If you’re an entrepreneur, challenger brand, or ambitious startup, it is likely that attention from the media can help you grow. It’s also entirely possible, depending on which stage your business is at, that you are trying to do this public relations work yourself.
That’s completely fine and in some situations, prudent. Not all businesses are at the right stage of growth to hire a full time PR manager or an external agency.
But, if you’re approaching the media to try and generate coverage, there are a lot of things can go wrong. It’s unlikely you’re an expert in the media — and quite frankly, it’s not your job to be. You’re launching or growing a company, and that should be your priority and where your skills lie.
If you are doing media relations yourself, there are a few common mistakes that, once you are aware of them, are easily avoided. Here are five things to stop getting wrong with your media pitching.
1. Spray and pray
One of the first mistakes entrepreneurs make when managing media relations is trying to ‘spray and pray’. Almost every PR person and agency is guilty of this at one (or more) points of their career. In media relations, this usually means a press release has been written and distributed using a news wire service, or spammed out to thousands of contacts with no personalisation or thought. Essentially, it’s like using a shotgun to hit a small target.
This almost never works, particularly if you have not taken the time to truly get to know the journalists you want to reach, what they (and their readers) care about, and built a (professional) relationship with them.
Unless your startup has raised a mammoth funding round, or done a deal with the likes of Apple, Google, or Facebook, this approach will not work.
Focus on quality, not quantity, of media coverage. One brilliant, insightful, interesting article will do more for your business than ten carbon copies of your press release.
Forgive my use of the well-worn cliché but, like many aspects of business, building your company’s reputation is a marathon, not a sprint.
Too many entrepreneurs wait until they have something they want the world to know about, sprint like mad for a week or two to try and get as much attention for that as possible, then slither away and stop dealing with journalists or the public in general.
This does not work. If journalists and the public don’t hear from you for months, or even years at a time, you’re ruining any chance of building a platform for your brand awareness, and you may as well not bother. Rushing like this also tends to lead to mistakes, which can reflect poorly on your entire business.
Don’t wait till you have something newsworthy to announce to start thinking about PR. Have an always-on mindset, and constantly be thinking about how your story fits in with the media cycle.
That doesn’t mean that you need to generate news for the sake of news. Instead, begin to work with journalists in your field and start by giving instead of taking. Share your knowledge and expertise about the wider sector you operate in, and give them ideas for stories that aren’t related to your own business. That way, when it does come to having legitimate news you want to talk about, the journalists know you and what you’re about.
3. Not doing your research
It’s tempting to jump right in and start trying to pitch your story to journalists. There’s a certain thrill to it, particularly when it comes off.
But, not doing your research and planning before starting to pitch to the media, will result in one guaranteed thing: annoyed reporters. And frustrating someone to no end is hard to come back from, particularly in modern media.
The mistake is that you will invariably end up pitching your story to a reporter who doesn’t care one iota, does not cover your sector, has left the job you think they’re at, or any other untold number of problems. Receiving irrelevant communication is pretty frustrating for anyone. Don’t be that person.
Take your time, start planning weeks before you do your first pitch, and be sure that the reporters you are speaking to are likely to be interested in what you are doing.
Get to know a journalist who writes in your field — not just someone who writes about startups generally, but one who writes about and is interested in the types of things your startup does, whether that’s artificial intelligence, social media, or basket-weaving. Find the right person and it’s likely they will be interested in the innovation or new product you’re pitching.
4. Looking desperate
Desperate pitches to the media usually have one thing in common: they are excruciatingly long.
Don’t be afraid to dangle the carrot a little. If you send someone a War and Peace-length pitch with every possible piece of information and knowledge about your business and industry, it’s quite easily going to end up in the ‘too hard basket’. What do you do when you get an exceedingly long email? You tell yourself you will read it later. That ‘later’ usually never comes.
You are in business because you are doing something interesting, something that no one else is doing. You’re no doubt trying to provide value to a group of customers, somewhere in the world, and in doing so improve the way people work, or live, in some meaningful way. Be clear, confident, and concise about what your business is doing. Hone in on why you are doing it.
An easy way to do a sanity check is practice your pitch by rehearsing it, or reading it out aloud. You’ll quickly spot the parts where you deviate from this much-needed clarity.
5. Not accepting reality
This is easily the biggest, and most damaging mistake people make when pitching to the media. Hubris often leads entrepreneurs to think people care more about their business than they truly do.
You have to face the fact that journalists are not sitting around at their desks, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for that ‘golden’ pitch from you to drop in their inbox or Twitter stream. They are busy, they have a lot of work to do, and they already have 20 other story ideas floating around their head.
Start from the point of ‘the person I am about to pitch to currently has zero interest in what I am about to tell them’.
It’s both the hardest and easiest to fix. It’s easy because all it takes is a change in mindset. That’s also why it’s the easiest. You have to capture their attention, but also know that you are one of 100 people that will pitch them today. Unless you are already well-known, people aren’t sitting on the edge of their seat to find out your next move.
Tap into how your story fits into broader themes, show the reporter why the public will care about it, and why it’s an important story worth telling.
Be aware of these five common mistakes when pitching to the media, action the fixes, and you’ll have a mutually beneficial, long-lasting relationship with the media.