Looking for PR/media coverage? Some do’s and don’ts.

Like many writers/PR people, I have been fortunate to have experience in both worlds. As a freelance writer for a number of years I often turn to PR professionals and publicists for assistance in finding sources. And I learn a lot from them about what works and what doesn’t in terms of providing journalists (me, in this case) with useful information. I use the things I learn with my “freelancer writer hat” on when I’m attempting to generate PR/media coverage for my business or my clients.

I’ve learned a lot from the bad examples I see from over-zealous, inexperienced and annoying PR people or “experts.”

Two popular tools out there that are used by both journalists looking for input and PR/media professionals looking for coverage are ProfNet and Help a Reporter Out (HARO). I use them frequently, both when looking for sources for articles I’m writing and when helping clients with PR activities. And, again, I learn a lot from the responses I receive to my reporter queries.

Most recently I’ve noted a trend in those responding to my ProftNet or HARO posts to email me multiple times asking if I’d like to speak with their source. The most amazing response recently was a woman who “confirmed a source” for me (without my asking her to) and then followed up with me incessantly via email to “confirm a time.” Wearing my PR hat, I know how competitive it is and how many great sources are out there. But I also know that the best way to break through the clutter is by offering a source who is relevant to the journalist’s request and providing enough detail in a response to show that the source has the background, knowledge and expertise to provide useful, non-marketing related information. A pitch saying: “You need to talk to so-and-so!” or “Give me a call; I can help,” just doesn’t do it.

There are a lot of great PR people I work with and I appreciate them very much — I also learn a lot from them about the “right” way to do it.  If you’re looking for media coverage–for yourself or others–here are some tips that can help you cut through the clutter:

  • Pay attention to what the journalist is looking for. Don’t offer information, or a source, that is not relevant to the specific query the journalist has sent.
  • Be detailed and thorough in your response. It is not at all uncommon for journalists to simply pull from the information you send them and quote your source–they’re busy and often don’t have time to do individual interviews; the more relevant detail you can provide, the more likely you are to get the coverage you’re looking for.
  • Think about what information will be valued by the audience–not about what you have to “sell.” Avoid blatantly marketing yourself or your products and services. Focus on providing useful information that is, again, relevant to the topic.
  • Don’t badger the journalist! If you’ve sent some information and haven’t received a response it’s probably because the journalist has received dozens–sometimes hundreds–of other responses and yours just didn’t rise to the top of the pile. Multiple follow-up emails (or worse, phone calls) are not going to endear you to the journalists for this, or other, requests.
  • Be available. It is frustrating to set up a time to speak with a source and then find that they are unavailable at the scheduled time. You may get one pass; you’re not likely to get two.
  • Provide relevant, useful information–don’t “bait and switch.” I’ve had sources confirmed for one topic who attempt to “bridge” to another topic more germane to what they want to tell me. Guess whose comments will not be appearing in this or other pieces?
  • Don’t ask: “Can I review your article before it’s published?” – this marks you as an amateur. Some publications/journalists will allow this; most reputable outlets do not.  If the option is available, the reporter will let you know.
  • Don’t badger the reporter to send you a copy of the published piece or link. Some will which is great; many don’t. Why? They’re busy. It’s unrealistic to expect that busy journalists have the time to follow up with all of their sources to share links or copies. It’s the Internet age; you should be able to readily find the link yourself.

I’m pretty successful at getting coverage for myself and my clients. Why? Because I follow the tips above and I keep a clear focus on helping to make the journalist’s job easier and providing useful information based on what they need, not on what I am hoping to gain. Just as in any other form of communications, especially marketing communications, it’s not about you–it’s about them.

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