What do you need to do before engaging in a PR effort?
While it may seem like you can go out there and just start pitching the media, you’ll probably be more successful if you spend some time thinking through what you might need to do first. Preparing ahead of time makes a difference when it comes to success in a media relations effort.
What belongs on your public relations preparation checklist? Here are seven elements to focus on as you prepare to reach out to the media.
PR Preparation Checklist
1) Is your website up to date?
Yes, it sounds obvious, but many companies don’t think about updating their site before proactively reaching out to the media.
One of the first things a journalist will do once they become interested in your story is visit your website. If it’s terribly outdated, that can turn them off.
If you’ve been putting off updates, address those before calling attention to your site. For example, is your news area up to date? Are the assets a reporter may need easy to find and access?
I always recommend that companies have a virtual press kit on their sites. Put it under “About Us” or “Resources.” For more about what to include, refer to this post – “13 things to include in a virtual press kit.”
2) Are you active on social media?
Once you contact a journalist and pique their interest, they’ll probably check your site – AND your social media activity. Do you have a presence on at least one or two platforms? When was the last time you posted?
This does NOT mean you need to be active on every social media outlet. For my B2B clients, it’s usually LinkedIn and maybe Twitter. If you have accounts but haven’t posted in months, that’s not a good look.
When I asked reporters if they check a potential source’s website and social media before deciding whether to include them in a story, they overwhelmingly responded yes.
“I definitely do … that doesn’t mean I’ll totally nix the story right away, but if neither is updated, it makes me leery of doing the story (like, are they really doing what I’m being pitched) and makes my job much harder if I do decide to pursue it still,” one reporter told me.
You can read more about this in my piece on Entrepreneur, Want to Do a Public Relations Push? Focus on Social Media First.
3) Do you have customer and third-party references?
If you’re pitching stories to the media, chances are they’ll want to speak to someone outside the company who can back up your claims. Often, this might be a customer – but it could also include partners, industry analysts or influencers, for example.
You’ll want to ensure they have positive things to say about your company. Case in point, you wouldn’t want to use a customer who’s recently had a bad experience with your brand.
Think about your biggest cheerleaders. Are they be willing to speak to a reporter on your behalf? (And – they may also benefit from getting some publicity as a result, if quoted in a story.)
4) Are you ready to offer compelling visuals?
Visuals are becoming increasingly important to help sell your story ideas to the press. Reporters have told me that good visuals can even tip the scales in favor of them doing the story. Having high-resolution images to provide really can make a difference.
Consider offering video, too. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, highly produced piece to get the job done. If you have the budget to hire a professional photographer or videographer, that’s great – but if you don’t, there are cost-effective alternatives.
Also, be ready to provide logos and executive/spokesperson headshots.
5) Do you have media-trained spokespeople ready to go?
If a journalist wants to feature your company in a story, you’ll want to be ready to provide a spokesperson to help flesh out the details.
Be sure to provide a subject matter expert who’s experienced speaking with the media. If you don’t have one, allow time to train one or more.
Explain to the spokesperson how the process works. If you’re planning to pitch a story, check with them on their availability. Be sure you know how to reach them. (Here’s another tip: If they’re headed out of town on vacation, it may not be the best time to ask them to serve as a spokesperson.)
You also want to underscore the need to respond to media inquiries as soon as possible. There needs to be a sense of urgency, or the journalist may move on to their next source.
6) Are you prepared to offer relevant data?
Reporters love a good survey or study. If you can afford to conduct a survey, the results may contain ALL kinds of great nuggets of information that can be turned into story angles and pitches.
Of course, with the help of tools like SurveyMonkey, anyone can do a survey – but if you want credible results, you’ll want to consider hiring someone to help design it, if possible. This ensures you’ll get better results yet allow you to do most of the work yourself, says Michele Linn, co-founder and head of strategy at Mantis Research.
It’s important to remember that you have to survey enough respondents so that the results are credible. A good journalist will ALWAYS want to look under the hood to see how many people were surveyed and other details about how the research was conducted.
Here’s an example of what NOT to do: I once did some work for an agency client that wanted to try to pitch a survey to journalists based on data from five respondents. FIVE.
What if you don’t have the budget to do your own research? It’s perfectly acceptable to cite someone else’s. Here are some sources of data available for public use:
Just be sure to give credit where credit is due by including a link to the research you’ve cited.
For more tips, read this article I wrote for Muck Rack, Using original research to boost PR results.
7) Have you updated your background materials?
If you have a company overview, fact sheet or executive bios, always make those available. Then, the journalist can refer to them if they have a basic question.
Remember that it’s better to be prepared and not need something than to keep a reporter waiting while you spend time putting it together.
Will You Be Prepared When a Media Opportunity Comes Your Way?
It may sound like a lot of work – but believe me, it can pay off. As the famous quote goes, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
It’s always better to think through what might be needed to gain earned media coverage and work on putting those elements together before you rush out there unprepared.
About the author: You’ll find Michelle Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. As a public relations and communications consultant, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, Ragan’s PR Daily, Attorney at Work, Freelancers Union and more. She is the co-host of #PRLunchHour on Twitter Spaces and is the founder and host of #FreelanceChat on Twitter. In addition, Michelle was named among the top 10 most influential PR professionals by Commetric and ranked in the top five on the PR Measurement Twitter Influencer Index the past two years.