Selecting the right journalist for a given piece of news is a vital skill for any PR team. It’s also important to determine whether a story has its best chance of being published as a local media item, or if it warrants a full national media outreach. For example, survey results or breaking news at a national company will be pitched to national media, whereas region-specific news will be offered to local reporters.
Although the number of local news outlets — particularly newspapers — has declined over the past several years, local media still offers clout. A study found that 76% of Americans trust local television news, – a confidence level that’s over 20% higher than trust in national news. This is one reason why local media should be part of any PR plan. There’s also the likelihood of a larger story; if a piece of company news has local or regional relevance, the resulting story can have a large impact.
Clearly, there are benefits to pitching local media. Here are some ways to maximize your chances of success.
Lead with the local hook
If there is no local news angle, the reporter will ask, “How is this relevant to Staten Island?” for example, or simply not respond. Once you have established that it’s appropriate to target local media, determine what type of outlet is best – TV, newspapers, or radio. Show that you’ve done your research and lead with the reason the story is relevant. Include their region in the subject line so they know it’s pertinent, and make sure that local angle is clearly stated in your first sentence. Another pro tip is to sprinkle in a reference to one of their previous stories where they covered a similar topic in their region. Or, if they cover a specific beat / section of the paper, like local entrepreneurs, or community service, be sure to mention it.
Know when and how assignments are made
This is particularly critical for local broadcast segments. The news assignments for the day can be made very early, with reporters and camera crews often dispatched by 8:00 a.m. to cover the stories their assignment editors have identified. For afternoon broadcasts, naturally, the process happens later. It’s best to know exactly who’s making the coverage decisions and when those commitments are made, so you can get your story on their radar at exactly the right time.
Don’t pitch too many reporters at the same publication
It’s easy to become over-eager and blast out emails on the same topic to multiple reporters at a publication. But this is never a good idea, and at local news sites, there may be only one or two reporters on a given beat. Reporters covering a given beat at any publication are in frequent contact with each other, and if you send a pitch to a wrong contact, the reporter may forward your email to the correct person. So, it will be excessive (or worse) if a PR person hits up too many reporters at the same publication. It’s far better to send one or two personalized pitches to local journalists. The pitch should be carefully tailored instead of generic.
Have a strong understanding of local news
If you’re a PR person accustomed to placing your company in stories on a certain beat, you may not be reading local news sites regularly. Don’t neglect the research if this is the case. Investigate local issues and topics of interest, and make a point to understand the specific audience of the local news site you want to pitch. A deep comprehension of local news means understanding who owns which company. For example, if you know that Tribune Co. owns both the Los Angeles Times and WGNO-TV in New Orleans, you know one of your contacts at the Times might put you in touch with WGNO-TV to get your company on TV. The longer you work in PR, the more you make these types of connections, and they soon become second nature. But you can always get smart by doing some research.
Never shut the door on a contact
For your best chance at coverage, be sure to follow up one-to-three times, ideally with new information about the story. And once you have successfully worked with a reporter to place a story, be sure to build the relationship so they’ll remember you as a future contact, whether by sending a thank-you note or promoting the story on Twitter. Every contact is a building block to future stories, so don’t take it personally if you don’t succeed at first. If you get a last-minute call from a producer asking for story commentary from an expert source, do your best to help, even if it’s not relevant to your own clients or company. Chances are, you’ll come upon the same reporter at some point in the future, and they will remember.
When done properly, local media outreach can secure high-impact placements for your company. A professional approach and a well-researched pitch will make you stand out and help build a foundation for greater success down the road.