Last month, I blogged about the various ways in which content marketing can learn from broadcasting. Content marketers, however, need to understand how journalists think, in order to achieve coverage for content and, ultimately, the clients.
Journalists, especially those with high profiles or with a strong social media presence, are constantly bombarded by PR and marketing people, looking to get coverage of their latest campaign. Such random pitches are a regular source of grievance to the discerning reporter or producer; they can be approached who pitch them irrelevant content, with short notice, and sometimes going so far as to misspell the journalist’s name. Because of this, content marketers, and PR professionals in particular, need to understand how journalists think and work towards their own goals, in order to achieve coverage for content and, ultimately, their clients.
The relationship between media producers and marketers may appear a little complex, which can come from a lack of understanding between both tribes, but that needn’t be the case. I’ll cover this aspect a little later, but if your Digital PR rep or Outreach specialist can walk into the office with a little black book of reliable media contacts, wonderful! The problem, however, is that’s not entirely likely in every scenario, and even the most experienced promoters will face challenging campaigns from time to time.
Building a relationship with key influencers, bloggers, journalists and other media producers is beyond valuable, and every relationship will start with a ‘hello’. To make a good first impression with new media contacts, the marketer needs to know with whom they are speaking, and more importantly, what makes them tick.
Traditionally, journalism has been centred on asking – and answering – five key questions that will be relevant to 99% of all news stories; Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Both content producers and journalists aim to make those questions answered in as clear a way as possible, but they also need answers those questions themselves, when deciding whether or not to run with a story.
Content marketers, especially those working in outreach & digital PR, need to be aware of how journalists and other media producers think when pitching coverage for a client’s content, and the importance of those five central journalistic questions has not changed. Marketers need to think like a journalist in order to make the content as relevant, accessible and worthwhile as it can be. If you’re able to clearly answer these five questions, you’re winning.
Imagine you have walked into a meeting room, and you see someone you’ve never met before. You wonder: Who is this person? Quickly, you’ll want to know where you stand with the stranger in the room, and outreach or PR pitches are no different, as you need to make sure that the journalist knows who you are and what you’re up to.
Introduce yourself if it’s the first time contacting them, and make sure your email reflects your company’s style and (hopefully!) your friendly nature. A curt email is not likely to get any response, and a reply could be just as curt. First impressions count, so make sure you have your message spell-checked!
Digital marketers, much like broadcasters and media producers, need an audience for their content. Whether that content is a television show, an infographic, a podcast, a feature article, or video, both content marketers and broadcast producers alike will have a target audience in mind. The BBC’s Top Gear programme has a largely male-dominated audience, while how-to videos on knitwear will be aimed at a female, older viewership. While the format used may be different for each client or campaign, marketers use their skills to engage, inform and entertain their audience, and neither can do these unless they understand who they are targeting.
This is the essence of a good broadcaster, but if your content marketing campaign can tick those boxes, most of your job is done already.
Relevancy is key in any pitch, and this needs to be made clear from a very early stage. The journalist will think; why is this person/agency contacting me? Why should I – and my readers – care about it? There’s no point pitching a piece of sports-related content to financial journalist, and while one might presume that such pointless pitches wouldn’t happen, they’re a lot more common than they should be. Thankfully, many journalists will state on their social media profiles which kind of writing they look at, so a simple social media search – most likely on Twitter – is the best way to research who you should target. Make sure your content is a good match for whomever you pitch it to, not just to be relevant, but also so they will enjoy what you’re pitching.
This is a simple one: What is your content or project about? Can you summarise it into one snappy sentence, or a few short lines at the very least? Are you able to convey its purpose simply, without the recipient needing to see it for themselves?
Your few words should be able to instil curiosity, thereby enticing the journalist to click on and see what you’re doing for themselves. In short, if you can’t get your journalists to be curious, how will they invoke the same curiosity in others?
If your content is related to something time-specific, you’re more likely to get better mileage out of the media, but the risk to that is that you also have a time limit. A piece of content based on Christmas, no matter how innovative it may be, will be useless to media and bloggers after December 25, so you need to do your groundwork and outreach in good time.
Provided your company or agency has the relevant resources, ‘piggybacking’ off current trends and relevant news stories in a timely fashion works wonders for raising awareness of your brand or product. Be very careful with this, however; the key to ‘piggybacking’ is to be tasteful when deciding what theme(s) to use, and avoid controversial topics unless you are prepared to receive negative feedback. Sometimes, a backfired PR stunt can damage a brand severely.
Traditionally, journalists need to know where a story has taken place, as this will affect the relevancy of its coverage. If a London MP has been involved in a scandal, will it really matter to those living in Colorado? Not really!
In a digital marketing context, the ‘where’ is still important, but it depends on the context. A piece of content written for a British audience is unlikely to translate well for an American audience, unless the topic is free to localisms. Even localised stats ($1 million VS €1 million) and spelling (British VS American English) can affect how one relates to content, so keep location in mind.
That being said, more elaborate campaigns may be able to break the shackles of localism when it comes to publicity. Even when language isn’t going to be a binding factor, some campaigns are creative enough to transcend language barriers, although this admittedly involves larger budgets. When Belgian cable TV channel, TNT, launched, their online advert went viral in a time when the term ‘viral’ was only coming into its own.
The above are the five typical questions starting with ‘W’, but if you manage to get to ‘How’, then you deserve a round of applause. ‘How’ is a question that usually requires more detailed information than the bullet-points required for the others, but if you have conjured up enough curiosity in others to get them to ask this, then you’ve won.
If feedback from any outreach campaign is strong enough to go to ‘how’ – i.e. where the journalist wants to know how a piece was made, how the stats were compiled or how the story can be expanded – then it opens the opportunity to create extra content based on the original content designed for the client. This could be in the form of media appearances, opinion/commentary articles or others. At this stage, you have the opportunity to become good friends and allies with your new journalist contact, and this is where your personal skills are the most important ones to your own job. Befriending the right media influencers will be your ticket to not only a successful campaign, but also a successful career.
Understanding the media and how they work is the key to creating the right buzz for your brand, but the last thing you need is to be at odds with those who can help highlight you. Ultimately, this can be a ‘practice makes perfect’ situation, but once you understand what a journalist or blogger needs from you, it’ll make your goals of online exposure that bit more realistic. Building a relationship with reliable journalists will make outreach marketing all the more enjoyable and worthwhile.
To find out how our Content Marketing, Outreach & Digital PR skills can work for you, simply get in touch!