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Successful Media Relations
Ten things you should know.

                    by Kyle Potvin
Principal, Splash Communications, LLC

Kyle PotvinThe Today show? The New York TimesVanity Fair? What's your dream hit? While nothing inspires more fear and trepidation in public relations professionals than media relations, it doesn't have to be complicated. Remember these 10 tips and soon you'll land your ultimate story.

1. Have a Good Story.  Whether writing a movie, a sitcom, an opera, a book or a news article, a good story must have certain elements such as a theme, a hero, and a beginning, middle and end, to make it compelling. Journalists recognize a strong story within seconds, so learn how to tell yours quickly and succinctly. That's good storytelling.

2. Know Your Audience.  You wouldn't call potential clients without knowing something about their business, so don't call the media blindly. Before you pitch any media outlet, study it. Read the publication. Watch the show. Who covers similar topics? Are there contributors to stories where you have interests such as food, technology or health? What format do they prefer? The answers will be very different depending on whether you are pitching The New York Times, Glamour or "Live with Regis and Kelly."

3. It's All About Relationships.  Whose call are you more likely to take? A vendor you've never spoken to before or one who has taken the time to develop a relationship and truly understands your needs? It is no different with the media. Building relationships NOW means that reporters will take your call when you've got an important story to tell. Best of all, even if they can't help you on this particular one, they are likely to refer you to another reporter who can. As with any relationship, building trust is critical. Do what you say you will, within the timeframe you give. You may not be able to provide all the information requested, but if you are upfront about what you can and can't do, reporters will appreciate it and remember. One reminder:  everything is on the record, no matter how close you are.

4. Create the Unexpected.  Look for out-of-the ordinary partnerships for spurring media interest. For instance, at Vorhaus, we wanted to position one of our clients, Buick, as a contemporary car company for younger consumers and more relevant than ever. To do that, we decided that we needed to generate publicity for Buick beyond traditional automotive press. We leveraged Buick's relationship with American fashion designer, Joseph Abboud, to create a joint fashion show/car unveiling. Attending media was far from ordinary: GQ, Men's Health, Vanity Fair and more. 

5. Pitching is Fun.  When you are just starting out, you can't believe this could ever be true. You imagine the worst: crabby journalists hanging up on you or worse, cursing you. Then you land your first big story, and suddenly you've got pitching fever. Here are some quick tips to make those calls easier: 

a. Use this effective introduction: "We haven't spoken before." Forget the days of pretending to be a reporter's best friend. Journalists don't fall for it and they actually miss the first valuable minutes of your pitch trying to figure out who you are. Be upfront.

b. Hone your pitch to a 15 second elevator speech.

c. Always ask if a reporter is on deadline. If so, find out a good time to call back, and do.

d. Know your story inside and out. This allows you to revise your pitch as you hear objections instead of folding instantly. Know enough to pitch other clients, too.  Even if your client doesn't fit this time, another may.

e. Try different approaches. All journalists have personal preferences about how they like to be contacted so try a variety of techniques.  Often a brief, compelling paragraph sent via e-mail is an effective yet unobtrusive introduction.

f. Follow-up. Many potential leads are lost simply because PR people don't follow through on them. If a reporter tells you to call back another time, make sure you do. Also, just because a reporter doesn't answer your e-mail immediately, doesn't mean she isn't interested. It could just mean that she hasn't gotten to any of the 150 e-mails received that day.

g. Persistence, persistence, persistence. There is a fine line between being persistent and annoying, but if you truly know your story and your audience, there is no shame in steadfastly making contact attempts until you get the reporter on the phone. (Just don't keep leaving messages.)

6. Be Creative.  While it's easy to recycle the same old press releases and fact sheets, infusing your media plans with some innovative thinking will produce stronger, more effective results. For instance, when introducing Peanut Butter & Jelly Cups from Russell Stover Candies, we positioned the product as part of the growing retro trend and tied into adult nostalgia for childhood. We sent out "Wouldn't You Like to Be a Kid Again?" personalized purple lunch boxes filled with jacks, jump ropes and product to media nationwide along with compelling video footage. We reached more than 15 million consumers with the message that our new candy is fun for all ages. Media as diverse as The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Today, Seventeen and Time all covered the product. 

7. Good Writing Counts.  Adopt a journalistic approach. Look carefully at how reputable publications such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal write a story. What is the lead? What type of quotes do they use? Study different types of stories -- features, executive changes, news articles. For the most part, you'll see the inverted pyramid style where the most important information is in the lead and the rest of the story flows from there. Despite recent e-word mania, it's time to eliminate jargon and buzz words. Say what you want, but say it simply and plainly. Another sign of weak writing is the use of clichés. Finally, ever feel like you just can't write that press release? This blockage often indicates you don't have enough information. Do outside research. Interview a customer. Get another perspective. Then you're sure to end up with a solid product that would appeal to any journalist.

8. Have a Strategy.  Don't use the same media strategy for every story. Think about whom you want to reach and how to create excitement. One effective technique is to offer a "first" (as in first chance to break the story) to a major media outlet. For the launch of Minute Maid's new not-from-concentrate orange juice, Simply Orange, The Wall Street Journal got the first opportunity. We expected that other media would chase the story, and as early as 6 a.m. the morning the story hit, we made calls to arrange interviews with other media. Quickly media such as AP, Reuters, The New York Times, CNN and more than 100 other broadcast outlets covered the story as well.

9. Clients Love Hits.  Despite all the counseling, strategy, partnerships, writing and more, clients want media coverage. Until the industry creates better measurement systems, a full page Business Week story becomes a tangible "product" that your clients can hold in their hands and show to their boss.

10. If You Get Results, You'll Go Far.  There are two measures of how high you rank on the value chain: knowledge and relationships. Success with media relations is a sure way to show that you are at the top.

Kyle Potvin is principal at Splash Communications, LLC, a consultancy of communications specialists with experience serving some of the world’s most visible brands.  She can be reached at or visit

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