How To Avoid The Media Black List

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Attracting the media’s attention so you can promote yourself, your brand or your business can be tricky at times.

Play your cards right and you could become a go-to source whom journalists rely on regularly for insight when news happens related to your area of expertise.

But if you aren’t careful, you also could end up on the media’s black list.

Ginny Grimsley, EMSI’s print campaign manager, reminded me of that this week when she told the tale of a client who decided to contact a magazine editor directly, after we had luck getting the editor interested in him.

The client contacted the editor again. And again. And ag-… well, you get the picture.
Later, the editor wrote Ginny about another client we were pitching. She was interested, with one caveat. She wanted assurances there would be no repeat of her previous ordeal.

Yikes! That was a close one.

But it’s a good example of how easily it sometimes is to burn bridges, even when you didn’t realize you had lit a match.

So that this doesn’t happen to you, I turned to Ronnie Blair, EMSI’s own in-house journalist, who spent more than three decades working on “the other side” for daily newspapers.

Over the years, Ronnie encountered a seemingly endless number of pitches from readers, business owners, educators, angry citizens and PR professionals. Many did a great job piquing his interest. Others were equally adept at earning his ire – or at least mildly irritating him.

Here’s his “what-not-to-do” list when trying to sell the media on your best story ideas:

  • Don’t be annoying. Persistence can be a great virtue, but sometimes you need to know when to quit. If you sent an email to pitch your idea, a short follow-up call is okay, but unnecessary. If the idea resonates, the journalist will call you. (Well, actually, while many journalists loathe admitting it, those follow-up calls sometimes work. Ronnie says not to tell anyone he said that, though.) If you do try a follow-up call, remember to keep it brief. And don’t keep calling day after day to pitch old, or even new, ideas to the same reporter. Remember that client who kept calling the magazine editor, leaving her exasperated? Don’t be that person!
  • Don’t ramble. Just get to the point already! The average journalist doesn’t have the time or inclination to listen to a 15-minute lead-in to the real reason for your phone call. Make your pitch as succinct as possible. Write down your key points beforehand to ensure you cover them without going off on tangents. If possible, try to sum up your pitch in a couple of sentences. Ever notice how most straight-news articles begin with the most important or newest information first, then fill in the background later? You should do the same with your pitch. If you want the newspaper to write about the county’s slow response to filling in potholes on your street, you shouldn’t start with a lengthy paean to how great your neighborhood was when you moved in 20 years ago.
  • Don’t pitch to the wrong people. At smaller news operations, reporters often are generalists, writing about any and all happenings in their communities. At larger operations, though, they are assigned beats either by topic or geography. So it helps to learn which editor or reporter handles your issue. A newspaper’s education writer doesn’t care that your church just hired a dynamic new preacher. The religion writer is uninterested in a tutoring service that could help students raise their SAT scores. Helpful journalists should point you to their colleagues who are better suited for your idea, but don’t count on that – especially if you just left a voice-mail message. And whatever you do, don’t argue with reporters about how they should make an exception in your case and work outside their assigned beats.
  • Don’t insult the journalist. You would think this tip would be unnecessary, but amazingly this actually happens. “I never figured out why some people thought this was a good strategy,” Ronnie says. “They would start the conversation by telling you what a poor job you or your newspaper usually do, or how boring your articles typically are. Or maybe they would just make a general comment about their disdain for the media. Then they would launch into a pitch about how much better their idea is than the ill-informed claptrap you usually print.” Even if the pitch is a great one, you may have just sunk your own boat.

Yikes again!

These sorts of missteps are good examples of why it helps to have a go-between, a PR professional who understands media needs and knows how to get the right pitch to the right people.

You want the media to remember your name – but for the right reasons only.

Politely and succinctly yours,

P.S. If you need help getting your story told to the media in the right way, give us a call at 727-443-7115 ext. 211 or click here to get your Free Media Analysis!

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