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The understanding behind successful media relationships

Companies often look at the media as the enemy, or a barrier to successful marketing, but the problem most companies have is a lack of understanding. Because they don’t know how news works, they don’t how to develop stories, identify the best media targets, make their pitch, or create an effective call to action.

Nonprofits that seek to understand media outlets have far more productive relationships. With every new client, we start conversations about media strategy with these three keys to success: preparation, preparation, and preparation. You must understand the story you want to pitch, the specific reporter and media outlet you want to pitch that story to, and the best way to convey that story in an interview.

Understanding the story

What makes a story interesting to a news reporter? At its core, all news falls under one of two categories: “conflict” or “change.” A conflict story centers around a disagreement over politics, ideology, law, or any other matter. A change story examines something new or different in a product, service, event, or issue. If you can’t position your story into one of those two arenas, getting a reporter to write it will be a challenge.

Your pitch should focus more on issues than your specific services, telling a story about people or families who have been affected. Think about images, audio, or video that can help tell the story. Sometimes that means providing your own material, and other times it means identifying people or activities for reporters to capture themselves.

Understanding the media

There are thousands of media outlets across Georgia, but not every one is a fit for your message. Take the time to understand a publication’s reach. Outlets may be appealing because of geography, area of focus, or audience demographics.

Keep in mind also that there are three types of news reporting: Hard news, features, and editorials. Hard news stories focus on major breaking news and large groups of people, and must be told immediately. Features include more evergreen stories, like profiles of prominent people or groups: They could be told tomorrow, in a week, or in months. Editorials are opinion pieces, usually responding to a hard news story; sometimes, editorials include quotes from issue experts (like nonprofit professionals), or are contributed by them (typically referred to as an “op-ed”).

Excepting op-eds, reporters are the conduits for every story: You must depend on them to convey your information to readers, listeners, and viewers. Just as each outlet is different, every reporter is an individual, requiring an individual approach. A few points worth considering:  

  • Generalists dominate. Though every reporter is different, most are generalists, especially at the local level. They may cover a political story on Monday, a house fire on Wednesday, and your nonprofit on Thursday.
  • Competition is real. Certain media outlets and pros may be extremely competitive, while others may not. It can be worth finding out who’s friendly with whom before you inadvertently step on any toes.
  • Idealism and cynicism are common. Most reporters get into journalism to create a positive impact, which makes younger reporters more idealistic. However, a bit of cynicism isn’t unusual among those who’ve been reporting for decades.
  • Deadlines vary. Reporters live by their deadlines, and every type of media outlet measures deadlines differently: some in minutes, some in hours, days, or months.

Above all, you must understand your timeline: When do I need to get that reporter the information she needs? Based on that, when do I need to begin writing my press materials, and get them approved by my boss?


Read about how Hemophilia of Georgia's story pitch to WXIA 11Alive's Jaye Watson resulted in a feature report here.


Understanding the interview

Interviews aren’t an intellectual exercise, they’re an opportunity to deliver your organization’s messages to an entirely new audience. But if you don’t do it well, there could be negative consequences, for your media relationships or for your organization. That means you must prepare for media interactions as seriously as you would for any other major business opportunity.

As the interview approaches, keep thinking about why you’re doing it. Have a clear call-to-action in mind: that could be changing opinions, inspiring a donation, soliciting volunteers, advocating for policy, or increasing attendance at an event. Practice in a mirror or, better yet, with a coworker who can provide constructive feedback – a messaging opportunity you overlooked or a point that could be sharpened. If you have the budget, we strongly encourage you to engage a professional who can provide media training for your executives (something we do for all of our clients).

Finally, tell yourself that you’ve got this. Nothing builds confidence like preparation, and by this step, you will be fully prepared.

When you’ve made sure you’re clear on your timeline and “key messages,” prepared carefully for the conversation, and know how to make the most of the opportunity, you will nail your interview – and get your work some well-deserved attention.

My firm provides two great online services to facilitate understanding of and collaboration with the media: Leff’s Atlanta Media is an online database of every journalist in metro Atlanta, and Mitch’s Media Match connects your experts with local journalists for inclusion in relevant stories. Even better: We’re offering GCN members a free month of these services – just click “subscribe” and use the promo code GCN.*

Mitch Leff is president of Atlanta-based PR firm Leff & Associates. Interested in finding out more about media relations? If you’re a GCN member, check out these member-exclusive webinars on Working Effectively with the Media. You can also visit the Leff & Associates website, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn

*Free month of services comes with a one-year subscription to either Leff’s Atlanta Media or Mitch’s Media Match.

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