Business Monday

Seeking media coverage? 6 tips from a reporter-turned-public relations pro

Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media in Pembroke Pines.
Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media in Pembroke Pines.

Anyone who has ever worked in public relations knows it’s a career filled with peaks and valleys. One day you are getting clients the media interview of their dreams; the next day, they are blaming you for everything that is wrong with their business (or lack thereof).

It’s the peaks that get PR pros through the rough times, but sometimes getting to the top is almost as tough as climbing Mount Everest. Obtaining that much-sought-after interview from a news organization for a client rarely comes in the form of one-call-does-it-all.

As a former journalist turned public relations professional, I have witnessed the ever-changing landscape. Back in the days before budget cuts, layoffs and the ever-increasing demands placed on reporters, many (myself included) had the time to take your call, grab a cup of coffee or even sit down with a client just for a meet-and-greet with no particular pitch in mind.

But times have changed, and most reporters today will tell you they are overworked and overwhelmed. If they are print reporters, there’s a good chance they not only have to write for the print product but also for a digital product. Some also must provide content for videos to go along with their print and digital stories. And don’t even get them started on the fact that they must provide content for social media — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Periscope — the list seems endless.

Radio and television reporters are under even more stringent deadlines, often turning around stories with a clock ticking down to air time.

Even for the most seasoned public-relations professional, landing that dream story usually doesn’t happen overnight.

However, there are some things you can do to increase your chances:

1. Be succinct and relatable: If you’re going to use the old tried-and-true press release, make sure you have an eye-catching headline. The last thing you want reporters to do is click “delete” before they even open it. Avoid industry jargon in your headline; instead, find a way to make it relatable. Do as much homework and provide as much background information within the release as possible to make the reporter’s job easier.

2. Be relevant: Reporters change beats almost as often as Katy Perry changes hair color. That’s why it’s important to make sure that when you pitch a reporter, he or she is on a beat that’s relevant to the story you are pitching. Yesterday’s education reporter may be today’s feature writer.

3. Be timely: Not every story can be breaking news, but if you keep on top of what is happening in the news, you may be able to find a hot topic on which to hitch your client’s story.

For example, a story comes out about how interest rates will be going up: You might want to offer up your real estate expert to talk about how that might impact the housing market.

4. Be reasonable: Never demand that a reporter write a story about your client; let them decide whether it’s worth the ink. I once had a PR person tell me (when I was a journalist) that if I didn’t do the story he/she was pitching, they would never give me news again. Reporters have many stories from which to choose, and giving ultimatums is a losing proposition.

5. Be patient: If you don’t get through to a reporter or don’t hear back, don’t keep pestering him or her. It’s certainly OK to check back once because sometimes, email can end up in a spam folder or is forgotten in an inbox. This happened to me recently, and when I checked back a week later, the host of a radio show I was pitching said he never got it, but thanked me and we ended up booking my client on his show. Just don’t become a PR stalker.

6. Cultivate relationships: When used properly, social media can be a great tool. Follow the reporters whose beats are relevant to what you have to pitch. Comment on their posts, get to know their work, and let them get to know you. This relationship building can take weeks or even months, but if the reporter gets to know you and trust you, it eventually will pay off.

Susan R. Miller, a former journalist, is founder of Garton-Miller Media, a full-service, Pembroke Pines-based public relations firm.

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