Getting the Word Out: How to Talk to the Media

An important part of any business is spreading the word about your product or service – and who better to help
you than the media? Working with the media can increase awareness of your business and reach a variety of audiences, and unlike advertising, it’s free!

However, the way you approach your outreach to media is important. Many reporters can receive hundreds of e-mails a day, so how can you make your message stand out?

Below is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you reach out to the media – and make your voice heard.

DO – Research the media.
Identify reporters who produce stories about your particular beat (health, business, technology, etc.). Do your research outside the box - some journalists may report on a particular subject (e.g. politics), but might also have a strong personal interest in sports. Follow reporters on Twitter and check out their conversations – sometimes, reporters even look for interviewees on social media. Keep a record of some of the reporter’s recent stories to reference during your outreach.

DON’T – Be a stalker.
While it’s important to know what reporters are writing about and some of their interests, it’s weird to know how many kids they have or what they ate for lunch. These details are things you may come to know once you’ve built a relationship with them.

DO – Make a list.
Once you’ve determined which reporters you’d like to contact, make a list with their name, title, media outlet, phone number and e-mail address. Once you start reaching out, you can also keep notes in this list and track your pitch e-mails and responses. Some media outlets will list a reporter’s contact information on their website, but if it’s not available, you can often find a general e-mail or phone number for the outlet.

DON’T – Reach out to the wrong reporter.
If you’re talking about technology, don’t reach out to the sports reporter. The reporter will not appreciate the pitch and will be less likely to open any of your future e-mails.

DO – Personalize your pitch e-mail.
You can begin your e-mail by referencing the reporter’s recent work and why your business or product might interest them. Next, demonstrate how your product or business is helping solve an existing problem, leveraging any supporting statistics or data. Finally, close your email by letting them know you (or any other spokesperson) are available for interviews if they’d like to discuss further. Keep your e-mail simple and to the point – the shorter, the better.

DON’T – Make your e-mail sound or look like spam.
Avoid large attachments or photos, and don’t use jargon, unnecessary words or catch-phrases.

DO – Follow-up.
It’s best to send your first pitch as an e-mail, and if the reporter doesn’t respond, follow-up with a second e-mail a few days later. Most reporters prefer to be contacted via e-mail, so use good judgement when making follow-up calls.

DON’T – Be desperate.
Constant e-mails and phone calls won’t help your case – in fact, it might cause a reporter to blacklist you and block your messages. If a reporter declines your pitch, use this as an opportunity to find out what kinds of pitches and story ideas might interest them in the future.

DO – Build relationships.
Media are always looking for interview subjects, so make yourself available should they need a spokesperson. If you help a reporter out in a pinch, they’ll be more likely to return the favour next time you have a story idea. If a journalist produces a story and mentions your product or business, be sure to send a follow-up note thanking them for their work.

DON’T – Send gifts or promotional items.
Technically, media are not allowed to accept them, and you don’t want to appear as if you are “buying” the story.

Janessa Bishop has worked in the public relations and communications field for more than seven years. She specializes in media relations, events management and execution, and developing and executing public relations programs for the public and private sector and not-for-profits. She currently works at Sun Life Financial in Toronto as a Senior Communications Specialist.