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Inside Scoop: What Independent Business Owners Need to Know About Media Outreach

Posted by Ryan Derousseau on August 20th, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: You, as an independent business owner don't need a PR agency to get your name into the headlines. I know this might come as a surprise, since so many PR pros discuss how they have great relationships with journalists, which drives coverage. And there's truth to this, in the sense that a number of PR specialists have a long list of journalists that they can reach quickly when needed. But this does not mean that journalists simply look for pitches from PR professionals to form their pieces.
In fact, many stories that you read in magazines or newspapers and even blogs come from a culmination of multiple pitches, sources the journalist already knows and by what's mentioned in other publications. If you can afford a PR agency, do it. But for those that can't, know that the pitch that these PR professionals provide does more to get their client in front of the journalist as a resource than any other reason. And that's what drives coverage for the business.

Now PR Pros have it easier than you because they probably work with companies that pull in multi-million to billions of dollars of business a year, and publications clamor to cover these types of businesses. Plus, these agencies have developed knowledge about publications, specific journalists and running campaigns, which helps their clients reach media through their continued practice and expertise. But with some simple tools and the right strategy, there's no reason you can't garner media attention through your own pitches.

And that's why I want to share with you some inside knowledge about the journalism profession and how agencies pitch media. This insider information is well known in media circles, but because you haven't been privy to connect with the right folks, you may not know it as an independent business owner. These points will help you as you tailor your pitches.

Journalists Receive How Many Pitches A Day?
When pitching media, it's good to know just what you're up against as you begin sending out queries. Some journalists, especially those that have become experts in their chosen beat, can receive hundreds of pitches a day. You read that right. I'm not talking about ten to twenty, but over a hundred and up. So essentially, think about how much email you receive in a day, and then add another 100 or so emails, and that's what a journalist has to dig through on a daily basis.
The reason you need to know this is not to pity the writer you're pitching to (although I'm sure they wouldn't mind a little bit of compassion), but to explain just what you're up against when emailing journalists. This means you need to stand out. Here's how:

  • Target the writer. If you're launching a new application, then you need to find the Tech blogger that only writes about applications. If you own your own travel business, then you need to find the magazine writer that discusses the business of travel. It's imperative for you to target correctly, or you will get lost in the shuffle
  • Writing catchy headlines, filled with SEO keywords. Many of you probably have a blog or use SEO to increase your place in Google. Think of it the same way when you write a headline. Assure specific keywords are in the headline, so the writer knows there's potential for a piece if he looks further
  • Following up. With so many emails received daily, there's a good chance your target will skim over or never see your pitch. It's not their fault; they're just trying to get through their email before they head home. So the fact that a writer might miss it should not surprise you. That's why you should follow up about a week after you send the original pitch. Letting them know that you had sent it along, will hopefully encourage a response. And don't call, it rarely works and can turn them off to your product or service

Shorter Is Better
A common mistake when pitching is the length. A business owner or even a PR pro will send what looks more like a complete biography of the business owner or company rather than a quick explanation. I can tell you what typically happens in this case. Two to three sentences in, the writer begins to get distracted, then just hits delete. Talk about a waste of a pitch.
In order to get a journalist's attention, you need to show him or her that you have expertise in the field that they're interested in. If you can add some sort of conflict into that, i.e. something you're working to fix or a way you're handling a new issue in your market, then that's even better. But get to the point within a few sentences and use bullets if needed. If it's longer, then the writer will likely just hit delete.

The Importance of Being an Expert
We've touched on it already, but since many independent business owners or new companies can't drive clicks for blogs or have enough cache to encourage people to buy magazines, you need to show your expertise as opposed to your product. Why? Because journalists constantly need new quotes, new insight into what's happening in their beat and technical knowledge. If you highlight that you have this capability, then you can quickly become a go-to resource for the writer. And that creates a potential for multiple hits, as the journalist could use you again in the future.
There's a number of other inside baseball tips that you should know when reaching out to media, but these three pieces of advice can get you started on the right path. If you can afford the PR agency, then great, go for it. If not, don't let it hold you back because there's plenty of space in the blogosphere and even in magazines and newspapers for your independent business.

Ryan Derousseau is a freelance writer and Director of R.M.D. Media. You can read more of his thoughts on media outreach and social media on his site ryanderousseau.com.

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