Monday, May 31, 2010

Media Relations 101 - Getting media coverage

I work for a strategic communications firm that caters to a strictly non-profit clientele; as such, I have had to do a lot of research for clients on issues as diverse as arts education, community colleges, healthcare for the elderly, and immigration. Any social entrepreneur will need to learn the ropes about communications and media relations, i.e., getting the word out there. Seeing as there is so much to learn and know, I will be posting up articles regularly on strategic communications. Sharing the knowledge is what it is all about!

What are “media relations” and “strategic communications”?

Every startup wants to project a favorable image of itself in the media. In order to accomplish this, in-house or contracted public relations professionals develop a rapport with media outlets, reporters, producers, etc. This is media relations. If your startup has to do with arts and East African women, you would develop relationships with key members of the media, such as reporters in arts, women’s rights, social issues, economics, business, and education, for example.

This goes to say that when your startup wants to let the media know about something your organization is doing or premiered, you would probably release a press release and pitch a story to the media. We’ll have more on that below.

Strategic communications means developing communications plans and initiatives to further an organization’s goal. Web sites, news conferences, brochures, and social media are all examples of strategic communications. How does your web site further your goal as an entrepreneur? What can the website do for you? What aims will social media address? These are questions you should ask yourself.

The first thing I’ll discuss today will be “pitching” a story and creating a reporter’s database.

What is “pitching”? It means getting on the phone or e-mail and letting reporters know what’s going on. How do you know which reporters to target? If your startup is local, regional, or national in focus, it should target media outlets that also have coverage on that level. However, some media outlets with national coverage also have local bureaus depending on the locality; you can also contact them if you want to target a local, audience for example. Once you have honed in on what kind of publication you want, read the paper, listen to that radio station, or watch that TV news channel. Look up on Google or on the outlet’s website “education, arts, women, East Africa, social issues” and see which reporters are writing about those issues. Sometimes you can get the reporter’s e-mail address from the website; if not, phone the media outlet and ask for the reporter’s contact information. When you are pitching, you want the reporter to know you have read their articles. For our example, you may want to tell the reporter you have read their latest article on an NGO using theater to empower women in small villages, and you thought they would be interested in knowing about an event a women’s arts organization will be hosting.

Before you start pitching, you should begin with researching media outlets and reporters who may be interested in your story. Identifying key players is of utmost importance. You don’t want to contact a reporter who writes about parenting if you really want to speak with someone who writes about business; in the event you don’t know who to contact, call the media outlet, and briefly explain your aim. Then ask who would be the right person to speak with. If there are many, ask for an editor.

You will want to create a database of names and contacts for that particular story. If your arts and women’s startup wanted to get coverage of a panel discussion from business leaders who will be talking about arts and business, make sure you target those kinds of reporters. On a simple, Microsoft Excel worksheet, put in pertinent info such as “Salutation”, “Name”, “Outlet”, “Beat”, “E-mail”, “Phone”, “Website”. A “beat” is the topic a reporter covers; a business reporter’s beat will be “business”; a news reporter who writes about “social issues” will have “social issues” as a beat. Once your list is completed you can start pitching!

Another important thing; don’t pitch the same story to two or more reporters in the same media outlet; if an education reporter and metro (or local news) reporter from Newspaper X find out they are to cover the same event, they’ll get annoyed. The key is identifying THE key folks, and no one else.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @radiomorillo


Bad Pitch Blog - things to do and NOT to do when pitching to journalists. Great resource and links to many other sites.


  1. I might sound näive, but are reporters normally paid/given any incentives to lure them to cover one's project?

  2. This is interesting stuff - thanks for posting, Stephanie!

    I would agree with @Anon1 above - I think reporters are given incentives, but I also think that the overall mission of the media house they represent matters tremendously.

    If the overall goal of the media house is to, for instance, be the first one to cover ANY story in a given region, then that might affect the quality. On the other hand, if the media house has a specific, perhaps idealist goal, such as covering issues relating to marginalized women in East Africa, then their quality may also be affected by this (ie: instead of covering anything and everything, they look for specific instances or examples).

    Looking forward to more articles on Media Relations!

  3. Nice article.

    Re: TZ media, there is something which bugs me a lot! Most media outlets seem to be reporting same stuff. It's like their focus is to "break" the news FIRST, period. And the blogs are joining in...

  4. Hi all,

    Thank you for all of the comments! I appreciate the response.

    @Anonymous1 - Good question! Think of it this way: PR (public relations) professionals make a reporter's job EASIER. How? By bringing them stories they otherwise might miss. A reporter for any outlet probably has a LOT going on and already has stories to cover that have been assigned to them by the editor, and naturally no one person could get access to every story out there.

    Ultimately, it is also up to the reporter and/or news outlet to cover your story. They can choose not to cover it. If the reporter likes what you have given him/her, they may ask you to contact them again in the future with any leads. There shouldn't be any bribery or any payment made to the reporter for covering the story. Ultimately it should be win-win: you, the PR person, gets your story in the paper and the reporter received a story without having to do all of the tedious research.

    Be sure to provide the reporter with anything you may have that can help the story - audio, visual, press releases, quotes, etc.