Media relations is getting harder…much harder (but here’s a few tips for how you can get more stories placed)
This just in: media relations is getting tougher. Much, much tougher.
The stats back up the claim. Consider the following:
- Demand for media attention is high: Most top-tier writers now receive 100, 250 or 500 pitches a week for 5 story spots.
- Media is outnumbered: PR Pros now outnumber journalists by a factor of 6 to 1. This ratio has doubled in the last 10 years. What’s more, employment prospects for PRs will expand even more to 282,600 by 2026 (up 9 percent from 2016) according to projections from the Labor Department. On the other hand, jobs for media types are forecasted to decline 9 percent to 45,900 over the same period.
- PR pros say so themselves! A majority (68%) of PR professionals say media relations is getting harder or much harder. This is up 17% from last year where 51% said media relations was getting harder.
One more stat to share: Only 5% of publishers want phone calls, according to recent surveys. The rest surveyed (95%!) were adamantly against using the phone! This isn’t great news. Why? Because the name of the game in media relations is building trust. One big way many of us used to do that was via phone. After all, talking to a journalist on the phone is a much better way to build repoire than via email, text or social media. It just is. It’s more personal. It’s warmer. IT’S EASIER! Now, with just 5% of journalists saying they prefer the phone, that advantage has been taken off our plate, too.
I’m seeing this, anecdotally, with my clients, as well. It’s tougher to get the media’s attention that it was five years ago–for lots of reasons (in addition to those listed above). For one, the media are much busier than they were in the past. See this recent Jason DeRusha (anchor at WCCO-TV here in MSP) comment on my LinkedIn post on this same topic a few weeks ago for proof.
Second, newsrooms continue to shrink. I mentioned this above in one of the stats, but UHG’s Ellen O’Brien sums it up well here:
We’re also seeing “pay for play” expand. Outlets like Forbes are almost entirely pay-for-play now. And, publications like Harvard Business Review are so much tougher to get into than just a few years ago. All these factors are figuring in.
So, the big question now: What do we do about this? Our clients and companies are still expecting media coverage. Media relations, as a practice, isn’t going away. People still watch TV news and read the paper. This will continue.
Cutting to the chase: We need strategies to break-through and get the media’s attention. How do we do that? A few ideas that have worked for me recently:
- Subject lines are everything. Treat subject lines like you’re a copywriter at a big ad agency and you have to write a killer headline for a new ad. That’s how important they are in 2019. My pro tip: Write 10 subject lines for each pitch. And, make them short. No more than 10 words. Max.
- Pitch early–literally! I’ve had better luck pitching early in the day vs. later in the day. Maybe it’s because I’m getting in inboxes before they’re cluttered. Maybe it’s just dumb luck. I prefer to think it’s the former.
- Lean on trends, research and case studies. When it comes to building thought leadership for a client, these are the key themes I’ve seen work the best. Of course, there are always exceptions, but by and large, these work awfully well. Especially the research piece. And, if you do have research, don’t be afraid to share a bigger chunk of it (or, ALL of it) with the media. They’re so thirsty for interesting, thought-provoking research–and your client/company may not always have a great feel for what customers find interesting and what they don’t.
Since I know so many great media relations experts (including a few former media members) in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I thought I’d ask a few of them what they suggest for tips to reach media in 2019:
Keegan Shoutz, PR, Best Buy
Focus on relationships. Cast a small net and build personal relationships that will last. Be genuine and honest. If you know something isn’t a fit for them — don’t send it. Reserve your communications with your key contacts for meaningful opportunities that will benefit them as well as you/your client/company. Consider offering them exclusives or a perspective you’re not giving to any other contact. Lastly, communicate with them outside of the times you want them to run a story.
Find a focus, if you can. Find an industry and corresponding set of reporters you can work with on an ongoing basis. It’s easier to build meaningful relationships with reporters who can get to know you as a resource on a specific industry. Work to be known as a “go-to” for insight from a specific company or on a specific topic.
Get face-to-face time. Look for opportunities to meet your contacts in person when you’re not looking for something from them. Ask them meaningful questions. Show them you understand how their world works and that you have a bigger view outside of just what is happening with your client or company. Buy them coffee! Make their lives easier.
Dan DeBaun, PR specialist, Life Time
Before joining the Life Time communications team I was a journalist for about five years across radio (WJON-St. Cloud) and print (The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal). One reason media relations can be challenging these days is that reporters are busier than ever (yes, it’s true). Journalists these days aren’t just journalists. They’re also expected to manage social media, shoot photos and video, run blogs and network to maintain fresh sources. Oftentimes, PR pitches I received (even good pitches) would sometimes fall through the cracks, just because I was too busy with breaking news or other priorities.
The opportunity for PR pros today is to establish relationships with journalists and influencers. As a reporter, my favorite PR professionals were available and knowledgeable about their company/client and could offer me information, resources and connections when I needed them. To shamelessly self-promote: Life Time’s communications team always stood out to me because they gave me access to interview executives and gave me timely news tips when they were ready to discuss them.
On top of this, there’s been growth in corporate communications teams and fewer journalists. Recent reports say there are now six PR pros for every journalist (Editor’s note: I’m not the only one who paid attention to this stat!). This makes it much more important for media pitching to be timely, relevant and customized.
Aimee Jordan, senior communications specialist, M Health Fairview
I have tried to maintain the same journalistic sensibilities I had when I was working as a journalist for 15 years. The hardest part is recognizing a good story when you see one, which often requires you to look beyond marketing campaigns and company initiatives. Then, pitch that story to the right reporters. Know their beats and what they’re personally interested in. Write a killer pitch and then be fast and helpful throughout their reporting process. Also, be friendly and approachable! And honest! It’s very much the same approach I took as a journalist: killer story ideas, strong pitches to editors, and fast, accurate reporting and writing. Be someone you would want to work with!
Lynn Melling, communications manager, Starkey Hearing
I think now, more than ever, you need to invest time in developing authentic relationships with individual journalists. Get to know them as human beings. Invite them to coffee and don’t talk shop. Ask them about their kids and their recent vacation destination. Pretend you’re a salesman trying to close a deal– because that’s basically what you are. You’re trying to sell a pitch. As a former reporter who received dozens of pitches a week, I often gave preferential treatment to pitches that came from people who didn’t make me feel like I was a tool in their marketing plan. This takes time, but it pays off in the long run– big time.
Last week, the PR Daily folks released survey findings from a recent survey among comms types about 2020 budgeting (nice work, Ted Kitterman and team!). Timely, right? Not surprisingly (at least to this consultant), most PRs said budgets will remain flat in 2020. I don’t disagree.
Where it gets interesting, though, is when the PR Daily team asked PR where they would increase budgets if money were no object.
Among the areas where PRs said they would spend more:
- Video and visual comms
- Social media
- Additional writers
I will never argue with the idea of adding more visual communicators and writers to your team. Those are two huge needs in the year ahead–especially given the burgeoning needs of the storification of the social web.
But, I also see a few obvious areas where I would definitely add budget. If I were a brand-side PR leader, I would be bolstering my budgets in the following areas–and here’s why:
- Video AND audio production. I just read a social media trend post yesterday that claimed 50% of brands would start or plan to start a podcast in 2020. 50%! While I think that number is very high, it’s also indicative of where we’re at in 2019. Yes, video storytelling is at an all-time high in terms of interest. But, so is audio. I would invest in finding either people who could do both–or, add audio production to my list.
- Data analysts. I was actually shocked not to see some representation of this key skill set on the list. Because it’s imperative to our success as communicators. And, to building credibility with the C-suite. We need to bolster our data mining and analytical skills if we’re to get that coveted “seat at the table.” I’d be doubling down on finding resources that could help me measure, track and analyze every piece of data we had. And, then I’d double down again.
- Senior-level social content. I know, the survey did say “additional writer” and “brand journalism” were near the top of the list. But, I’d be more specific. I’d want more senior-level content specialists on my team–either in-house or contract. Why senior-level? Because they understand the nuances of social content vs. more traditional content. And, because “senior” means 10-15+ years experience, they’ve also been around long enough to understand how the whole puzzle works. I’d want more people like that on my team.
- Professional development. This is a glaring omission. And, sadly, far too common in our industry. We need to invest in our talent people. We need to give team members the opportunity to attend conferences (and not just conferences in our home towns!). We need to give team members the chance to get trained on new skills (not just asking them to teach themselves!). And, we need to give team members the resources they need to grow professionally. Judging from what I hear from friends in our industry, largely, this isn’t happening. Sure, some agencies are doing a nice job here. But what about the rest of us? This starts with annual planning. Budget for professional development. Or, risk losing your best talent in the years ahead.
That’s what I’d invest in if I were a PR manager. What about you? What are you budgeting more for in the year ahead?
When you talk to people in our industry about LinkedIn, predictably you get a wide range of responses.
“It’s not for me.”
“I don’t have time for LinkedIn.”
“I’m not looking for a job right now–why would I use LinkedIn?”
“I don’t have anything to share–what would I do there?”
“There’s too much spam in my feed. Too many sales people.”
Pretty typical responses when I’ve talked the value of LinkedIn with clients and colleagues over the last few years. But, my experience has been completely different.
I started actively spending more time on LinkedIn a number of years ago–for a few different reasons.
1) My professional network was starting to spend more time there
2) LinkedIn was making it easier to share opinions and thoughts there (i.e., publishing power)
3) Other social networks were drying up in terms of effectiveness (i.e., Twitter being the primary culprit)
And that extra time on LinkedIn has been extremely well spent.
I probably spend 15-20 minutes on LinkedIn (not for client purposes). Every day. Every week. Every month. And, that consistency of “showing up” on LinkedIn day after day has led to some exceptional results:
- Numerous coffee dates. I’ve set up countless coffee dates with colleagues and prospects, using LinkedIn, in many instances, as a way to research and introduce myself to these folks. And for a solo consultant, the coffee date is like a “first date.” It’s the first step in what I usually hope will be a long relationship. But, it’s a very important step. And, LinkedIn is an absolutely key tool for me in making this happen.
- Name recognition and awareness. One strategy I take as a solo consultant is simply trying to stay in front of clients and prospects. One way I do that is via LinkedIn. I publish my blog posts on LinkedIn. I share client wins on LinkedIn. I recognize friends and colleagues and their accomplishments on LinkedIn. And, I like and comment on interesting material shared by friends, clients and colleagues on LinkedIn. All that activity keeps me in people’s feeds plenty (I’m careful not to over-expose myself). And, keep in mind, I’m showing up in front of, essentially, a 100% prospect list since I’m connected to almost entirely a comms/PR/marketing crowd. Side note: I’m even being recognized by CEOs! Two Fortune 500-level CEOs have commented on my posts in the last few weeks! Crazy!
- Actual leads. It’s what we all want, right? For some, “leads” may mean jobs. For me, on LinkedIn, it means opportunities. And, I got one just this past week via LinkedIn. Now, technically, it came from a friend whom I’ve known for a while and whom I’ve worked with before. But, he messaged me on LinkedIn. And, I have a feeling he did that because he saw me in his feed and I sparked his interest. And, it’s definitely something that’s happened more than once.
So, I’ve had great luck and results with LinkedIn. And I’m here today to advocate for ALL PR/comms/marketing types to spend 10 minutes a day on LinkedIn. Here’s why:
- It’s the easiest way to start to build a network. Notice I said “start”. Spending 10 minutes a day on LinkedIn won’t build your network. It’s just a START. LinkedIn is the ultimate door-opener. But, you’d be wise to use that door-opener to start building relationships and trust with people in our industry. A few easy ways to do that? Introduce yourself to new folks and ask for connections WITHOUT asking for anything in return. Review the “People you May have Worked With” and “School Alumni You May Know” tabs regularly to find new folks to connect with. Use the door-opener for what it’s good for: OPENING DOORS!
- Get your name in the feed constantly. 10 minutes a day is more than enough to make this happen. Here’s how you do it. In those 10 minutes, be sure to, at a minimum, like and/or comment on 3-5 posts. That’s 3-5 posts that will then show up in your connections’ feeds. Want bonus points? Attempt to create 1-2 posts of your own each week. Those will also show up in your feed–and your connections’ feeds–for 4-5 days (or more). Super Brownie Points: Publish an article on LinkedIn (shoot for one a month to start) which, again, will show up in the feed for multiple days. You do that, I can almost guarantee you that your name will get noticed consistently.
- Build trust now, before you need it. One of the absolute cardinal sins I see so many people making day-in and day-out is sending out that email asking to keep your eyes and ears open for any positions that might be a fit–because I’m looking! I get this note seemingly all the time. Sometimes, it’s from people who have invested in our relationship. They call. We have coffee. We see each other at events. We have a relationship! Then, I get notes from others who I seemingly only hear from when they need something (i.e., A JOB!). These people rarely invest in our relationship. They don’t call. They don’t text. They don’t comment on my stuff. Essentially, the only “relationship” we have is that we’re LinkedIn connections. Folks, that’s not enough. To build a credible, trusting network that is willing to help you when you need it most, you need to INVEST. You need to call. You need to write. You need to text. YOU NEED TO SHOW UP. A LOT. I know, it sounds like a lot of work. And, it is! But, no one said this was going to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it well!
10 minutes a day folks. That’s all it takes. It’s a round of thumbing through your Insta feed. Isn’t that worth it?
Employee social advocacy programs are having a moment. Come to think of it, they’ve been having a moment for a while now. Fact is, more companies are globbing on to this trend–and, for good reason. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the most trusted relationship people have right now is with their employer!
Companies like Starbucks, Reebok and Humana (just to name a few) have implemented employee social advocacy programs over the last few years. And, I’m sure we’ll see many more in the year ahead.
As you probably know, these programs are usually built using some form of tool (Post Beyond, Bambu and LinkedIn Elevate are common). And, these tools then serve up content employees can post on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. The idea is usually to encourage employees to personalize the content, but as many of us know that have worked in this sphere, that rarely happens.
So, employees end up copy-and-pasting content from these tools to their feeds. Easy-peasy, right? Everyone wins, right? The brand wins because the employee is “advocating” for them (even selling, in some cases). The employee wins because….wait, how does this benefit the employee again?
And, there’s the rub: It doesn’t.
In fact, in many ways, I would argue employee social advocacy programs are at direct odds with the concept of building your personal brand.
I’ve seen it too many times to think this is an anomaly.
Think about it. You see your friend who just took a job with Home Depot. Suddenly, they’re sharing a dearth of Home Depot content in their LinkedIn feed. Some posts feature the brand and its financial performance. Others highlight rock stars across the Home Depot company. Yet others showcase the new Home Depot advertising campaign. You know exactly what I’m talking about, because you have a friend like this, too. We all do. Many friends, in fact.
And, in some ways, all of that is great. You should be proud of the company you work for. You should want to shout it from the mountaintops. You should want to brag a little.
Except, that last word is the key point. If you’re thinking about your personal brand (and I would argue you should ALWAYS be thinking about your personal brand), then sharing company updates non-stop in your LinkedIn feed is a de facto way to annoy the heck out of friends, colleagues, former colleagues, and, the worst part: prospective employers.
After all, don’t we coach brands that way on social media? Be helpful. Be a resource. Provide informative content! This is the advice we give our brand partners. Yet, when it comes to showing up on social media ourselves, some of us share only information from our employers (and most of that is fairly self-promotional).
Does that jive with the personal brand you want to build?
It wouldn’t for me.
For an example of what I’m talking about, take a peek at a post by local recruiter and long-time community builder, Lars Leafblad:
Lars is hitting on exactly what I’m talking about. You build “brand” (i.e., trust, affinity and goodwill) by providing value online. You do it by being likeable. And you do it by helping and showcasing others. NOT by promoting your company or service every time you get a chance. That’s how you get labeled as a corporate mouthpiece.
Here’s the big danger: In a world where there is no loyalty in business (sad, but true), you absolutely cannot afford to sell yourself out and promote your company 24/7 on social media channels. You can’t do it. Well, let me rephrase: I wouldn’t do it. And, that is exactly what employee social advocacy programs are set up to do. They want you to share everything. Their success hinges on volume. It doesn’t hinge on your building your personal brand.
Those two things are at odds. And, as long as that’s the case, I think employee social advocacy programs will struggle.
Of course, just my two cents. What do you think?
Back when I was working for other people, I always got a ton of push-back when I mentioned I had always adopted an “always be looking mindset.”
I think a lot of people took it the wrong way. Like “this guy is going to be looking for a new job the moment he comes in the door.” While technically, I guess, that’s true. It’s not exactly what I mean when I say “always be looking.”
To me, it simply means adopting a mindset of always networking. Always learning. And always seeing what’s out there.
Not necessarily always applying and interviewing.
There is a difference.
Over the course of my career, I’ve noticed there are two distinct kinds of people: those who are happy with their jobs, keep their heads down, go home at 5 and don’t look for a new job unless they absolutely need to; and, those who adopt an “always be looking” mentality.
And, funny, the people who adopt that mindset are rarely in need of a job. I almost never get calls or emails from these folks asking for help finding a new job. Why? BECAUSE THEY’RE ALWAYS LOOKING!
This means they are:
Every week. A coffee here. An event there. And, they get networking, too. They don’t always have their hand out. In fact, they rarely have their hand out. Instead, they’re looking for ways to help me. My friend Susan Beatty personifies this mentality better than anyone I know. She’s always pinging me. Always looking for ways to help me. Always saying yes to my last-minute requests. In fact, go meet Susan Beatty right now and be more like her!
Just because you have a killer job doesn’t mean you stop learning! Attend industry events. Sit in on workshops. Learn a new skill on your own! Be a life-long learner. Never stay still. Greg Swan of Fallon fame is easily one of the people I think of first when I think of someone who adopts this mindset. If you subscribe to Greg’s weekly e-newsletter, you know what I’m talking about! He’s almost always on the early adopter curve of any new tech. He always has the latest and greatest (he was one of the first in my circle to get the new Apple card). Go meet Greg and be more like him!
Constantly being aware of opportunities
“Always looking” doesn’t mean you’re actively seeking out new opportunities. In my mind, it simply means being aware and open to new opportunities, should they come your way. Because, if you’re doing #1 and #2 above, new opportunities are going to come your way. Believe me. You just have to be ready to pounce on them. And, if you’re too busy with your head down every day, you’re going to miss them. My (relatively) new friend, Stacia Nelson of Pivot Strategies is a good example. In fact, our new friendship is a good example. I connected with Stacia initially about WeWork (she has a space there and I was considering joining). She invited me down to give me a tour. We wound up talking for an hour about all sorts of stuff. And, we wound up doing some business together. Stacia was open to new opportunities. She was listening. That’s everything when it comes to “always be looking.”
Just my two cents. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of push-back on it from leadership at companies I’ve worked for over the years. But, I stand by my position–100%. It’s worked out pretty well for me so far!
What about you? Are you employing an “always be looking” mentality? Why or why not?