Expert: Public Relations

By Gina Penzig, Media Relations Manager for Westar Energy

Media, with their large, local audiences, are an efficient way to reach potential customers and clients. However, from reporters to assignment editors, their inboxes overflow, so gaining their attention, and then making the most of your opportunity, requires preparation.

Do Your Homework
A blind, mass email is no more likely to capture their attention than it is yours. Target your communication. Television stations have features that appear on different news programs. Newspapers may rotate certain features. Tracking topics various reporters cover or what they talk about on social media can help you identify who might have an interest in your story.

  • Think about your audience and that of the media.
  • Why should their audience care about your story?
  • Does your desired client base align with their audience?
  • Your story must be more than the service or product you sell.
  • How do you make lives better?
  • How are you different from your competitors?

Once you’ve decided the angle of your story pitch, think about how it might be told. Visuals are critical in media today.

  • Don’t waste time explaining things you can show.
  • Do you have customers or clients who can and would be willing to help tell your story?
  • If you provide a service, do you have clients who would allow photos or video of you working with them? Be sure to ask permission ahead of time.

Make Your Pitch Count
Your story pitch will likely be made by email. Find the reporter’s direct email on the news outlet’s website or call and ask for it. Email provides reporters a chance to review the idea on their schedule, refer back to it and share it with others. If previous stories they covered or something they shared on social media led you to think they would be interested in your story, say so. Share your story angle and why their audience would care. Let them know if a certain event is coming up that would make for great photography or video to go with the story. Include clear contact information so the reporter can follow up with you.

Follow up by phone in a day or two. Have the original email at hand so you can easily forward it to the reporter and save them the trouble of searching. Have your schedule available in case the reporter is ready to set up a time to do a story. If they aren’t ready to set a date right away, offer to call back in a few days or the next week.

Respect Their Craft
Your pitch, successful or not, can be the start of a relationship that can benefit you and the reporter. Start it with respect. If your pitch doesn’t result in a story, be ready to try again later. If you have the opportunity, it’s OK to ask why they didn’t do a story.

If a reporter decides to feature your business, the story may take a different angle or may focus on visuals other than those you suggested. If the reporter’s angle fulfills your ultimate goal, go with it. If it does not, ask politely to better understand the shift. You may both learn more about the potential story and audience.

Respect their time. Expect that the reporter and photographer will be looking to quickly cover your story and go to their next assignment. Be ready when they arrive.

Respect their craft. Just as your goods and services are your livelihood, their skills, photos and stories are theirs. If you are interested in gaining permission to use the photos and videos or in reprints of the story, ask about their policies and pricing.

A closing thank you is appropriate and appreciated. Keep it simple. Many media outlets have rules against gifts over a certain value, and you don’t want to create an awkward situation. Take a moment and provide a nice handwritten note. When is the last time you received one? You probably remember it.

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Gina Penzig
Media Relations Manager
Westar Energy

Photo by Rachel Lock Photography