How To Use Media Coverage To Build Your Business
Photo: Marc Weinstein CEO of Ascent Communications Photo Credit: Courtesy Ascent Communications
Marc Weinstein CEO of Ascent Communications | Courtesy Ascent Communications

[The author is Marc Weinstein, CEO of Ascent Communications (www.ascentcomm.net), an integrated marketing agency specializing in creating results-driven communications for technology companies.Marc is a frequent Princeton Tech Meetup attendee and often blogs about the speakers.]

Some time ago a technology startup, whose name I won't disclose, sought publicity as a way of attracting more business. The company's founders issued a press release that hailed its product as "disruptive", "transformative", "revolutionary" and other worn-out clichés that make journalists cringe every time they hear or see them.

The company expected the press release to set off a barrage of telephone calls and e-mails from reporters. But there were no calls or e-mails, just a deafening silence to a press release that joined thousands of others sent daily to reporters’ electronic roundfile.

What went wrong?

One of their big mistakes was sending the press announcement to an online press release distribution service. I don't have a problem with these services but, frankly, unless the name of company is Apple, Microsoft, Google, or some other tech giant that happens to have a stock trading symbol, it's most likely that reporters won't even bother reading the press release.

Journalists today have neither the time nor the energy to scan each press release that hits their e-mail inbox. They are deluged with hundreds of press releases, pitches, news alerts, infographics and other corporate communications every day.

 So how do you get the media to take notice ? Here are some tactics to follow:

  • Finding the right reporters—Conduct online research on those reporters who might be interested in your news. Search engines are fairly effective in tracking down journalists who might cover your news. For example, if your company is promoting a new music app, put the names of media outlets and music apps together in the search field. The search engine will show publications and electronic media outlets that have run stories on music apps, as well as the names of reporters who covered the topic.

  • Create a pitch--Ok, you now have a list of journalists who have previously reported on a product that’s similar to yours. You can easily find reporters’ e-mail addresses on their company’s websites or on their stories. Send an e-mail to the reporter and briefly describe the details in the press release, why he or she should care about it, and other pertinent information. However, keep it as simple as possible. Reporters live a harried existence and don't have the time to read long-winded prose. Also, cut and paste the text of the press release into the body of the e-mail. That allows journalists to just open the e-mail instead of clicking on the attached document. Last but not least, be creative in writing a headline for your e-mail pitch. The more creative, the more likely you'll capture the interest of the reporter.

  • Smile & Dial -- Just because you sent the reporter an e-mail, it doesn't mean you can sit back and relax. More often than not, even if you did everything listed above, you'll very likely just hear the sound of crickets. It's up to you to chase that reporter until you get a response. That usually means calling the reporter directly, sometimes twice, followed by a brief e-mail if you can’t reach the reporter by phone. I must warn you, however, that some reporters can be quite cranky when you call them on deadline. Many reporters file their stories daily, even hourly. So they might get a bit short with you if you’re blabbing away about your product while they have a crushing deadline to deal with. When calling reporters, ask them first if they are deadline. If they are, ask them when it would be a good time to call back. Call them when it's convenient for them, and most will give you the time to pitch them the story.

  • Nailing the Interview--Once the reporter is interested in what you have to say, be prepared on what you want to talk about and avoid boring the reporter with minutia—unless he asks for it. You should have only three or four talking points during a media interview, more than that and the reporter might easily get confused about what information you are trying to get across which may result in errors in the story or the reporter omitting all or some of your key points, or both.. There's a lot more to say on this topic, so it would probably be best to save it for a future column on media training.

  • Getting the Story Right: The media outlet has run a story about your new product. Everything is wonderful, except the reporter failed to mention this or that about the product. First, ask yourself if everything in the story is accurate. If so, then be happy your product is getting exposure. Stories are not going to include everything you talked about during the interview, especially if it's broadcast news coverage. News flash: Media outlets aren't covering these stories to help make you rich and famous; they are running them because of their news value and interest to their readers or viewers. If there are glaring inaccuracies in the story, contact the reporter to run a correction. Online publications also can easily remove the offending text and replace it with the correct information. If the reporter contends that the story is factually accurate, you have two options: shrug it off and move on, or write a letter to the editor or producer disputing some or all of the story's content. Online outlets often have comments sections and putting the corrections there, politely, usually works.My advice is that unless the inaccuracies in the story will cause great harm to you, your employees or your business, don't bother pursuing it if you exhausted all other means. It just isn't worth it.    

It should be noted that you will be spending an inordinate amount of time seeking media coverage for your business if you’re doing it correctly. So unless you have enough hours in the day and night to do your own job and the role of a publicist, you should consider outsourcing this function to those who do this for a living.

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