Establishing Relationships With Local Reporters

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 15:06
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Establishing Relationships With Local Reporters

The ultimate goal of financial-services professionals who desire to raise their media profile is to establish themselves as credible subject experts to newspapers, television stations and online news outlets. While many may see that as translating into quotes in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, for many of you the best place to start will be media outlets covering your hometowns. With that in mind, here are a few time-tested things you can do to kickstart a media campaign.

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The first thing to keep in mind when dealing with local news outlets is often people who cover business affairs have no business training whatsoever. Even before the advertising decline put the economics of local news in doubt, reporters at smaller newspapers have been wearing many hats, meaning their coverage duties could change depending on the day of the week. Thus, there was never any time for reporters to specialize to the degree that you will see with larger outlets typically located in state capitals, much less the degree of specialization at major, nationwide outlets.

At first glance, advisors looking to capitalize on local media may regard this fact of life with annoyance; after all, most sources don't see it as their job to educate reporters on issues they're covering. The flip side, however, is that by taking the time to work with reporters and help them understand financial issues that will have broad significance and why that's so, you'll establish yourself as a credible source who stands the chance to receive a lot of free ink in the outlet. As I've written before, the whole goal of a PR campaign is not to take your message to the most people, but to get it in the hands of as many prospective clients as possible. Given that, local media outlets are often a great venue; they're still highly read, especially by demographic groups that have historically had a large amount of investible income.

Another issue that complicates media efforts in smaller markets is the fact that it can be hard to identify reporters who would make appropriate contacts, given the fact smaller outlets don't have a business reporter per se. A good route around this issue is to examine the paper's masthead -- the staff listing that's usually found on either the first few pages of the front section, or in some cases, the opinion page. The masthead will always identify one or more editors; for smaller papers, the appropriate contact will generally be listed either as the editor or managing editor.

Once you've identified an appropriate contact at the outlet, I recommend sending a short, introductory letter  - or e-mail, if you can easily find their address - that explains what you do and elaborates on the areas of expertise you can offer. Bonus points will probably be awarded if you can suggest a few relevant story ideas, since reporters at small outlets have to come up with all their own story ideas. During a week that has relatively little scheduled news, it can be a big chore to come up with a whole week's worth of stories, so they may very well welcome your suggestions.

After giving them a few days to get to your message, if you've not heard anything in response, I think it's perfectly fine to reach out and gauge their receptiveness. In truth, some reporters may hate this, but we're all in businesses where a large amount of rejection goes with the territory. Ideally, you'll get enough time with those willing to talk to find out what they think about your ideas and gauge how likely they are to do one of the stories. In reality, however, this may not happen and you'll have to be content with getting only enough time for a brief introduction. During this initial interaction, if you can't get them to commit to doing a story immediately, ask if they'd mind receiving future updates from your practice, such as the quarterly newsletters on market trends that many of you send to clients as well as story ideas.

Over time, odds are this approach will pay dividends. One cautionary note: Try as best you can not to be too pushy in terms of getting them to commit to featuring you in a specific time period or on a specific story. This approach may seem a natural extension to the sales process that we're all doing everyday, but some reporters have a big objection to it.

A final, but very important word is to avoid any mention of exchanging news coverage with advertising. There's still a widespread notion that this is a prevalent part of the media world, especially for smaller papers. But the truth is, most outlet who actually follow this principle aren't places you want to be. There are many small papers who, just like their much-larger counterparts, pride themselves on the "wall" between advertising and editorial coverage, so suggesting a right to coverage with an ad buy can carry big risks. As is true with more forms of selling, patience will prevail, provided you've chosen the right target for your message.

Comments (1)

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mrowland
Great advice! I would add a few things. You can probably figure out who covers business news by watching the bylines in the business section or on business stories. Not only should you refrain from pushing on when you will be included in a specific story on a certain date, but you should not even mention it. Nor should you ask that a copy of any story that includes you be mailed to you. The reporter's view will be that it's your job to keep up on the paper's coverage. As for the trade of news coverage for an ad buy, I add about a hundred ! to what Cyrus says. My advice: Don't talk about how important you are or why you deserve coverage. Humility wins the day.
mrowland , February 17, 2010

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