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The 10 Commandments of Media Outreach

A few years ago I wrote a short story about media outreach in an age of social media. Rather than becoming outdated, it has become more relevant than ever. I think it's time for a bit of an update.

Based on my experience as a network television news producer and my years on the other side of the fence in strategic marketing and communications, I have compiled 10 commandments of media outreach.

1. Thou shall tell a story. Reporters don’t write announcements; they write stories. Too often, press releases and pitches are proclamations or simply announcements. It’s hard enough to sell your pitch without having to make a reporter come up with the story, too. And on those occasions, when they do, it may not be the story you want them to tell.

2. Thou shall make news. Is your announcement really news? And is it new or does it simply rehash old information? Imagine yourself taking a look at the day’s headlines as an average news consumer. Would this story interest you? Remember it’s a reporter’s job to sell stories—first to his or her editor and then to you, the public. If you wouldn’t read it, it’s not a story.

3. Thou shall recognize the forest and the trees. It’s all about context. If it’s your company or your client, each and every announcement may be of crucial importance and interest to you, and that’s the way it should be. However, it may not be of monumental importance to the world or even your industry. What’s news to a trade publication may not be news to The Wall Street Journal. Take a deep breath; be as objective as you possibly can, and gauge your outreach—and your expectations—accordingly.

4. Thou shall know what’s happening in the world. In the media, as in life, timing is everything. What might make the papers on a slow August day will not make the cut on an August day when the stock market is crashing. If there's major national or international news and your story can wait, hold it. If not, well, that’s sometimes the breaks.

5. Thou shall target your media. From a reporter’s perspective, there is almost nothing more unprofessional than getting a story that’s not relevant to his beat or publication. In those cases, it’s obvious that the caller or sender didn’t do his homework. Believe me—a reporter will hold this against you and possibly your client. Care enough to research the outlet you’re going to pitch before you hit send.

6. Thou shall know the difference between persistence and harassment. You should be persistent. Maybe a reporter was too busy to read your first email or there’s a relevant angle that she may have overlooked. It’s OK to follow up. It’s not OK when they have made it clear that they’re not interested. And this leads directly to the next rule …

7. Thou shall know that the Internet works. There’s a very good chance that the reporter received your first email. There’s almost a 100 percent chance that they received your email and/or your follow-up call or email. Voicemail and the Internet work. If you don’t hear back from them, they’re not interested. Read rule No. 6 and move on.

8. Thou shall know and respect deadlines. If I didn’t “make” air as a television producer, I would be looking for a job the next day. If a reporter is on deadline, he or she doesn’t have time to listen to your pitch or to respond to your email. Try to be aware of the best time of day to call. If you do reach them at a bad time, quickly apologize and ask whether you can call later or the next day.

9. Thou shall realize that the media is not a cure-all. A news story, even a major news story, will almost never be enough to launch you into the stratosphere or to save you from catastrophe. That’s especially true these days when there are so many sources of information, audiences are fragmented, and the news cycle is continuous. At most, your sales or your stock will get a nice little bump and then fall back to Earth.

10. Thou shall embrace social media. A story in Businessweek is great, but does it sell product? If you’re working with a company that sells particleboard, I may (or may not) read that story and then quickly go on to the next thing. I readBusinessweek, but I don’t buy particleboard. Conversely, I’m sure that there are many people out there who don’t read Businessweek but do buy particleboard. Those are the people you need to reach, and these days you can reach them directly through blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook. It’s time to reevaluate and ask whether the time and money spent pursuing traditional media may be better spent and put to better use on social media.

Gordon Platt is the Founder and President of Gotham Media, a content and strategic marketing firm. In previous lives he was an attorney and an Emmy Award winning producer for ABC News "Nightline." He can be reached at gplatt[at]gothammediastrategies.com

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