Paying for coverage? 3 things to consider
If you’re in-house, you’re probably thinking about or already have hired an agency to handle media relations for your company. Between managing stakeholders and an insane travel schedule, you’re probably thinking you don’t have time to do it yourself. Heck! You’re even too busy to read this post!
Here’s the thing, unless an experienced media specialist is part of your agency team or your account lead is going to do the pitching themselves, here’s three reasons why you may want to think twice about paying for earned media coverage:
#1 Media relations is often delegated to junior staff in agencies
This means that someone with little PR experience, let alone media expertise is writing a standardised (and generally long-winded) pitch to blast out your press release to a database of hundreds if not thousands of reporters and bloggers. The throw-mud-at-the wall-and-see-what-sticks approach doesn’t get results.
Even niche trade journalists get 300+ emails a day with pitch ideas, so the press release blast is the best way to get deleted. To get a better response, craft a short (like 200 words short) personalised pitch based on a journalist or blogger’s specific interests and / or relevant trends, and only pitch stories they’re likely to cover. Even if they don’t write the story, at least you’ve made a step in the right direction and they’re significantly more likely to consider your next pitch.
Over about a decade, I only pitched the former deputy health editor of the Wall Street Journal a handful of times because I only thought I had 5 stories worth his attention. Two pitches resulted in stories on the cover of the Personal Journal, two resulted in interviews with the clients’ CEOs and the last one he was interested in but was backburned due to the news cycle. While he probably wouldn’t have recognised me if he passed me on the street – he did always respond to my pitches because I took the time to follow his work and build him a story worth writing.
You would think that since most agencies bill hourly, they would take their time with media relations, but the truth is, most teams are stretched too thin to have experienced professionals dedicate serious headspace or resources to the task. The unfortunate result is that it’s not done properly most of the time.
#2 Journalists and bloggers want the relationship with YOU
Okay, they aren’t going to be knocking down your door unless they need something urgently, but they do generally prefer to have a direct line into a brand so they can get accurate answers quickly. If they have to go to an agency newbie who has to relay the message to their boss who then has to liaise with their client (you!) who may then need to ask an executive or specialist within the company, the journalist is left hanging for a response. So many stories have been lost because the chain of communication doesn’t happen fast enough to meet editorial deadlines.
Furthermore, relationships with media are incredibly valuable and should be treasured. It’s much easier to pitch someone who you’ve already worked with on a story, and in times of bad news or issues, reporters are more likely to hear you out before running something controversial and potentially damaging to your brand’s reputation. Why let an agency establish relationships on your behalf and leave you dependent when the stakes are high?
#3 Results are unpredictable even for well-pitched stories
Whether your agency-side or in-house, you could do everything within your control flawlessly and your story will not generate interest due to timing. They say it’s hard to time the stock market and the same could be said for news cycles. You have no idea if huge news is going to break, that will trump all stories that week, and the staffing or editorial dynamics that may impact your story being written or run.
Also, it’s not uncommon for a story that is unrelated to current events to be written and filed only for it to be published months later – even in daily newspapers. True story – this happened to me recently with the Sunday Mail, one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK. After even reviewing the feature’s text and receiving the issue date, the story was held for almost three months before it was published.
The ideal scenario is a great story / news item is pitched strategically to journalists who are already receptive to your pitches during a slow news cycle. The reality is that one or more of those conditions will not be possible for any number of reasons.
Since media relations is time-consuming even if it’s done poorly, thousands upon thousands can be spent in the process of trying to land a story. When you do get the story, it can be game-changing for start-ups, boost brand awareness, spike sales and provide credibility – often at a fraction of the cost of an influencer marketing or advertising campaign. So, if you’re not comfortable gambling a large chunk of your budget on media relations, then you may want to consider handling it yourself.