There is a common misconception among business owners that media relations means writing a news release and sending it to 1,000 journalists, and suddenly they’re all writing about you.
I always joke that they must teach that notion in startup school because every tech founder wants to approach PR that way.
The news release, though still valuable for certain things, is no longer a great tool. Sending a mass email to a big list of journalists violates the CAN-SPAM Act, not to mention that, if you have Canadians on your list, you can face serious fines.
It takes a lot of time and energy to conduct media relations well. You have to think about it as you would business development or supplier relationships. A relationship has to be built before a journalist will pay attention to you. Sending a news release to their inbox is decidedly not the way to do that.
Just as if you were dating or chasing a new client, you’d never send out a bunch of emails to see who responded.
If you think about media relations like dating, you’ll have better luck.
Consider employing some of the following tactics:
1. Read blogs, publications, and online sites, and watch the programs and listen to the shows where you want to appear. It takes time, but it works, because you figure out what the journalist, blogger, producer or host really cares about. Either your story fits, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, no matter how badly you want a story in that publication, move on.
2. Personalize your pitch. Rosemary O’Neill, a co-founder of Social Strata, the makers of Hoop.la, decided to offer unlimited paid time off to her employees. The company has an office in Seattle, and Rosemary reads a Seattle Times journalist daily. She already knew what the journalist covers and what would be interesting to her. She sent a two-sentence email about the new policy, and the journalist ran a story about it. But it didn’t end there. National media picked it up as a new business trend, and Social Strata was put on the map as a trend-setting tech company.
3. Comment on blog posts and articles. This is the very best way for a journalist or blogger to get to know you. When you make smart comments on the articles they’re producing, you build a relationship, and then they are much more willing to talk to you about your story. Some will even help you mold the story if it’s not an exact fit. Think about that from your own perspective: How many of you have commented on my posts and we’ve become friends that way? It works.
4. Don’t send a long email. We are all busy. If you send an email that has everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about you, it won’t be read. Take the approach that Rosemary used and send a quick, attention-grabbing email. The details can come later.
5. Lose the idea of control. Yes, when you have an interview, you should be prepared. You should ask the journalist or blogger ahead of time what kinds of questions you can expect to be asked. Use those questions to figure out what you want to say. You cannot guarantee the end result, though. Your one or two messages might get repeated, but you cannot control the interview.
6. Use the social networks. If you have targeted publications or journalists in your industry, find them on their social networks. Find them on Twitter, then add them to a Twitter list so you see everything they tweet. Find a reason to connect with them there, even if it’s just to introduce yourself, and keep the conversation going every day. Soon enough you’ll find something they are working on that is a fit for you.
7. Read their articles. Unless they’re in TV, most journalists have something you can read and comment on. Many will read the comments on their articles to source new people to call. If you offer a differing opinion or provide more information on the topic, it’s highly likely they will contact you for future stories. (Case in point: A comment I left on a USA Today article that led the journalist to reconsider.)
8. Send something in the mail. A joke among authors is that when you publish a book, all you really have is an expensive business card. It does work well as a gift to journalists whose radar you want to get on. If you haven’t written a book, send a copy of a book from an author you admire. Even a handwritten note works extremely well in today’s fast-paced, impersonal digital world.
9. Personalize your pitches. It’s easy to write a news release about your latest big new thing, copy it into an email, add a bunch of email addresses and hit send—but that rarely works. You’ve spent all this time getting to know your industry journalists. Don’t insult them by sending them the same thing you send everyone else on your list.
10. Be available to talk about industry trends. There will be times you don’t have any new news to share, or the news you do have doesn’t fit what your targeted journalists are writing about. However, they may draw on you to comment on industry trends or news. While it may be just a quote in a bigger story, the strategy here is to be helpful as often as possible. The “you scratch my back” philosophy comes into play, and you might end up with a bigger story centered around you.
Going through this media relations process takes time—a lot of time.
You hire a professional not just because they have relationships you need, but because they use this process every single day, if they’re good.
You can do it yourself, though—if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, get your hands a little dirty and be patient.
A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.