Years ago when I worked in media, I would joke to those I talked to that I was so pressed for time that if they handed me a good piece on a plate I’d take it. It was one of those “ha ha ha, but actually sort-of” jokes. You know, the ones where you are blatantly telling the truth, but wrap it in a ‘joke’.
These days the number of remaining journos covering the likes of business, tech and innovation are dwindling, however the demands on their time is not. Publications still have press inches to fill, and time poor journalists / bloggers / content producers and radio wranglers are forced to cover more stories in less time.
This is where you come in: you with your awesome startup idea, business win, or admirable community project. You have more ability to peer behind the press curtain than ever before — and paired with the knowledge that the journalists that are there are time poor, you can wrangle press time if you play your cards right.
Find Your Angle: i.e. know what is timely, interesting or newsworthy
It’s not enough to ring a journo with an announcement of your next board hire, or your next product shipment — why should they care? Look for the features of your business that are unique, the individuals within your team who are curious or interesting, and the aspects of your business that fit into a global trend or topical news story. Is there a general press-line that business growth is slow in Palmerston North, but your business has grown 20% year on year and is expanding to different centres? This contrary fact can act as a lens of interest for media, especially if you can succinctly articulate your core difference from those around you. This sort of strategic thinking will require a little time, reading, and self-awareness. However, these are things that should be feeding into the wider strategy of your business in general — in other words, you are probably already thinking about these things, just not distilling them in this manner.
Do Your Research.
The question I get asked on the reg is “who should I talk to?” to which I normally reply, “well, what is your audience reading, watching, or listening to?”. Do you have a stronghold here but want to break into the Australian market? Look at press and publications in Australia that your audience will be engaging with. Keep in mind you may have different audience groupings — potential investors will engage in different media than potential customers. Make a hit-list of publications, both tangible media and online that you want a feature in, and keep an eye on these publications over a couple of months and note down writers who you feel an affinity for. These may be journos who are talking about brands who operate in the same space as you or who have skews or interests in the space your solution/product/idea inhabits.
“But how do I meet them? How do I get that conversation going?” I hear you ask. Take a leaf from the book of Paul Brislen — “send them a tweet and offer them a coffee”.’ Reaching out this like this can go a lot further than an impersonal press kit, and will help build a more personal relationship for ongoing contact.
So you’ve scored a press opp? Cool! Prior to the interview, establish some key talking points. These should be snappy pieces of info that you use to tie together your statement, and ideally can make a good soundbite. Knowing these three or four talking points before you go into interview will help you feel prepared and confident in your statements, whilst making sure that what you say is on topic for your message and your brand in general.
There is also no harm in role-playing, or practicing what you are going to say beforehand. When Thomas Watts (who lectures at AUT University, makes TV/Radio, and full disclosure — is also my husband) is walking a newbie through the process of interviewing, the suggestions are the same: do your prep, focus on the person interviewing you and keep it simple. Talk clearly and calmly and keep the buzzwords to a minimum. Imagine you’re talking to a friend and that you’re explaining your idea the best you’ve ever explained it. If you are really wanting to grow your strength in this area media training is one useful option — but given ‘practice actually makes perfect’, it might be a good idea to put together a team-only Youtube channel, or a quick weekly podcast to get used to the framing, tone and manner needed for video and audio communication. Having someone within your fold to critique this honestly, and allowing you to build on your skills within the relative safety of your team before going out into the big bad world, can prove incredibly useful. Thom is quick to mention that “when it comes to a general features story, everyone wants the same outcome as you. The interviewer wants you to sound smart and engaging, they want your story to be interesting — so just remember that everyone is on the same side”.
Make It Easy.
Speaking from experience, if you are that person they know can provide a headshot, a fresh team shot and a nice product shot — media will reach out to you. So try and keep fresh versions of these up your sleeve for future use. This need not be a costly or time consuming experience. If budgets are tight, reach out to friends or family or a local design school. To make life easy, try and shoot one head shot on a neutral background and another on a textured one. Natural light will make you look warm and give the photos a nice glow even when printed on dull newsprint.
If you score an interview, or are asked to answer a set of email questions, give as much depth as you can and get responses back to the publication as far before their deadline as possible. If they know you can turn content around, they are much more likely to call on you the next time something has been pulled at the last moment.