Working With the Media: It's Not Just Who You Know but Who Knows About You
I was talking with a reporter the other day about what works and what doesn’t work to attract the media’s attention.
When I asked him what he most needed from a source to cover a story, his answer was surprisingly simple: Lead time.
He said: “You wouldn’t believe the number of times people have called me and said, ‘we’ve got this really great story or photo for you…it starts in 25 minutes.’”
The amount of lead time reporters need to plan to cover events varies by media. Most newspaper and radio reporters and TV talk shows would like two to four weeks notice.
TV news crews that cover breaking news, however, often prefer only one to three days notice. They are usually slammed with assignments and focused on what is immediately before them.
In contrast, most magazines are written, edited and designed months before they appear in print. That means the December holiday issue may go to print in October or even August.
Taking the time to remember these deadlines is one example of the importance of educating yourself about the media you hope to attract. That means knowing the basic differences between print and broadcast media as well as developing mutually beneficial relationships with reporters.
Some key points to remember:
1) Ask if your message is more educational or entertaining. If the entertainment value is high or there are great visuals, television is the best medium. If you have large amounts of detailed information you would like to convey, print is better.
2) ALWAYS return calls immediately — no later than 24 hours, and the same day is better. People in other businesses may think two or three days is acceptable. Not with the media. You have to get back to them immediately if you want a shot at being covered.
3) Make them look good. They’re trying to impress their executive producer or editor. Give them research, statistics, trends and background articles.
4) Don't just follow up. Give them more research, statistics, articles, trends, commentary from your expertise. If you’re working with broadcast media give them more dramatic and compelling “show” ideas. If it’s print, give them more scoops.
5) Just because they don't return your call and emails doesn’t mean they’re not interested. It just means they’re busy. Don’t hold it against them. Be patient. Remember, media professionals are usually overworked, underpaid and under a tremendous amount of stress. Keep helping them and eventually they’ll take your help.
6) Remember the lead times differing media need to cover your story: two to four weeks for newspapers, radio and TV talk shows; one to three days in advance for TV news crews; and three to six months for magazines.
Above all, keep in mind the media professionals you are dealing with are humans and treat them cordially and with respect. Remember they are dealing with huge amounts of information that they have to fit into a short TV segment or a newspaper or magazine that is probably shrinking.
Building and maintaining good relationships with reporters is mutually beneficial. It gives reporters compelling material and sources higher name recognition and credibility. Remember, it’s not just who you know, it’s who knows about you.