In Position: Get the media to tell your story Melanie Paradis April 12, 2016 Columns, Featured, In Position Foreign governments bombing their own civilians. High profile sex assault cases. The Donald Trump presidential circus. It might feel like your news story doesn’t stand a chance at earning a sound bite, post or article. Getting positive news coverage can be a tricky thing for a small business or startup. But a great story that doesn’t get told is leverage lost for your business. THE BASICS How do you turn your story into a press release? Punchy grab lines might be enough to make a journalist’s eye linger for an extra moment in contemplation. Keep it short – around 400 words in total. Include multiple quotes and statistics or numbers. Dollar figures, employment numbers and growth ratios are all great. Numbers are often the key takeaway from a press release, so be sure to include them if you can. Just like in social media, photos with captions garner more views than just text-based press releases. It may cost a bit more to include photos in your release across the newswire, but it is worth the investment. This also prevents media outlets from resorting to Google to find a photo to use with their article. But depending on the news cycle you are in, your story may or may not be “newsworthy” – no matter how great it is. Timing, as they say, is everything. If you are a publicly traded company, you will often have little control over the timing of your releases as securities regulations dictate how and when you need to share material information. If you are not a public company, however, you can better monitor the news traffic flow and pick your moment to cut in. NUDGING INTO THE NEWS What to look for? Slow news days. This is an art and not a science. Think of it as picking the moment in a symphony the when the conductor brings in the percussion. The key is to start looking for gaps in media coverage on newsworthy issues well in advance of an important release so you can start to see the trends. No one can predict the news. I’m sure there were a lot of really great press releases lined up for the day when the Panama Papers were released, when Rob Ford passed away, or when the Brussels airport was attacked. These major news events will virtually wipe the slate of whatever else media outlets had planned on reporting that day. In the trade those are known as ‘dump days’ – when the media is so focused on covering something major that government and companies alike ‘dump’ their negative news stories in the hopes no one will notice. Hopefully you won’t need that trick any time soon. But you can plan for some major events like budgets or elections. Your press release may benefit from either avoiding those periods of time, or leveraging them if your story is related. In a recent example, Sortable, a fast-growing Waterloo Region ad-tech startup, earned widespread media coverage for using the potential of a Trump presidency in a bid to recruit talent from south of the border. The easier it is for time-pressed journalists to turn your press release into an article, the better. Often times, Canadian Press (CP) and similar agencies around the world will take your press release and essentially rearrange it and add an extra fact or two found through Google, and sell that story to all the major media outlets. It is not uncommon to find exactly the same CP article published across many media platforms. Do some research to develop a target media email list. Search for journalists who have covered similar stories or are on your industry’s beat. Craft a pitch note – three lines or less – to email to those journalists directly with the press release attached. The pitch note should tell them why their readers will care about your story. MORE EYEBALLS You aren’t finished yet. Consider a broader government and stakeholder outreach. Politicians and industry associations will share good news about their ridings and industries across their networks, including social media. Use your own social media channels to push your press release as well. Craft several different tweets, Instagram or Facebook posts, and Snapchat stories. Share these throughout the day to maximize coverage. Finally, don’t be afraid to follow up. Journalism is a highly time-sensitive business. Reporters are swamped with story ideas and submissions. And if there is coverage with incorrect information, don’t hesitate to call the journalist and ask them to make the change. Their job is to report on the truth and be a trusted source of accurate information; they won’t hesitate to make a correction if it’s warranted. Your story is worth telling, but it will have a lot more impact on your reputation if it gets repeated through the media. Photo: Media Scrum by Olivia Chow is licensed under CC BY 2.0. In Position is a monthly column focusing on communications, public relations and government relations for tech companies. It is produced for Communitech News by the Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Toronto.