How small press helps you win big

July 6, 2022

Do you want to get into The Wall Street Journal or on CNBC?

Congratulations. So does everyone else. Which is why it’s really, really hard to secure top-level press. Barriers include, but are not limited to:

  • Your area of expertise doesn’t match the news cycle. For example, an accountant who wants to discuss Tax Day isn’t likely to get press in November. This past February, it was hard to get press on any matter which was unrelated to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Better-known competitors have gotten in ahead of you. They may not be smarter than you, but they’re getting the exposure. You also may simply be new to the space, so gatekeepers don’t understand what you offer.
  • You don’t have other media exposure which proves your capabilities. This is especially important for TV and podcasts, when hosts and producers want to see previous footage to ensure that your knowledge, speaking style, and other factors match what they want on their programs.

Sometimes, getting into WSJ or CNBC is really valuable. If so, your communications team should identify what is keeping you out of these top-tier outlets, develop a strategy to overcome those barriers, and then execute the strategy with your support.

But aiming for the big dogs often means missed opportunities for exposure in trusted outlets which are much easier to get into and which can become powerful tools for your overall communications strategy.

Wait, don’t aim for WSJ?

Getting into the most coveted outlets and media influencers is not an easy task. Their reporters, editors, and other gatekeepers have the luxury of being very selective when it comes to the stories they elevate. They’re also buried, scrambling to meet deadlines while receiving hundreds of emails a day.

So, instead of being the tiny fish in the huge pond, you can become the big fish in the medium pond – like the country singer who becomes a regional favorite instead of going to Nashville, or the politician who quickly rises through the ranks of state politics instead of getting bogged down in Washington, D.C.

Here’s how to get the media snowball rolling.

First, start small

Building a credible media presence starts off small, like a snowball you can hold in your hand. And as you add more snow, it starts to build up size and speed.

The same is true for earned media. Getting those initial placements, especially on small podcasts or news outlets, will probably be easy with a simple search of their website. They will also be low-risk because:

  • Small outlets don’t get as much attention, so mistakes won’t be as harmful.
  • You’ll probably have more control over the message because smaller outlets are often desperate for content.

Again, your podcast hit or piece of content probably won’t get you a lot of attention. It’s unlikely to drive sales, or even be widely read, unless you have an excellent marketing program to promote placements through your website, social media profiles, and email list.

But smaller outlets are almost always easier to get into. And those initial placements are important because, among other things, you:

  1. Start to develop a cadence and a process that will continue to improve.
  2. Have placements to show other, larger outlets for proof of credibility.
  3. Develop a fine-tuned sense of how your message fits into the overall media ecosystem.
  4. Begin to build trusted relationships with gatekeepers.

The phrase “go big, or go home” is inappropriate when seeking media placements. Your team needs to balance what we call “gettability” (yes, we made it up) and reachability (that may actually be a word). In other words, aim for outlets that likely want your content which also have reach into, and trust with, your target audiences.

Second, fine-tune your messaging

There are two levels of media messaging. The first is what everyone thinks of – what you want to say to the public, to your target audiences who are reached by specific outlets.

But another, critical message is that which persuades a media gatekeeper to put your content in front of their audience. This “pitch” is usually a phone call or email which tries to get through all of the other emails and phone calls gatekeepers receive on a daily basis.

As with anything else, the first step to improving messaging is research. Businesses often conduct focus groups and digital beta testing to see what connects with their audiences. Media research consists of your team reading, watching, and listening to outlets to learn:

  • What messages are popular with the audience and gatekeepers.
  • Which messages are missing from specific outlets.
  • The tones and styles which are preferred by gatekeepers.
  • What mediums are the best fit. Do you have a resonant voice for radio and podcasts, or is your non-verbal body language a good fit for TV? Or is your team’s best value seen in producing press releases and op-eds?

The next step is to test your messages with gatekeepers. This starts with a subject line – we recently explained the importance of a great email subject line – and includes a pitch which consists of a handful of sentences which:

  • Explain what your content is, such as an oped, a statement, an interview opportunity.
  • Show how your content is relevant to the news cycle.
  • Tailor your message to the specific outlet and gatekeeper. Know and match the tones and styles they prefer.

Third, find what works and stick to it

Your team won’t just help you determine the right medium; it will also help you find and develop your best media voice. Will you be the straight expert, simply providing expert commentary on the nuances of the day’s news? Does a counter-intuitive tone fit your brand, like a financial advisor who tells people to stay in the market even when stocks are crashing? Or will you be a predictor of the future, looking at the news of the day and telling people what to expect?

Most of our writing focuses on…wait for it…getting in the press. But we’ve also found success in getting articles and op-eds published on a variety of unusual topics outside of the media realm. This helps us prove that our process works across topics and industries. For example, when we saw luxury car companies were beating the rest of the auto industry because of their computer chip supply chains, we saw an opportunity to use our research and writing skills to get in the press. And it worked – Supply Chain Brain, a trade publication, published our op-ed. And Insider published two articles authored by Dustin.

What works for you may be very different than you ever thought. And, sometimes, you’ll hit a cold spell, where nothing works. Other times, your consistency will be the hottest thing in the market, and you’ll land placements like hotcakes.

Finally: Remember to focus on value

We mentioned above that a lot of our writing aims to prove that Proven Media Solutions can get people in the press, regardless of industry. That’s why the Insider, Supply Chain Brain, and other pieces are valuable. What value does press bring for you?

For some organizations, there is a direct link between press and sales. This is especially true with certain commodities, like ticket sales to a concert or a new local restaurant. Other times, press is simply part of a surround-sound marketing and branding strategy, and brings value like:

  • Social media and email newsletter content to increase audience size and engagement.
  • Website content that will keep prospective clients, investors, and partners coming back.
  • Proof to investors that what you’re doing is having an impact.
  • Proof to media outlets that you’re an emerging and credible thought leader. This is especially important for major outlets which want to make sure you’re legitimate, and TV outlets which often want to see prior media placements for proof that you can handle their platform.
  • Improved SEO.

Only you and your communications team can determine value. Once it’s been identified, don’t take your eyes off of it.

A version of this piece was originally published by Dustin Siggins at PR Daily. 

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