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[Podcast] 4 Steps to Earning Positive Local Media Coverage

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Season 2 Episode 13 with John Martin, morning news anchor for WRCB-TV (NBC, Channel 3) in Chattanooga.

 Your business has a story you think is worth telling. So why aren’t you getting the positive media coverage you want?

To create local media coverage opportunities for your business, you need to know how you can fit into what they're trying to do by asking yourself:

  • How do you build a relationship with reporters?
  • What kind of stories are worth sharing?
  • How can you make your pitch stand out from other pitches?
  • What happens after the media says they want to tell your story?
  • Do you recognize that media coverage is a two-way street?

We’ll help you answer these questions, learn how the industry works, understand what a reporter’s goals are, and discover what opportunities there are for you to contribute. Keep reading, or listen to the full audio in the player above.

1. How do you build a relationship with reporters?

You might pitch a news station or journalist for the first time and expect to have your story told, but like any other industry, reporters work better with people they have relationships with. And to build those relationships, you need to empathize and understand what a typical day is like for them.

Recognize how chaotic a reporter’s daily routine is.

Every local news station has about seven hours of content they need to fill every day. Each morning the news director will sit down with reporters to talk about which stories will fill those slots.

This news director is in charge of the entire news department, while the general manager oversees production and sales. There is a hard locked door between the sales department and the news department, so ad money doesn’t influence which stories get picked for time slots.

Most of the slots will go to ongoing relatable subjects, like world events, government, and weather. The rest will go to local news that’s affecting the community, or ideas that the reporters come into the meeting with.

This can naturally be chaotic for the news team when there are no ongoing current events, and there are extra slots for miscellaneous community news.

The news director is the one who decides which ongoing stories, and he depends on the reporters to come in with stories to pitch.

This is where you're most likely to fit your organization in, but how do you make sure they pitch yours? We'll cover that below.

Learn which reporter is the best fit for your story.

Reporters get over a hundred generic pitches every day, but you can stand out by forming an actual relationship with them.

Start by researching who is responsible for which beats, or types of news stories, at the station, and make it your goal to learn the name and routines of the reporter who can best tell your story.

Social Rank (a Social News Desk app) can help you discover which stories are getting the most engagement on social media. You can use it to judge which reporters in your area have the largest audience to share it with, and who’s telling stories on news outlets that you actually care about.

Once you identify which reporter is going to be the best fit for your story, shoot them an email or tweet to introduce yourself, your business, and why getting to know you could be a benefit for them. How could your story help them in their work? Then wait to see if they respond.

From there you can begin to build a relationship with them.

Be patient as they consider your pitch.

The reporter is most likely not going to immediately pitch your story to their team after you share it with them. They will most likely be busy with the stories they want to share that day, or time-crunched to find new ones that fit a specific open spot.

They may even like your story, but their producer has them working on another project.

The point is, you’ve established who you are and given them a name they will recognize when you send other pitches (or actually pick your pitch when other time slots open up).

Giving a reporter a story is doing them a favor, because they have a calendar they need to fill—so don’t ever feel like you’re burdening them. That being said, you do have to make sure you're giving them a story instead of giving them work to do, which is why you need to include every detail they’ll need and you can make it easy in your pitch (we’ll talk about this more later).

The reporter may even be in a pinch for a good story one morning, and be grateful that you’ve given them something they can bring to their team.

Double check that it’s the appropriate time to pitch.

Just read the room before you reach out. If there are major nationwide events happening that don’t pertain to your business, it’s probably not the best time to pitch your story. But if your business does fit into that nationwide or breaking coverage, be sure to share why and how in your pitch.

Unless your story is time sensitive, it doesn't matter when you send your pitch. But if you do have an event, milestone, ribbon cutting, or some other time sensitive event coming up, it is vital that you inform the reporter a week or two in advance before the event takes place.

Be polite, answer any responses in a timely manner, and treat them as respectfully as you would any other colleague.

All good relationships take time, which is exactly what you want with your local news station. It’s not a race to have your story aired, and treating it like it is by being pushy will only damage your reputation with the reporter.

2. What kind of stories are worth sharing?

Reaching out to local reporters is one thing, but making sure you have a story they’d be interested in is another.

The local news is meant to be a reflection of your community. So what has your business done to help your community, or how do you fit into a larger, national event that’s taking place?

Ask yourself what are you doing to help people, like:

  • Have you brought in more jobs?
  • Are you holding any events?
  • Does your business offer unique perks or a lifestyle that is positively impacting your employees?
  • Are you operating in a way that helps the environment?
  • Are you providing a timely service when it’s most needed?

All of these points focus on how you’re improving your community, rather than just how your company is growing. That’s the difference between a local news story vs. a commercial—the reporter can’t just promote your business for the sake of promoting your business. What your community cares about is what makes a good local news story.

So make your community’s growth the main focus of your pitch, and frame your business as the friendly helper in the background.

Related: [Podcast] 3 Steps to Tell Your Compelling Company Story

3. How can you make your pitch stand out from other pitches?

Reporters don’t have time to read every pitch that’s emailed to them. Which is a problem, because email is the best way to get your story in front of them.

So what can you do to make sure they actually open and read yours?

General greetings like “We hope this reaches you well,” stand out in a bad way and show you haven't done your research. This is where learning the reporter's name and making sure they know yours, like we talked about earlier, is important.

Use their name, briefly reintroduce yourself, immediately establish why your story is a good fit for them, and provide the prep work for them. It also doesn’t hurt to pay them a compliment and simultaneously show you keep up with their work by adding something like:

“I loved your segment on the [Topic] that aired last [Date/Time]. Great point on [XYZ].”

Be sure to also package the story for them and make it easy to tell it by providing:

  • Dates and times
  • Locations
  • Why it matters
  • Why it’s timely or relevent
  • Visual opportunities (graphics, photographs, ect.)
  • Quotes or names of people who will provide them

Reporters don't have time to work with every decent idea, which is why you need the work laid out for them. The more concise, clear, and complete, the better.

4. What happens after the media says they want to tell your story?

There are different ways your story could be covered by a local news station, including:

VO (voiceover): A 20 to 45 second voiceover where a recording plays as the reporter talks over it

VOSOT (video over sound on tape): A 20 to 45 second video over sound on tape, where the reporter speaks over a video and a sound bite from the video also plays

PKG (package): A full-length minute to 1 ½ minute video with a combination of voiceover, soundbites, and videos

There’s no need to worry if your coverage is only a 20 to 45 second VO or VOSOT. It's easy to want your story to be the main thing that's talked about in a lengthy PKG. But that's not always a good fit for TV. Sometimes a VO or VOSOT can have more of a landing than a PKG, because it’s shorter and hooks the audience’s attention.

 You also shouldn’t be disheartened if your story doesn’t air at a time you were hoping for. Just because you’re on the six p.m. news, doesn’t mean your story is any less important. What matters is that it’s actually getting aired.

Any coverage is good coverage. The worst thing you can do is make demands to change something or show your distaste. That’ll only make you seem ungrateful to the news team and hurt your relationship with them.

You also shouldn’t expect exactly what you pitched to be shared by the news station. The reporter may see something in your pitch they want to focus on more because they think it will be a more engaging story.

Trust the news team to do what they’re best at, and be easy for them to work with. This will ensure the station wants to work with you again. That’s important.

5. Do you recognize that media coverage is a two-way street?

Remember that while you want to seek out positive coverage from news reporters, it’s also their job to come to you whenever your business is involved in things that are not so positive.

You should always respond if a news reporter does come to you with questions about something negative your company may or may not have done—even if it’s just to say you have no statement.

Completely ignoring them will only make you look guilty or burn any relationship you have with them.

That means you need to have a plan to address bad PR, which should always include:

1. Acknowledge that the thing happened. Promise to dig in and provide more details soon (like in 30 minutes or a couple hours).

2. Huddle internally to talk through what happened and craft a message that can be shared consistently (no matter who's speaking.

3. Follow-up later as you have more to share.

Your ultimate goal in any bad PR situation is to deny anything that isn’t true, and to admit and apologize for anything that is.

Nurture your relationships with the local news.

News teams are people too. They have a schedule they have to fill and hundreds of pitches to go through everyday.

If you respect them and recognize that they’re just trying to do their job, they will do the same for you.

Always start by learning their name, and why they’re a good fit for your story. They’ll know you can successfully work together, when you do a bit of leg work first.

Mutual respect is everything when maintaining any public relationship.

Related: [Podcast] 3 Steps to Crafting Your PR Gameplan