Ancient people used to fret about what constituted a proper offering for their many gods. A poor submission at the local temple could trigger a bad harvest, rampaging disease or other terrible misfortunes. Or it simply meant that the unsuitable request was ignored. Security vendors looking to grab the attention of journalists may feel the same way at times. While there are no harvests on the line, taking the time to craft and distribute a press release, only to have it be seemingly rebuffed or ignored, probably feels about the same.
Thankfully, journalists are slightly less fickle than ancient gods. If you understand what drives them, and can help them achieve those goals, you can cultivate meaningful relationships with many reporters and take a lot of guesswork out of the process. You probably won’t be welcomed with open arms every single time, but can drastically up your odds of being included in a story – which should be your ultimate motivation when dealing with the press.
For the most part, all good journalists are dedicated to the prospect of telling meaningful, truthful stories to their readers. But that hardly tells the whole story. For that, I am going to let you in on a little secret that may not be too well known outside of newsroom bullpens. And here it is: most reporters are under some type of story quota that they owe their editors every day, week or month. The number of stories they need to produce is normally divided up in different ways, from longer investigative or feature work to shorter takeaways and news briefs. There is incredible pressure for reporters to hit their numbers, and I’ve personally seen many good people fail because they couldn’t keep up.
A second, much more recent, motivation came with the move of most publications to the Web as either a component to print or as the sole component of a modern magazine. Because everything on the Web can be counted, reporters are also judged by how many readers their stories capture, and even more recently, how many shares or likes those stories get on social media. One could rightfully argue that these trends are hurting journalism, but regardless, those are two factors that most reporters must contend with every day.
That doesn’t mean that a security vendor can cobble something together quickly, shoot it off to a listserv, and have hundreds of reporters start working the story. For one, reporters get a lot of news from many sources. Back when I was the reviews director of a major federal trade magazine, receiving over 100 press releases each week was about average. And, reporters won’t work with a poorly crafted and irrelevant press release because the resulting story likely won’t pass the second test – nobody will read it, tweet about it or share it.
Now that you know the pressures on the other side of the journalistic fence, you can step up your game, help the overworked reporters out, and start to get more of your news published.
The first step is to make sure that you have a good hook. Readers likely won’t care that you recently implemented version 8.9.2 of your signature product, so neither will most reporters. But they might care if you tie your company news into a bigger trend or story. Perhaps that new feature can defeat a certain type of attack that is ravaging the industry that the reporter you are trying to reach covers. Or perhaps your product now aligns with a specific trend, or can help organizations comply with new or pending regulations. The more you can show the reporter, using as specific examples as possible, that you understand the issues and trends within the industry they cover, the more chance you have of serious consideration. This is true for an in-person or over-the-phone type of pitch, and for a press release.
Another thing that most reporters need is quotes. Especially with press releases, you should have at least a few quotes that they can use. Most journalists won’t use a press release verbatim, but instead rewrite it to fit their own narrative. But they will use quotes directly. And your quotes should follow the same rule as the pitch itself; they should talk about the issues and trends of the overall community. Avoid self-serving quotes at all costs. And, though it might prove difficult to get, having quotes from users or even government officials, especially if they can push your issues and trends theme, will get you serious bonus points.
Finally, you need to make sure that the reporter knows that you are willing to talk about these issues beyond just the quotes you’ve included, and have company officials prepared to chat within what might be a reporter’s very tight deadline. Make it very clear in the release that company officials are available to talk more about the issues and trends.
Remember, don’t try to directly sell your product or service to a journalist. Talk about the issues and trends that the reporter and their readers care about. Your company will get the coverage it desires, but you will also gain something else with this approach: you will be recognized as a thought leader in your industry. If you do that enough times, and do it well, it won’t be long before reporters may start coming to you, a boon that no ancient god ever bestowed on their hopeful petitioners.
John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology and government. He is currently the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys