Without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support every nation must decay.
— Benjamin Disraeli
This council touches on something that is important, humanizing the face of bicycling through storytelling. I ride my bike almost every day, as a commuter and with my family, and I appreciate this council for reminding us that the bicyclists we see on the road are our neighbors, friends, and community members, people we want to keep safe
— Honorable T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board

Storytelling for Media Outreach

Those who've been in media relations for years will tell you there's never been a more challenging time to get your product and services into the media because it's so fragmented now. Journalists are constantly changing jobs, which is why we offer our Pedal Love U.S. Media List as an online subscription rather than sending you one complete excel sheet. Every time I send out a national release I have to update the list, and I'm constantly growing the list as I find more outlets and journalists that are helpful to grow the active, more mindful mobility story.

A new map is needed if you will. A new approach. It's no longer just the case of writing a press release, sending it out and making a few follow up phone calls.

However, within this time of transition there's a silver lining, there's tremendous opportunity. There are now more media outlets than ever to share your story with, and if you're willing to roll up your sleeves and take the responsibility for getting the placements. Here are some good rules of thumb to follow:

Getting Into the Media is an Ongoing Process

One media story one time is not going to bring your event, product, policy or program into top of mind awareness, especially if it's story in local media. We are all too distracted with lots and lots of information coming at us. In order for a media relations strategy to work on your behalf it needs to be ongoing.

When I was a young woman starting out as a sales executive the number of times someone needed to hear or read your name in order for it to stick was about 5 times. Now it's more like 25.

Your Press Release is How You Focus

A press release can no longer be the end all be all of your media outreach, however, it's still a great place to start. Each release needs to include the who, what, where, why and how of the event, product, policy, law, or program you want to promote. Without five elements answered clearly and easily in your release what you're promoting won't make sense to anyone else.

At left is opening paragraph for the release the Pedal Love Council and I created to announce the launch of the Pedal Love Culture & Lifestyle Council.  Read the full release here and you'll see that we answer the who, what, where, why and how in the first two paragraphs. A very good rule to follow.

Unless your release is extremely timely on a hot news item - or is a very hot news item itself (i.e. the "Three Feet for Safety Law" going into effect in your state), you need to have a human interest angle to make it relevant.  And I would argue you need to have a human interest angle even then.

At left is our human interest quote from the Honorable T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Focus Your Distribution

No matter how compelling no event, product or law you want to promote is going to be of interest to absolutely every media outlet or journalist. You need to do your homework when you build your media like - or purchase a media list - in order to make sure that you're reaching out to the right people.

There's no better way to get off on the wrong foot with a journalist than sending them frequent releases and follow up calls and emails on stories that are of absolutely no interest to what they write about.

Start with building a local and regional media list before going national. What local and regional newspapers, websites, radio stations and television stations might be interested in what you have to share? Even if you have a product you want to sell nationally, your more likely to first get stories of local entrepreneur who does good than national coverage in Inc. or Forbes magazines and websites.

Do Your Homework

Don't just know that a newspaper paper, website, radio station or t.v. show exists, learn what they actually cover and how they cover it. This will help you put together stories that will really interest them, and offer fresh takes they'll find intriguing.

At left is Jessica Mendoza, an L.A. based reporter for the national publication Christian Science Monitor. I reached out to her for the EBike Expo in Santa Monica in December knowing (because I follow her on Twitter) that it was the policy the California Bicycle Coalition was working on from a equity angle - not just cool new products - that would intrigue her. She wasn't available for that tour, but seems interested for the future on in Long Beach.

Further, if you want to be really effective in your media outreach you need to understand how that journalist likes best to be connected with and make note of it on your media list. Some journalists (especially young ones) prefer to be contact via Twitter first before email.

At left is Alissa Walker, another L.A. based but rising national media star who now writes for Curbed. She prefers to be pitched in an informal email rather than press releases.

Planning Your Media Outreach Timeline

If at all possible send the first release out 6 weeks in advance, even for television. Then I recommend one 2 weeks in advance and then follow up via email and telephone. And then again 1 week out and again follow up via email and telephone.

Note: Mondays and Fridays are not great days to send out press/media releases if you can avoid it. But if it's really hot news go ahead.

Planning Out Your Talking Points with Storytelling

This is key: Each one of your talking points for you and your team needs to have at least one story, a human interest angle, so that it the point makes sense to anyone not involved in your work.

This is key: Don't throw your team to the media and expect them to swim. Anyone on your extended team who you want to have speak to the media needs to have these talking points, and a human interest story ready in advance.

Know your stuff! It's not worth going after media if you don't have your story down in a compelling and interesting way. Pitch your story to family and friends not involved with your work to see if you're ready.

How to Distribute Your Media Releases

I work in a very old fashioned way that takes time - but hear me out, it's effective. I never send any attachments to any media before receiving word from them they're interested. Why? Because they have heavy spam filters on their emails and usually either don't accept unsolicited attachments or it goes straight to their spam folder.

Neither do I:

  • Create one media release and then Bcc it to all of the journalists I want to reach out to at once. Why? Unless I know that media source and they are use to getting email from me it usually goes straight into their spam folder.
  • Use an email newsletter program to distribute releases. The may seem fast and efficient but again most journalists are going to be annoyed you signed them up this way.

Here's what I do:

  1. Cut and paste your press release into the body of an email and create it as a draft.
  2. Test this draft email by emailing it to yourself to make sure all of the formatting and hyperlinks work.
  3. Send all of the journalists at each media outlet your release in one email. For example you might have an event or products that could be of interest under general news, business, and innovation.
  4. Change my headline a little to make it relevant to the media I'm sending it to

Follow Up Via Email & Phone

Unless it's a really hot media item that is of particular interest to the journalists you sent it to you're going to have to follow up on your media/press release to get any placement. Journalists receive A LOT of email. Follow up the next day with a short sweet email with a very clear headline that asks a question rather than saying "I'm following up."

Use email first unless you're really good at talking on the phone and have your press release and talking points down really solid. Keep both your talking points and the contact information for who else on your team, or involved in growing the story, at hand so you can share them as soon as the media shows interest.

When the Media Responds

If you and your team have worked out and studied your talking points and example stories you're ready. Remember the media is compiled of human beings. Do your best to relate to them as such.

Important: You don't have to answer a question the media gives you either exactly as they phrase it or at all. If there are things you don't want to talk about say you have "no comment." But the best is to be ready to rephrase an answer to moves the response onto ground you're comfortable with.

Here's an example: When the then PBS station in LA KCET first got onto Twitter they posted a note "Do you know a restaurant or caterer that's wasting food."

This was over 8 years ago and I happened to work for a caterer, AND I had a friend who worked for a food finding organization. I knew the challenge was that restaurants and caterers in California did not understand something called "The Good Sam" law. They thought it was easy to be sued for donated food. It was actually the opposite. With this rephrasing of the question, I was able to place both my client AND the local non profit into great TV stories.

Have a story you've successfully pitched recently? I'd love to hear about it. Send me a note!