Earned media is more valuable today than it has ever been — boosting SEO, delivering third-party credibility, building your brand and, of course, dramatically expanding your company’s reach. Those are all PR 101 basics. At the same time, earning those media placements is more challenging today than it has ever been. This is especially the case in the business sector, where B2B public relations (B2B PR) can boost efforts throughout your marketing and sales funnels. That’s because:
- Publication consolidation has reduced the number of publications for any given industry
- Publications have much smaller, and overworked, staff than they had in years past
- Contrary to what you might think, publications are not starved for content — editors receive an average of 400 pitches per day
For the rest of this blog, let’s focus on that last point. If you’re competing with hundreds of pitches on any given day, what can do to increase your chances of getting coverage? First let’s tackle the things people do – even marketing and publicity agencies that should know better — that hinder your efforts. Here are 10 big ones:
1. Pitching Your Press Release to the Wrong Publication
Your pitches need to be appropriate to the outlets you’re pitching. If you’re rolling out a new feature for your communications suite, don’t send it to regulatory journals. You’ll annoy them at best. At worst, you’ll lose that outlet when you have B2B PR announcements that are on-target.
Alignment is important in other areas, such as:
- Publication size — if you’re a $15 million, privately-held software company, the Wall Street Journal is not going to cover your acquisition
- Region — if your company is a regional play in Boston, don’t pitch the Chicago Sun Times
- Audience — don’t pitch your HR software to consumer publications
This advice goes for awards, too. Especially if the award is from a competing publication. Winning awards from business or industry publications can deliver significant value to your company, and it’s worth putting these wins on the wires to spread your win far and wide. But don’t expect coverage from competitors to the publication that gave you the award, and don’t insult them by pitching it to them.
2. Pitching Your Press Release to the Wrong Editor
Take it from someone who’s been on the other side of the pitch desk… this happens all the time. Just assembling a list of editors and blasting them is not only ineffective – it’s a fast track to unsubscribes or their internal blocked lists.
In fact, often, when a competent B2B PR team signs on with a new client reaches out to editors to find out why their clients have not been getting coverage, they find that the clients (or substandard agencies) were pitching the wrong writers and editors for the subject matter. Knowing who you’re pitching is an essential component to PR 101.
3. Filling Your Press Release with Hyperbole
Give editors something they can work with. A PR 101 basic is to refrain from stuffing your press releases and earned media pitches with over-the-top quotes, exaggerated claims, positioning well-established products and features as “breakthrough” or “disruptive,” and other fluff. Unpublishable content that editors have to ignore or work around in order to do their jobs always reduces your chances of getting covered. Deliver content that’s helpful, not hyperbolic.
4. Sending Dated Information
Publications aren’t in the business of running old news. Don’t expect coverage on press releases that already are dated or already have been covered. As technology editor Alan Zeichick lamented in a piece I published on MSP press relations, it happens a lot. This means that you can give your submission a leg up over other submissions simply by having your house in order and pitching on-time. In other words, get organized! Your earned media strategy should include:
- Content calendars
- Fast-track workflows for press approvals to maximize your potential for getting announcements out as planned (especially if your releases have to be cleared by legal departments)
- Flexibility to hold back or reschedule announcements when you have to (e.g., a partner, vendor, customer or investor is late approving a release)
- Pitching press in a timely manner (seeing who ran your wire release and following up with those who didn’t won’t cut it – your news is dated by then)
5. Sending Information That’s Not Newsworthy
Don’t confuse what’s important to your company with what’s important to your industry or the world at large. Expanding your customer service team by a half-dozen seats may be good for your business. In the right context, it might even be leveraged by your marketing and communications teams for customer communications. But it’s not going to generate meaningful press coverage.
6. Failing to Give Advance Notice on Key Stories
When you’ve got a big B2B PR announcement, you need to take things a step further and give press advance notice that the announcement is coming. They need adequate time to respond to your news and release a more comprehensive article on the day your news is announced.
The takeaway here is understand what “key” means. If your company is a market mover, just about everything you do is a “key” story. However, for most companies, “key” stories are driven more by context. Perhaps a major product launch or update is meaningful to your trade press, or maybe you’re announcing a merger or acquisition, which can move you further up the chain into some of the big financial publications. In these cases, it’s important to give journalists and analysts adequate time for interviews so they can build out their stories ahead of your announcement date.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a major publication relaying they’d like to cover your announcement but can’t in your timeframe. Plan ahead to avoid these heartaches.
7. Being Unprepared for Follow-Up
If you want to frustrate your PR team and burn your credibility with publications, few paths can accomplish this faster than failing to field interview and clarification requests from press.
As we’ve covered, getting press coverage is more challenging than it has ever been. So, when you are successful in getting responses to your pitches, you need to be able to capitalize on those opportunities.
Get your ducks in a row by ensuring in advance that your spokespersons (internal and external alike) will be available for interviews on short notice on the day of your announcements. You may have to adjust the date of your announcement to make sure that everyone who might be called on by press is available, and that’s OK.
8. Trying to Control the Story
A publication’s readership hinges upon its credibility. Readers expect content to be newsworthy, vetted and have some degree of balance. Reporters and editors can’t give the subjects of their coverage control over the content they publish and stay in business for long. Even “friendlier” publications, like industry trade press, have a responsibility to ensure that the information they provide is solid. Do not ask reporters to review the story beforehand. If you’re concerned about being quoted accurately, ask to respond to interview questions in writing via email.
The bottom line on this PR 101 tip is, if you want an advertisement or an advertorial, purchase one. Otherwise, remind your internal teams that the whole reason you’re pitching press is for the credibility that comes with third-party coverage.
9. Submitting Poorly Written Press Releases
You know those people on social media and blog comments boards that people with poor writing and spelling skills call “grammar Nazis?” Many of them are writers and editors. Diction and spelling and clarity matter to them. Make sure someone with these skills reviews your release for logic, consistency, spelling and grammar. And, most publications follow Associated Press Style (AP Style) to the letter or with minor variations. Following those guidelines is recommended in all of your B2B public relations efforts.
10. Ignoring the Reporter’s (or Editor’s) Preferred Method of Communications
Most reporters and editors prefer pitches by email— it’s the only way they can screen the volume of pitches they receive. If they think your pitch is worth covering but don’t have the bandwidth themselves, they can forward your pitch to someone else for coverage. But some publications ask for form submissions, and there still are editors who welcome phone calls. Make sure you’re reaching the publications on their own terms.
That’s a whole lot of don’ts. But you can increase the odds of pickup by doing things your reporters and editors like, as well. Here are six things you can do to make a difference:
1. Make Your Pitch Count
Your pitch should be succinct. It should also include all the relevant information your media contact needs in order to make a quick and informed decision about your announcement. Key inclusions include:
- All the Ws count in PR 101… who, what, why, when, where…
- Why the publication should cover it (see the next tip!)
- How to contact you for assistance – hopefully including your mobile number, so they can call or text you for immediate help
2. Establish the Value to the Reader
Reporters and editors (and bloggers – pretty much everything we are covering here applies to bloggers as well!) need to deliver value to readers. When you communicate why your news matters to those readers, you’re communicating that you know the publication. And you’re helping the reporter instantly identify the value covering your announcement delivers to the publication. Most importantly, you start off on the right foot by offering something of value in your B2B PR efforts.
3. Know the Subject Matter You’re Pitching
Business and industry reporters ask lots of questions. That doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re writing about or what your answer should be, at least within reason. Often, the most knowledgeable people in a sector are those who spend years covering it. In fact, many of the best marketers and analysts in the world started out writing about the industries they operate in.
This means they can’t be easily fooled, which is essential to their ability to do their job effectively. But it also means they appreciate it when they’re approached by people who know what they’re talking about. If you’re new to your space and still coming up to speed in your B2B PR position, there are some steps you can take to close this gap:
- Ask internal experts for the three biggest takeaways from your announcement, how those benefit the industry (or customers) in general, and how they fit within the competitive landscape.
- Look up your company’s (or client’s) closest competitors and determine how your announcement fits within that competitive framework.
- If you’re making a product announcement, demo the product or upgrade yourself so you have a first-hand understanding of how it works the value it delivers.
- Before you submit your announcement or make your pitch, look up every word or acronym in your release you don’t understand.
- Recognize that knowing your business is different from knowing everything. Reporters understand that sometimes B2B PR experts have to go to engineers or other experts to answer technical questions.
4. Use Clever Headlines and Subject Lines (But Not Hyperbole)
Pitching earned media placements has at least one thing in common with your other marketing initiatives— being clever helps. Reporters love a good hook as much as the next person and maybe more so; most are wordsmiths themselves, after all.
Taking a moment out to create a pithy headline or subject line (see the next tip!) can make a difference when your B2B PR pitch is bunched in with hundreds of others. And, sometimes, when your headline is strong enough, it will make it through to publication.
Take care to not construe this advice as license to send puffery. Reporters and editors are journalists first, and prefer plain facts to hype any day.
5. Add Skimmable Content
Aside from your introductory B2B PR pitch – which hopefully is a kicks-ass personal note to your media contact that includes everything we covered above in “Make Your Pitch Count” – the three main areas that are skimmed to see if they want to read on are your
- mail subject line
- press release headline
Spend time getting these right. Do they:
- Communicate value?
- Propel a narrative?
- Compel you to want to read more?
6. Provide Visual Graphics
Help your media see how running your story could be visually interesting. Headshots, graphics, screenshots (of applications), video animations or video summaries — all can help you secure coverage as long as they’re not salesy. The less your media contact has to rely on his or her (overtaxed) internal art department, the better.
If your visuals are large, send them along via a link to your image library or assets in a Dropbox link, so your email does not exceed the publication’s email box size limits.
PR 101: The Bottom Line in Your Pitch Efforts
The bottom line to all of this is that, while editors receive hundreds of pitches every day, much of what they receive is substandard at best, and sometimes even unusable junk. Taking the time to be professional, helpful, straightforward and thoughtful of the editor’s needs can go a long way to helping you secure coverage.