation Pays: How to Write a Media Briefing

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If you work in media relations, one of your biggest fears involves watching the leader of your organization get flustered by a reporter or stumble in front of a TV camera.

But while even the most experienced interview subject gets tripped up by a tough question from time to time, you can avoid most media missteps by making sure your subject is fully prepared.

Every time a subject is speaking with the media, that person should be equipped with a clear sense of what they should say.

That's why whenever we schedule interviews for our clients, we create a briefing memo.

This document gives the interview subject an opportunity to prepare for the interview ahead of time -- and provides a sense of comfort.

Our briefing memos follow a common format, which makes it easy for our team to generate them quickly (which is especially useful when you're preparing for an interview that is being conducted on a short deadline).

Here's what our memos include:

An Introduction

Each memo starts with sentence or two that provides high-level information about the media opportunity -- including the name of the reporter(s), the media outlet he or she represents, and why the opportunity is important.

Timeline and Location

It's helpful to include the most vital information near the top of your memo for quick reference.

Our memos always include the location of the interview (including the street address and any important directions). If your interview subject is meeting with a reporter in his or her newsroom, make sure you not only provide the address of the news outlet, but you provide information about what to do when the subject arrives.

We also include a detailed timeline, including when to leave for the meeting, who is accompanying the subject to the meeting, and how to contact both the reporter and anyone from your team who might be joining.

For phone interviews, we include information about who is calling who, the expected duration of the call, and whether it will be recorded.

Interview Format

Next, we detail the format for the interview -- spelling out whether it will be one-on-one or with a group or editorial board.

We also detail the objective of the interview. In some cases, the objective might be to help land a feature story, or to provide opinion or context for a story the reporter is already working on. In other cases, it might be to meet with the editorial board of a newspaper to persuade the paper to take a stand on an important issue.

Here's an excerpt from a recent briefing memo we put together for an expert source who was meeting with a reporter at The Wall Street Journal: "Unless otherwise agreed, this meeting will be considered on the record, but will be informational in nature. Our expectation is that it will position you as a key source and that it will spawn future opportunities for coverage."

Key Messages

Once we've established the ground rules and the format, we provide 2-4 key messages for the interview subject. These messages are usually quite specific and correlate to a set of talking points.

If you're looking to promote a new program or raise awareness about a key issue, this is where you can provide some focused advice to your subject on what he or she should be focusing on -- and how to direct the conversation.

Background on the reporter/outlet

It always helps the interview subject to have as much information as possible about the reporter(s) involved in the interview.

We generate short bios of the reporters, along with links to some of their recent stories so the subject can get a sense of who they are talking to and how they typically approach their work.

When possible, we include a photo to put a face on the reporter (which is especially helpful when you're meeting for the first time in public).

This background information usually helps put the subject at ease (and in some cases helps prepare them for tough questions).

Potential Questions

We also aim to provide a list of questions/topics that we expect the reporter to focus on during the interview.

Often, we try to gain as much information as we can from the reporter ahead of time to get a sense of what he or she is interested in covering and supplement what we learn by reading their recent coverage of similar topics and, when appropriate, information from a pitch that we've developed on the topic.

While we have a general format for our briefings, you can develop a format that works best for your team. The most important thing, though, is to make sure you do everything you can to prepare your spokespeople for every interview.

This will help ensure you're conveying the right message -- and that you're ready for tough questions when they come.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that this is just one way to set up a briefing memo.

You might choose a different format, based on the needs and preferences of the people you work with.

But it's important to make sure you're taking steps to fully prepare your subjects ahead of time.

A little preparation now will save you a lot of headaches later!