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Media and Business: Consider the Source

“We’d really like to get something on the front page of the New York Times.” That phrase could be the story of my life. It’s a request (or a requirement) that many clients and prospects ask of marketing and public relations firms right off the bat.

Let’s say at the outset that anyone who promises that result should be relieved of his or her duties immediately. A story – a positive story – on the front page of the Times is a little bit like winning the lottery. It’s great if it happens, but the odds are low. Very low. .

My first response to this request is to ask why the client wants the story. The answer is often that he or she wants to sell his or her product or service, and sees this as the best way to connect with his or her prospective clients. If that’s the case, there are plenty of other ways, both more time effective and less costly, to do so.

In an age of social media it’s possible to reach out directly to prospective clients directly, almost by name. You can reach out to people interested in your products and services with highly targeted posts and advertisements. You can reach them via LinkedIn groups, short YouTube videos and Facebook ads, to name just a few.

If you are fortunate to land a front page story in the Times (a positive one) or even on the inner pages, it’s quite likely that the people you really need to see it (i.e. your prospective clients) won’t. Also, you’ll have put a lot of money and time into getting that placement. Would that time and money have been better spent connecting directly with people who have a demonstrated interested in your product or service?

Then, there are the people who want that front page story, well, because they want it. The reason could be to demonstrate thought leadership or to have something to display on their office “vanity” walls. My own question to this response is straightforward: “If you weren’t connected to your company or service, would you be interested in reading a story about it?” This isn’t to detract from the impressive accomplishments of many friends and clients. Rather, it’s a bit of a reality check. Many people are so involved with their own businesses, as well they should be, that they fail to see the forest through the trees. The straightforward translation: “It’s not as interesting to everyone else as it is to you.” And that’s sometimes not a bad thing. Have you read some of the stories on the front page of The New York Times?:

  1. They’re often not very positive (i.e. good news is often not front page news)
  2. Papers don’t often cover single firms or companies, unless it’s really bad news (see #1)
  3. If you do find your way on to the front page, it’s likely to be as part of a “trend” story (e.g. what’s new in your industry, how is business affecting the economy). Wouldn’t you rather have a full story, post or video someplace else as opposed to a short, random quote.

If you do get your story on the front page of The New York Times, there is something else to remember: You may not like it. Remember getting a reporter or editor to cover you is a challenge, combined with a good bit of luck. Getting them to write what you want them to write is beyond a challenge. It’s out of your hands.

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