You have a great story to tell, but you can’t seem to get your local newspaper or television station to pay attention. Or the Wall Street Journal won’t return your calls even though this is a great national story!
The trick may be in correctly matching your story idea with the right news outlet. Before you ever make a “story pitch” for an idea you have, make sure you understand the mission of the media outlets with whom you’ll be communicating. Each is first and foremost a business, with a specific personality and audience it hopes to reach. Even for a big, general-interest newspaper, there are special areas of focus within that paper … and then regional editions aimed at even more specific readers. A local TV station is hoping to reach a different audience with nearly every newscast it puts on the air. (For example: Business people early in the morning — Moms with kids in the middle of the day and early evening — a cross-section for the late newscast. They often target a specific age group. A Spanish-language TV station I’m aware of is focusing only on 20- to 40-year-old women as its desired audience.)
For years new operations were indeed MASS media, looking to reach a general audience, the bigger the numbers the better. Now that audience is sliced and diced into a hundred pieces … and the media outlets are going after specific slices of the pie. If you have a story to tell for your business or organization, try to do everything you can to match that story with the news outlet that best matches the story — and therefore the audience you’re hoping to reach.
If you have a great Tech story, sure the Wall Street Journal may do the piece, but what about trying Fast Company first? (Last year we had clients in back-to-back issues of Fast Company because they fit the ‘hip, younger, different’ image the magazine likes.) You may love the wacky morning show in your town, but is it really where you want to see your boss explaining the newest product your company is offering? Try the more serious morning program instead. You may hit a brick wall sending a story idea to the main newsroom of your local daily newspaper, but find your idea is warmly received and covered in detail by the regional supplement that comes out for everyone in your part of town a couple of times a week. The weeknight newscasts may turn down your story, but the people who produce the weekend newscasts may jump at the chance to do that piece.
Then, once you’ve picked news outlets that fit your story, study them even further. Who writes or reports on the area that best fits your story? Who might have a natural interest in this topic? Contact them directly, let them know you’ve seen or read their work and start with a low-key pitch. It may not work on the first try, but you’ve started the basics of a relationship. (More on this in a future Monthly Memo.)
Just as you now have a hundred or more channels to choose from, things have greatly changed in how a news story can be “pitched” to news outlets. Don’t give up just because the Daily Planet in your town doesn’t think your idea is worthy of a front page headline.