8 steps businesses can follow to get their stories told in the media

Inside every business is a great story. But how do you find it, and how do you convince others that it’s worthy of being shared with the masses?

Earning media and positive publicity for your business can feel like an uphill battle. But it doesn’t have to be complex. 

Award-winning journalist and owner of Connect Media Training Rebecca Archer and CCIQ Media and Communication Advisor Emma Clarke demystified the process for the Brisbane Business Hub audience recently, sharing their tips and processes from years of experience and earned media success.

Here’s the eight steps they follow to gain traction, keep attention and get their stories told. 

Attendees at traditional media workshop

1. Start with the end in mind

There’s no point in trying to get the media to tell your story if you don’t know what you want to get out of it.

Creating a firm objective can be your north star, and Emma said that will help reveal the stories you could try to tell. 

Do you need leads? Or are you trying to change the perception of a service or product you sell? Rebecca said that knowing the driving force behind your story is vital. 

“Are you trying to raise a profile within a market or a local community, or even your personal profile as a business person or a business owner?” she said. 

“Are you trying to speak to your competitors or drive change? Before you begin you need to understand what you are trying to get out of the activity, and what benefit is your business going to achieve from this.”

2. Who is your audience?

Emma said once you’ve figured out the purpose behind your earned media efforts, you have to filter that into the kinds of people you want to reach.

You could be on a recruitment drive and need to get a message out to prospective employees. Or you may want to influence the government on a policy decision. You could even just be chasing more clients and end users.

Whomever your audience, this is your opportunity to be specific about who you need to target, and why.

“Don’t forget to add in the journalists you need to convince,” she said. 

“That’s the first stakeholder you will need to get approval from because journalists are really protective of their work and the kinds of subjects they write about. 

“You need to align with their audience and what fits from a newsworthiness perspective.”

3. What is your angle?

Rebecca said it’s vital to remember that you don’t get to decide what is newsworthy, and what isn’t. 

Going one step further, she said what you think may be a pointless story could be gold to someone else, so it’s important to really dig deep for story ideas and spit out as many as possible.

“I remember I was running a media training session in the middle of one of the lockdowns and this business just happened to mention that they’d had their biggest month in seven or eight years,” she said. 

“At a time when the world had shut down, this little business running caravan parks in regional towns was booming.

“That’s a great news story. And it was the complete opposite of what was dominating news at the time.” 

Emma and Rebecca presenters at traditional media event

4. Understand the seven news values

Emma explained there are seven key things that make a story worthy of being news. If your proposed story idea doesn’t involve at least one of the following, it’s most likely not news:

  • Timeliness: News today isn’t always news tomorrow.
  • Proximity: Community matters.
  • Impact: Does it affect a large number of people?
  • Prominence: Is a celebrity or a large personality involved?
  • Novelty: Weird stuff is great.
  • Relevance: Your story needs to be relevant to the audience.
  • Conflict: Disagreement makes for interesting news.

5. Know the difference between news and advertising

Rebecca said this is where too many businesses earn the ire of their local journalists and media staff.

Journalists are busy, and newsrooms are a fast paced environment. She said making sure what you pitch them is actual news, and not just fluffed up advertising, is vital.

“This is where you’re going to make or break relationships with your local journalist or your local media contact,” Rebecca said. 

“A simple test to use is if your story doesn’t fit in any of the seven news values, it’s advertising and you should expect to be asked to pay for it. If it does fit in one of the seven news values, it’s news.”

6. Prepare your pitch email correctly

You’ve gone to all of this trouble to find a compelling angle and the right media outlets. But Emma said a tonne of businesses stumble near the end simply because their pitch leaves out key information or isn’t prepared correctly.

“Make sure when you’re preparing your pitch that you summarise your press release with a sentence that explains the who, what, when, where, why and how right at the top,” she said.

“If you can’t quite fit it in one sentence, then who, what, when and where in the first sentence, then why and how in the second sentence. Everything else after that goes in order of importance.

“Journalists get hundreds of emails a day, so make it easy for them and put the important bits at the top.”

7. Make your press release easy to read

Rebecca said ensuring your press release can be read quickly and easily is a must.

“Always write a compelling headline that will get the journalist’s attention,” she said.

“Use the active voice – dog bites man, not man was bitten by dog – and ensure you stay consistent with the tense in the press release. If you use ‘Mr Smith said’, you have to retain the past tense throughout your release.

“Add a call to action at the end, and if you want them to contact you make sure you leave your name, phone number and title at the end of the press release. And always try to include an image for the story.

“Don’t forget to spell check!”

Emma and Rebecca presenting at the traditional media event

8. Get the pitch perfect

You’re nearly there, but you need to get the contact details of the media outlets and the journalists you’re trying to reach. Not all media outlet websites list the contact details of their journalists, but Rebecca said it’s simple enough to find out as long as you’re happy to do some digging.

“If your story is newsworthy and good, these journalists will want to hear from you,” she said.

“If it’s a bigger outlet like The Courier-Mail, call the switchboard, explain who you are and they can help put you through to the right journalist, be they in the business section, travel, sport, the newsroom, whatever. It’s their job to help and they are often pretty quick to deal with.

“Another place is Twitter. Journalists love Twitter and a lot of them will list their contact details in their profile. It makes it quite easy to build a database of contacts you can use now and in the future.”

Emma said once you have their details, you could call them and pitch the story verbally with an email follow-up, or you could pitch via email and follow up in due course. But the important thing to remember is that journalists have deadlines, and it’s perilous to try to contact them at that time.

“You have to be mindful of their deadlines, especially if your story is timely,” she said.

“If it’s a big media outlet with daily deadlines, get them in the morning. If it’s a regional outlet with a weekly deadline, contact them days before their deadline. Timing is crucial, and the journalists will appreciate your consideration.”

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Brisbane Business Hub

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