Me: “Yeahhh, I’ll take the McGriddle combo meal…”
“Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: “Anything else for you today, sir?”
Me: “Oh right, yeah, about that. I have a HUGE favor to ask. I kind of need to borrow your car. Is that okay?"
“Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: "Umm...I’m sorry sir, but we just met."
Me: "Yeah but we really jived! There was energy between us! Didn't you feel it? Please can I borrow your car?"
“No-longer-so-Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: “Sir, I don’t think that’s on the menu…”
Our reputation often determines the quality of our relationships. In a similar vein, the quality of our relationships determines the favor we might receive from that individual.
If you try to borrow someone’s car—like in the analogy above—you’ll most likely be stiff-armed, ridiculed, or greeted by a befuddled expression. I didn’t actually try to borrow the cashier’s car, but if I had, I can imagine the trouble that would ensue.
Just like our friendships, we must establish personal credibility with the media. Personal credibility showcases the quality of our work and enables us to establish relationships with media outlets and other syndicates. Media relationships can be divided into two categories: Media Outreach and Media Relations.
Media Outreach entails reaching out to journalists and publications in order to pitch content to them that increases the buzz around your nonprofit or social enterprise. Media Relations is the practice of maintaining relationships with businesses partnerships and journalists to promote your organization.
First let’s analyze how to reach out to the media.
Reach Out: Writing a Pitch, Connect with Journalists
Reaching out to journalists and other publications can get messy quick. There are a number of keystone websites like Just Reach Out that you can use to find journalists in your area. However, what we want to focus on in this blog post is not where to connect with the media, but rather, how to connect with them.
To ensure that we aren’t ignored, blocked, or missed, we have to strip down our message to its most simplified version. Remember, brevity.
Keep. It. Simple.
Edsger Dijkstra says, "Aim for brevity while avoiding jargon.” Take it from this Dutch systems scientist, programmer, software engineer (AKA one of the farthest things from a PR practitioner or marketing guru): to communicate effectively, don’t assume that the audience you’re in communication with understands the jargon of your field or for that matter, even the field itself.
As individuals trying to build the reputation of our nonprofits and social enterprises, we must not deceive ourselves. Do not expect the journalist to whom you reach out to understand or interpret the jargon of your company or field of expertise. If it’s not simple, they just won’t waste their time trying to decipher the meaning or substance of your message.
It’s essential to make sure that you articulate your mission clearly, however, on the opposite end, you must also do adequate research. According to Cision Ltd., a leading global public relations and earned media software company, “82 percent of journalists say PR professionals can improve by researching and understanding their media outlet.”
To connect with the right journalists and engage them effectively, we should have a good understanding of their work—both who they've written for and what they've personally written.
For example, don’t simply encourage a journalist to write about your organization because you are practicing cutting-edge technology to help the local community. Encourage them to write about your technological advancements that help the surrounding community in light of other articles they have written about the social welfare of your city.
Research what they’ve written about and show genuine interest in their topics. By doing this, it's more likely that you’ll discover the correct journalist to write about your small business.
To keep it simple, there’s a general guideline of rules you can follow to keep your pitches to journalists simple and sweet.
The Parameters of the Pitch
When writing a pitch, follow steps that will ensure you are practicing simplicity. Write an alluring subject line complete with strong, driving verbs. If you can provide names and locations in the email pitch, those will catch the eye because of their specificity.
Between 20-100 words is acceptable when constructing your message, but fewer is preferred. If you can limit content to one to two paragraphs, you’ll be more likely to receive a follow up email. Of course, keep in mind it does need to provide the relevant details as well. But remember, you are trying to catch their attention, not explain the entire history of your organization all in one email.
Avoid attachments, if possible. If the journalist receiving the information has to go through an additional hoop sifting through hundreds of emails, they’ll be less likely to open your email. You may include a link or two, however, if it helps explain or build your case. And at the end of each pitch, make sure that your contact information is clear (phone number, email, etc.).
Connecting on Social Media: Who and How to Follow
Email isn’t the only way to connect with numerous media outlets, news syndicates, and journalists. Social media platforms are crucial for engaging with the media. Twitter has revealed itself as a favorite among large networks, journalists, and young marketing professionals alike.
Twitter’s concise use of text and images creates the perfect platform for journalists to share their content. And Twitter’s platform reflects the same practices applied to journalism—short, sweet, and to the point.
Connect with journalists on social media through major news networks and then find specific writers that pique your interest. Starting points on Twitter include traditional news outlets like @NYTimes, @AP, or @washingtonpost. You can additionally follow broader worldwide networks such as @bbcworld and @AJEnglish.
However, it is most likely that you'll discover the greatest amount of success in connecting with local media syndicates in your city. For example, a social enterprise or nonprofit in Atlanta might try to connect with writers from the @ajc, Atlanta’s largest press news outlet, @11AliveNews, a local TV network or @AtlantaMagazine, a specialized magazine in art and culture of the city. Locate the outlets specific to your city, county, or region and then connect with those media personnel specifically. You can often find a directory on their websites, or search stories that fit your organization to find the authors.
Follow the writers who you are most interested in connecting and reach out to them via social media DMs (direct messages) and email. Just remember that they are people, and not just someone who can offer you exposure, and take that into account with how you establish the relationship.
After you’ve connected with media outlet and, journalists, it’s crucial you learn how to maintain those partnerships.
Maintain & Organize: Long-Term Relationships, Cross Promotion, and Spreadsheets
Never undermine the power of a spreadsheet. When it comes to getting organized spreadsheets are your best friend. Using spreadsheets, organize your media outlet contacts via several categories. Have consistent writers that you can reach out to for each category and stay in touch with them consistently. If you need a how to, look here.
To understand the importance of organizing your preferred writers, let’s look at an example. Consider a coffee shop operating as a for-profit social enterprise which benefits the well-being of it’s community. This company might organize writers into different writing topics based on the following categories: cutting-edge technology, special offers its shop, expansion and location (ex: new storefronts), and company culture and mission. Categorically organizing each writer in this way will allow you to easily and effectively pull from a pre-arranged list of writers and media personnel when you have news to announce.
Find a journalist for each category and organize your spreadsheet accordingly. Have a column with the contact information for each writer via email, phone, and social media. Each column following the person's name can contain specific information. For example: the name of their publication, the specific location of the publication or the location of the writer, and finally information about whether the syndicate is national or local. This can be as detailed or basic as you like, but more information will help you connect to the right person when the time comes.
It might also be useful to use this spreadsheet to track stories written for organization in your industry or a similar industry that caught your attention. You can share these stories via your social media accounts and if you like the content that is being created for brother and sister organizations, you might even reach out to the journalist or blogger that is creating stories for that company.
When reaching out to that journalist (aka the pitch) you can mention the story that they wrote for another company and how much you admired it. It will stroke the ego of that journalist and potentially set you up for an awesome story about your company!
In the wake of practicing new skills and connecting with the media, don’t forget the importance of maintaining pre-existing relationships. While we’ve mainly covered outreach to new journalists and media outlets in this blog post, it’s also important to remember the media relationships we already have because people who already know you are more likely to cover you.
Cross-Promotion: A Tale of Two Businesses
This is a sure-fire way to expand your reach and your audience. Even corporate foundations engage in this style of behavior. Nike and Apple worked together to create the “Nike+” sports kit. Through this dual promotion, Apple and Nike were able to reach a wider audience. We can do the same with our small businesses. Let’s look at the example of a small business in Athens, Ga., that is doing exactly that:
Athens is a city known for its eclectic mix of food outlets. Because of its size, many of the small business, restaurants, and social enterprises eagerly cooperate with one another. 1000 Faces Coffee promotes the values of social responsibility to create organic products.
1000 Faces Coffee works with many of the businesses in the local area (especially those that are cause-related) to cross-promote other social enterprises in the surrounding Athens area. To ensure that it is actively engaging brother and sister businesses, 1000 Faces Coffee promotes an event called “Biscuits and Coffee Love” once a month to raise money for local charities. Encouraging cross-promotion, it invites other organizations such as Farm Cart Biscuits, a local organic breakfast vendor, to participate in the cause.
As nonprofits and social enterprises, we can apply these same methods to our business tactics. Invite another organization within your niche or industry that has a complementary mission to co-host an event. Cooperate with one another, but keep it simple. You can even help promote one another on social media. There are ample opportunities for cross-promotion.
To effectively maintain our relationships with the media, we must engage in the perfect balance of media outreach and maintaining already existing relationships. Reach out to journalists, bloggers, reporters, and other media personnel using these ideas, but don’t forget the impact of partnering with other small businesses in your area and industry.
Read all posts in this PR series:
Michael Griffith Banks is a fourth-year Public Relations Major at the University of Georgia with a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, most recently serving as an Orientation Leader for the University.