Keys to success straight from the source: the news media

Whenever a new professional approaches me for career advice, I always give the same advice: join either PRSA or IABC, go to their professional development events and volunteer for them.

These organizations and their events are not only a great networking opportunity, they are also a way to showcase your skills to others in the profession and to increase your knowledge base.

For instance, I attended a recent “Meet the Media” event organized by my local PRSA chapter. At the event, members of the Portland station KOIN-TV news staff spoke about what to do to increase your chances of attracting their attention and possibly convincing them to cover your story.

Here, in a nutshell, is what they advised:

1) Don’t pitch them an event. Instead, pitch them a story. For instance (and this is my example), are you planning to hold a ribbon cutting for a new affordable housing development? Make a new resident available to the press for interviews. Explain how the development has changed his/her life. The story needs a “personal, emotional connection,” the news staff said. That’s what their viewers are looking for. The reporter is going to need to interview someone who’s being impacted by the event. Also, determine if your story can potentially impact the general public.

2) Make it as easy as possible for the reporter. Give the assignment editor a specific time and place where an interview can take place. Explain what the reporter is going to see when he/she arrives on the scene.

3) Follow reporters on Twitter to see what they are re-tweeting to determine their interests.

4) Speaking of Twitter, do not rely solely on Twitter to issue a news release. There are too many tweets and a news release could easily be missed by an assignment editor.

4) One assignment editor said she receives 400 to 600 emails … daily! The subject line of the email has got to grab her attention. She does not have time to open a PDF attachment.

5) Dumb it down. Use laymen’s terms in your pitch. Write at the Grade 5 level. That’s the average ability of a lot of the television audience so that’s what the news staff strives for in selecting their stories.

6) Saying “No comment” is not an option. “No comment” actually speaks volumes. “It’s a challenge,” said one reporter. Using the “No comment” option does not mean the reporter will stop digging into your story.

7) You can not only target specific television stations in your pitch, you can target specific newscasts at that station. For instance, the 4 p.m. newscast at KOIN-TV is viewed by many mothers and women who are home. So if you have a story that would be of special interest to that audience, that newscast would be a good target for your pitch.

As I said, PRSA and IABC offer great learning opportunities at a very low price. Check out their national web sites to find your local chapter. Both organizations welcome nonmembers to their events.

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