How To Score A Great Local News Story: 5 PR Tips

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. 

How To Safeguard Your Digital Reputation

The foundation of a good public relations campaign is reputation management, and it’s important now. As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, we’re all concerned about protecting health. But the shutdown also threatens brand health, and not only due to lost business. Our new all-digital workstyle can impact brand and personal reputation, and not always in a good way.

COVID shutdown raises reputation risks

Office employees have been thrust into remote work, and many are using personal devices for business communications. We’re all spending far more time online than we were before, and it’s easy to be lax about digital security, social media activity, and communications with colleagues in virtual meetings. On top of that, racial justice protests have swept the country, and the political and cultural climate seems fraught. On social platforms, people are being cancelled over “cancel culture” discussions that aren’t even very clear.  Here’s how to protect your brand’s reputation and thrive even during the COVID era.

Update your digital footprint

What comes up when you google your brand – or even your own name? Make sure personal and business sites are optimized and up-to-date. They should reflect awareness of recent events and the changes in how we live and work. It’s important now to be present on key social media platforms, and to post proactively. If it’s too overwhelming to make an impact everywhere, select the two or three most relevant ones and set goals for reach and engagement.

Ramp up that digital security

Security attacks and scams increase during times of crisis, and the coronavirus shutdown has encouraged phishing and identity theft scams by bad actors. A rogue tweet or comment by an imposter is exceedingly rare, but it can be an expensive nightmare to repair the damage. Now is an excellent time to review and tighten digital security protocols with the help of an IT team. For those in professions with access to sensitive information, like risk management, legal services, and accounting, the biggest risk is probably careless use of a personal device for client business. That’s why all devices must be secure and security measures clearly communicated and enforced.

Know SEO basics

You don’t need to hire an SEO expert, but it helps to grasp the basics. For most, it comes down to an optimized website and production of fresh, high-quality content. Include keywords that people searching for your expertise will use, bu only in a natural way. For instance example, our website emphasizes phrases like “top New York PR agency” and “best technology PR” instead of less searchable copy like “our clients love us.”

Content, content, and more content

The most challenging part of building a digital reputation for many is content production, because it’s time-consuming and your quarterly editorial calendar may be scrapped when something happens….like a terrible new coronavirus that shuts down businesses. But Google rewards fresh, relevant content. Weekly posts about issues, and insights relevant to clients, customers, prospective employees, and peers is the single most powerful way to build a reputation in sync with business or professional goals.

Don’t get cancelled

Now is the time to ramp up digital and social content, yes. But it’s also important to review your brand’s social media policy, update guidelines on social content, and examine your own social posts. It’s helpful to be sensitive and think about those outside your own bubble, whatever that may be. Early on I tweeted something negative about working from home. I was quickly reminded by a stranger on Twitter that I was lucky to still have work. True enough.

Finally, bear in mind virtually no digital communication is private. Internal office emails will be shared, deleted posts can be screenshot and saved, and you may not always be muted on that Zoom when you think you are.

Renew relationships

Of course, it’s an ideal time to network with colleagues or prospects, because no one is traveling and nearly everyone is more open to it than before. Join professional online communities, and engage. Be known for your insights, collegiality, or responsiveness. Be generous with your time, ideas, and feedback. Participation in a professional community will offer a payback in search ranking support, reputation enhancement, and new relationships.

Link your brand with ideas

My grandmother used to say that small people talk about other people, but big people talk about ideas. This is true in public relations and reputation as well. Aligning your brand or name with a central idea, mission, or brand differentiator is the most authentic way to build a reputation online. It should appear in your LinkedIn profile, on your website, your Twitter profile, and be frequently mentioned in business content and earned media.

Know when to apologize

Someone criticizes you or your brand on social media. An unfair review of your business appears online and is shared. Don’t overreact, but do respond – with professionalism. If there’s a legitimate gripe, accept responsibility, apologize, and take steps to correct the situation. It’s amazing how humanizing a humble response to criticism can be for a business or personal brand.