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Opinion: Lessons for earning media coverage

A Wider Lens

Posted online

This summer marks the beginning of my 12th year with SBJ Publishing Inc. While much has changed over the years, one thing that hasn’t changed is the most often asked question: “How do I get my news in SBJ?”

Well, you’re in luck – there’s a video for that! In short, you earn the coverage.

If you go to SBJLive.net and search “how to get coverage” you’ll find a three-minute video of Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson explaining how to connect with the newsroom. Here is an abbreviated list:

• A compelling story. Make sure the content matters to more people than those in your office.

• Numbers. Show the numbers, such as the revenue, profits and other business data that tell the story.

• Expertise. Prepare to be informative and candid.

• Communication. Be available and stay in contact with editors and reporters in the newsroom.

You now have an idea of what the SBJ newsroom is looking for in deciding coverage. This would be a good time to grab a pen and a sticky note to write down these instructions and post it on your monitor as a daily reminder to send in your news:

1. Go to SBJ.net. 2. Click on “Talk to SBJ.” 3. Select “Newsroom.” 4. Complete form.

Before you start fretting about what compelling story you’re going to pitch, start with these SBJ weekly features:

• Newsmakers: New hires, promotions, awards and achievements.

• Open for Business: New businesses, relocations or ownership changes.

• Business Spotlight: An in-depth feature of a local business.

• Letter to the Editor: Speak your mind on a business topic.

• Week on the Street: Photo spread of the week’s happenings around town.

• The Business Calendar: Weekly and monthly snapshot of upcoming events.

When you’re ready to step up your public relations game another notch, watch Lisa Rau of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. in the sbjLive video “Earned Media.” She calls herself a junkyard dog when it comes to publicity because she goes after opportunity. If you tracked the progression of publicity from announcement to opening of Silver Dollar City’s Time Traveler roller coaster, you watched a master class in publicity planning and execution. In the video, she hints to the behind-the-scenes work that goes into pulling off a campaign of that scale.

If you’re ready to dig in further, I want to provide another 10 tips for successfully getting in the news:

1. Newsrooms exist to inform readers/viewers. They are not there to promote your business – even if you are an advertiser with that news outlet. The code of ethics written by the Society of Professional Journalists requires editors and reporters to act independently and avoid any real or perceived improprieties. News coverage is referred to as “earned media” vs. “paid media” because it cannot be purchased. This is a very good thing.

2. You are there to serve the newsroom. A newsroom is your potential client considering the story you’re pitching. All the while you’re competing against hundreds of others trying to convince them to write an article. It is not a coincidence that “pitch” is used in both sales and media relations. Assignment editors might say “yes” to one out of every 100 pitches.

3. Know the media outlets. What types of stories do they cover? Do the reporters have beats they cover? Pose your story to fit their objectives. All newsrooms have a filter through which every potential story is sifted. If you can’t figure it out through observation, ask them.

4. Be quick to respond. Editors and reporters are always on deadline. Being unresponsive or too slow will put you on the source-of-last-resort list. It isn’t personal. Editors and reporters have a job to do and their clock’s ticking. You are either helpful or delay progress.

5. Know their story assignment deadlines. These deadlines are different for every media outlet. Just ask. They should gladly share with you their process because information too late is about as useful as never getting the information.

6. Let them know your expertise. More often than not your best opportunities to get in the news are to be a source on a topic rather than the sole subject of a story. Remember the source-of-last-resort list? Well, there is a top-notch-source list, too.

7. Be in touch often. Would you email or call a client once a year? Or worse yet, never? Do you really sit back and just expect that client to call you? Of course not. Send compelling information on a weekly or monthly basis. Even if it doesn’t get covered that week, you are building a story that will catch their attention.

8. Don’t get hung up on the formality of a news release. Make it simple. Newsrooms receive hundreds of releases every day. Quick, concise and clear are key.

9. Pitch newsworthy stories. Newsrooms are looking for stories that are timely, significant, in proximity, of prominence or human interest.

10. Outsource it. If you just don’t have the time or inclination to follow these steps – but you still want news coverage – hire a public relations professional.

SbjLive CEO Mar’Ellen Felin can be reached at mfelin@sbj.net. SbjLive is a video media outlet and spin-off of Springfield Business Journal.

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