Securing positive media coverage can really pay off. It can lend credibility to your organization; establish your leaders as subject matter experts; provide exposure to your brand; and give you a chance to contribute to the story that’s being told about your operation, industry, client base or community.

Still, it’s no easy feat. Sure, we live in a 24/7 news cycle, with fresh coverage popping up almost nonstop online, on the air, in print and on news outlets’ social media channels. But the competition to attract that coverage — and the objective third-party validation and exposure to the public that come with it — has never been fiercer.

As someone who worked in newsrooms for 20 years, I can tell you that editors, reporters, producers and assignment desks are absolutely inundated with pitches, ideas and suggestions for coverage.

That doesn’t mean journalists don’t want to hear your ideas; after all, an interesting story that connects with their audience will always be appealing. But your idea needs to stand out from the onslaught. Set yourself apart by doing your research, finding the nuggets that other pitches don’t have, and being easy to work with.

One note: We’re talking here about standard media relations, not crisis media relations or incident management. If an executive gets caught with his hand in the till, it won’t be hard at all to get news coverage, unfortunately. If your organization finds itself managing an issue — and the media interest that often comes with it — Vehr Communications excels at providing strategic counsel.

But for this article, we’re talking about non-crisis news coverage. Here are five tips to step up your media relations game.

  1. Do your homework: Is your idea relevant? Are you pitching the right media outlet? The right person on staff? Do a little research on the organization and journalists you’re targeting — check out previous coverage, social media accounts, job titles and bios. It’s surprising how often organizations just toss something out there and hope for the best. If Reporter XX only covers public corporations, they’re not the best target to cover your mom-and-pop shop. If Reporter YY has a history of tough stories about the topic you have in mind, maybe bypass them for someone else. And if TV Station ZZ has never shown any interest in organic farming, you might have better luck pitching TV Station AA, which has historically shown an interest in agriculture. By the same token, if Reporter BB mentions minority-financing as an interest area in their bio, and Newsroom CC has shown an interest in startup businesses in struggling neighborhoods, target them with news of your new equity-based financing program.
  2. Know what you want to say: Think of your pitches and media interviews in terms of key messages. What points do you absolutely want to get across? Boil them down to clear, succinct messages — no more than three or four of them — that capture the essence of your product launch, operational change, company feature or other issue. Being clear about your purpose helps you avoid the “throw in the kitchen sink” approach, which can weigh down your pitches and get you off track during interviews.
  3. Practice your pivot: During an interview, you may find that the conversation isn’t touching on what you’d like to talk about or is going down roads you hoped to avoid. While you can’t control the interview, you can often help steer it with simple pivoting phrases. “You raise an interesting point, Karen, but what I really want to make sure your viewers understand is …” or “That was definitely a tough quarter, Bob, but let me share the positive financials we’re seeing now …” and so on. By the same token, you may occasionally be tempted to answer with “No comment,” which can sound like you have something to hide. Instead of “no comment,” pivot — always heading toward the things you can answer. “I don’t know about that, Susan, but I can tell you …” or “While we don’t comment on personnel issues, I can tell you that our employee satisfaction surveys show …”
  4. Stats, superlatives and more: Journalists love a great statistic, interesting fact, bit of data that illustrates a trend, or great anecdote that quickly conveys what’s newsworthy about your story. These can set your pitches and interviews apart, provide context and spark excitement. For example, if your company is opening a division focused on female entrepreneurs, how else can you make that news relevant and interesting? Maybe 27% of all startups last year were founded by women. Perhaps a Harvard study found that 1 in 4 women under 40 say they’d like to own their own business. Or maybe you can share a brief story about a struggling young mother who came to your company for seed money for her startup and is now seeing sales growth of 10% every year. These data points make your interview more interesting than merely saying, “Shareholders are excited about our new division.”
  5. Don’t be a pain: All other things being equal, a journalist will engage with a news source that doesn’t make things more difficult. You’d be surprised how often, for example, a company will pursue and land media interest, then proceed to be a pain — taking weeks to confirm an interview date, showing up unprepared for a TV spot, canceling the CEO’s sit-down again and again, badgering the reporter about things they’ve already said they can’t answer, and so on. Unless your CFO is truly the only financial expert in town who can comment on that economic trend (news flash: he’s not) or your new training program is unlike any other (again, unlikely), that reporter or editor is very quickly going to move on to one of the dozens of other good ideas they discovered that month — and one of the news sources that isn’t making everything unnecessarily complicated.

Media coverage can be an important tool to build your brand and shape your organization’s story. And it can be a fact of life even for companies that aren’t courting that coverage. Using these five tips can help you nail your news pitches and interviews.