We’ve all seen the power of media coverage to change attitudes, build businesses, and bring corporations to their knees.
A few years ago, a media frenzy surrounded the Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) plans to use foreign workers to replace 45 people in their IT department. It started when one of the displaced employees went to the media to tell his side of the story. He was articulate, confident, and strategic with what he said, hitting all the right messages.
He talked about the legality of what Royal Bank was doing, the impact it had on him, his family, and on the people in his department. It was a sad story that pretty much went viral.
And it didn’t stop until RBC’s chief executive Gord Nixon issued an apology promising the 45 employees they would all find comparable employment at the bank.
So there was a happy ending … at least for the workers. The story eventually led to legislative reform on the Canadian government’s temporary foreign worker program.
In other cases, media coverage builds businesses, especially start-ups who have an interesting story. A few years ago, I heard Chris Gilpin, founder of Turnstyle, tell an audience of Ivey alumni how one article in a major American business publication led to subsequent coverage in major media across Canada and the U.S.
The impact on his business was huge, resulting in a steady stream of qualified leads.
What Business Owners Need to Know About Getting Media Coverage
So how do you go about getting media coverage for your business? There are likely a hundred possible tactics to consider. But before you organize another ribbon cutting, understand these 7 important principles for what makes news.
1. Target the Media that Matter
Large news corporations assign journalists to beats: personal finance, food, technology, health, fashion, municipal politics, entertainment, and more.
If you want editorial coverage for your financial advisor practice, first target the media who typically write about personal finance. If you sell insurance, target insurance reporters.
It’s possible to get media to cover a story that’s unrelated to their beat, but it’s tricky. And you need to have an existing relationship with the journalist for them to even consider it.
2. Build Relationships
Introducing yourself to the media these days is easy with social media. Follow them on Twitter, initiate conversations, and share their stories.
Yet building a relationship with a journalist goes beyond the introduction phase. Understand what they need to do their job effectively. Respect their deadlines. Provide access to the right spokesperson. Offer interesting visuals to support your story.
3. Find the Local Angle
If you work in Idaho and you’re pitching a story to a reporter in Los Angeles, find the local angle. Use someone from the Southern California area as your spokesperson to pique the media’s interest.
Many companies use surveys and research to interest the media. If you use this approach, be sure to survey enough people so you can confidently cite regional statistics.
Conflict involving a company’s elected officials and people makes the news. Most people enjoy a little bit of malicious joy at another’s discomfort—and media know it. There are entire publications and websites dedicated to gossip and controversy: The National Enquirer, People, and TMZ.com.
It’s not wise to stir up a negative story to get media coverage for a business. Fabricating something that isn’t true or embellishing a situation will almost definitely backfire. And if you tell a controversial story that is true, it could leave a negative impression in people’s minds.
The other aspect of conflict—BIG conflict—is the need to put a story on the back burner from time to time. When something major happens, such as the Boston Marathon bombings or 9/11, media are totally consumed. Even if they work on an unrelated beat, their editors bring them in to help.
In September 2001, I was working on a credit card launch for a Canadian bank. We put all our efforts on hold for more than a month until the story about the Twin Towers began to dissipate. There was no point in approaching any journalist about the story—they were all writing about some aspect of the New York attacks.
5. Harness Eminence and Prominence
Some people are media magnets just because of their celebrity status. Consider Justin Trudeau. Before he became prime minister and he was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, he received a lot more attention because of his last name than he would if he weren’t a Trudeau (Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau was the Canadian Prime Minister for almost 16 years).
One way to get media coverage for your business is to use a third-party spokesperson with celebrity. But there’s a danger they will over-shadow your story, so be careful and closely manage your messages.
6. Consider Consequence and Impact
There are many reasons RBC’s plans to hire foreign workers made the news. The company is one of Canada’s largest employers and its stock is widely traded. Whenever they do something, the media are watching.
Simply put, what RBC does has consequences and impacts this country.
7. Human Interest
Remember when Chris Hadfield tweeted from space?
It was a great story for many reasons, including the human interest. Who didn’t want to see pictures of their city from space? And no one could really resist Hadfield himself—a scientist taking the time to strum his guitar, take pictures, and be a regular person.
Why It Matters
Understanding how the media works is valuable information for any organization. It helps minimize the frustration of trying to sell a story that’s not news … plus you reap the rewards of positive exposure.
So before you start begging (or bugging) the media for a story, take a minute to understand what makes news.
Contact us if you need help generating media coverage for your firm in Canada or the United States.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Shelley Pringle in January 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.