Thursday, January 8, 2009

Media Outreach in A Press Apocalypse

I've been pitching a great story for the past couple of weeks and struggling like hell to get coverage. It’s a brand new company that provides pricing info (you type your zip code and surgery, treatment, etc. into a web site and it pulls up the average price PPOs pay their doctors). Thought it was a no brainer for major coverage. Check out

Welcome to the new media reality. Getting press is absolute hell these days. Here are just a few issues I’ve run into:

Lists are Out of Date Immediately - The lists, no matter how fresh are no good because everyone is getting laid off. Entire departments are going – an editor for The Washington Post recently discussed how he had one writer left in science, CNN has laid off entire segments of its newsroom, and the list goes on.

Spam is Hell - You have no clue if your email pitch/press advisory gets to where it’s going requiring endless follow-up. And media people get really pissed off if you ask if they got your release because they really don’t care. If the computer decided it was spam – then you have 15 seconds to convince them it’s worth listening to you and all they will do is ask you to send it again. Then you have to make it stick.

Are there Any Real People Writing this Stuff? - It is virtually impossible to get to a real person at any major publication, news room, etc. Web is the worst - unless you have their direct dial in which case they'll either ignore you or tell you that if they're interested they'll call. Rage not withstanding. And so many places use virtual freelancers now that when you do finally get a name (a lot of site digging and reading) no one knows how to find them – or cares. Remember when you used to make nice with the editorial assistants? They are gone. Or they are hiding behind a computer screen and talking to their friends on Twitter.

Story Approval Layers are Endless – You used to be able to pitch a story and if someone liked it they pitched it to an editor or producer and you moved forward. Now there are layers upon layers of approvals (too many lawyers got involved I guess) and by the time you finally get an answer – if you get one – the story could be dead.

Bloggers Don’t Like Anything that Sounds Client-Written – The bureaucracy of getting a client to approve a news release, saying things the way they want them said, trying to keep it short, delivering an engaging headline – is a nightmare. We used to get around it by sending out the release and pitching a paragraph by email that told the real story and then following up. But bloggers hate releases or anything that sounds client written. If they get the release they often won’t cover the story. Or they write a sentence and the prospect of an interview is gone.

I am lucky because I’m outspoken and the people that end up hiring me are smart and they listen. But that’s not the norm.

A Few Tips for PR Now

So what is a PR person supposed to do? My background is journalism – I know editors, writers, etc. and how they think. Of course you go to the people you know, that’s a no brainer if they still have jobs. And the big agencies can use armies of kids to hit social media, traditional media, etc. and eventually something sticks.

These tips come from a very long talk with a PR Newswire veteran (she wants to be anonymous but was so helpful) and here’s some of what I’ve learned.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is everything.
The search firms act like what they do is rocket science but it’s really not. You use the words that you know people search a lot in your news release but not so much that it ends up in the SPAM folder.

If you want to Google higher get a Wiki, Facebook page (Google has downgraded LinkedIn a lot), ask or answer a question on Yahoo. That will help enormously.

Use The Right Words and the Assessment Tools – PR Newswire, for instance, has an assessment tool for clients to see if you've used words too many or too few times. There are probably freebies out there too. And by the way, no one has any clue or studies how journalists search – including those news companies you are paying a lot of money too.

Think to yourself – if reporters in my industry have Google Alerts (and most of us do these days) what are the key words that they will search? Then come up with a list of industry and general public buzzwords and run them by your clients. Use them throughout the release – it’s no longer just the headline and first paragraph – it’s the whole thing.

Write a Press Release Like a News Story – Journalists who still have jobs don’t have time to search out sources, spend days on stories, check quotes, find data, etc. I’ve had a lot of success with getting my releases picked up verbatim if they are short and well written. One client quote to amplify a point – two or three data points that make the story timely and valuable. Find a news peg – these days it can be almost anything – but it’s better if it’s a big one. And don’t go over one page – it makes a huge difference.

There’s a lot more to be said on all of this. Check back in a couple of days.

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