The tricky business of earned media

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Ask any PR professional about what it takes to make a successful campaign and they’ll almost always tell you earned media is a core component. Earned media -- securing favourable news coverage by pitching to journalists or producing bylined articles -- can be a cost-effective means of growing your brand, connecting with your audience and reaching potential new customers. Even if you’re not selling a product, earned media can help position a company or an executive as a thought leader, which in turn can be used as a business development tool. 

At Provident, we put a great deal of emphasis on securing earned media for our clients, whether they’re  biotech startups or a multi-billion-dollar private equity fund. Three of our five team members have news media backgrounds, including the former White House correspondent for The Canadian Press. Since we’ve been on the other side of pitches, we have a unique insight in what journalists are looking for. As a young and growing firm, we also practise what we preach. 

Recently, our managing partner Wojtek Dabrowski was interviewed on BNN Bloomberg discussing CannTrust’s crisis management response. He also wrote an article for The Lawyer’s Daily about the importance of communications and legal teams working together in large corporations when it comes to crisis management 

Even with our years of experience working with or in the media, there is no set formula for guaranteed success in securing coverage. Nonetheless, here are some key considerations when it comes to a winning earned media strategy: 

Mercy of the news cycle

Breaking news is a constant, and unless you can see into the future, there’s no way to predict what stories will break when. Despite best laid plans, a major news event can sideline a story and throw a wrench into a major announcement that may be impossible to eliminate. While this can definitely be frustrating, there are also two sides to the coin. As self-proclaimed news junkies, we are constantly keeping a close eye on the media landscape for “newsjacking” opportunities for our clients in order to insert them into the broader conversation -- which takes us to our next point. 

Timely pitches

If your pitch isn’t newsworthy or timely, it will wind up in the trash. An ill-timed pitch rarely ever works, and we always advise our clients that it takes a strategic approach to land a story, and that can sometimes take time. We all want to see immediate results, but waiting for the right opportunity, and not pestering reporters and editors and potentially harming relationships, pays big dividends in the end. 

Pitch perfect 

When it comes time to reaching out to newsrooms, it’s important to understand what they’re looking for. With massive cuts in newsrooms across the country, reporters are overstretched and overworked. Any pitch that’s not clear or concise and doesn’t make their job easier will be DOA. Cision, a global media monitoring company, recently published an informative study on what makes a great pitch. The report found that 75 per cent of journalists say fewer than a quarter of the pitches they receive are relevant, further driving home the point that pitches must be timely.

Journalists also stress in the study that pitches should be relevant to their target audiences, that the news hook is clearly stated, that it’s short and to the point and that it’s void of industry jargon. 

Media training is critical 

A winning pitch is only half the battle. Once an interview is confirmed, it’s imperative that whoever is answering the questions is fully prepared. This is a major pitfall that can torpedo what could be amazing earned media opportunities. We’ve media-trained countless executives and spokespeople to ensure they are comfortable delivering their companies’ key messages, and that they learn to avoid certain lines of questioning that can derail an interview. We can’t stress enough that practice makes perfect, and no matter how comfortable you may feel, it’s a bad idea to wing it. 

Value of relationships

While it’s true anyone can pitch a journalist, having someone who has a relationship with that journalist or editor vastly improves the chances of success. Our team has long, lasting relations with some of the top news people in the country, and that’s why many of our clients come to us when they need to tell their story to the media. If you’re looking to do just that, send me an email at morgan@providentcomms.com to discuss how we can help.