How to garner top-tier coverage without pitching those outlets directly

There’s a back door for landing your stories in major publications like The New York Times or on shows like ‘Today.’ It just entails a little work to get upstream. Here’s what you should know.

Imagine the thrill of turning on the television and catching your work on a network morning show or opening The New York Times and seeing a story you pitched.

It is not that earning ink in Manure Manager is not a big deal; it is just that coverage in those national media outlets is a huge accomplishment. Top-tier outlets are difficult to pitch and much more elusive than the rest of the market—or are they?

Some of the smartest pitching professionals earn massive media coverage in a repeatable way using the “Waterfall Effect.”

All mainstream media stories can be traced upstream to smaller, more accessible, outlets in a predictable pattern. Instead of directly pitching the biggest, least accessible journalists, smart PR professionals build relationships with the smaller, more available, niche-focused reporters who influence your mainstream targets.

Rather than pitching the tech reporter for NBC’s “Today Show,” you might find that he often covers stories found in The Wall Street Journal—and that they were broken first by a Mashable reporter. Instead of pitching the “Today Show,” you could build a trusted relationship with the Mashable writer who influences the influencers. So, how do you trace these sources upstream? Try these steps:

1. Be specific. Instead of just choosing a media outlet, target a particular reporter, preferably one who publishes frequently. Start reading their material regularly with the goal of identifying the sources of their stories.

2. Work upstream. Examine each story your target reporter releases to discover its prior source. (Often, the reporter will link to it.) Other times, you must spend a few minutes searching for the previous mentions of the story. Now, if the source you uncover is at a large media outlet, do not stop searching upstream. Look for that source’s source. Eventually, you will find yourself at the origin of the media stream. That is your first lead, but you are not done yet.

3. Track sources over time. You will start uncovering patterns of your source’s source over a few weeks or months. Use a spreadsheet or a simple contact management tool to keep track of the frequency with which the same origin reporters appear. Once patterns emerge, it is time to go to work.

4. Be a source for your source’s source. PR pros see themselves as trusted, reliable resources instead of pitching machines. In employing the Waterfall Effect, follow those original sources on social media. Help them find great new stories. Comment on the articles they publish. Share their original content with your digital audience. Watch how the stories your relationship creates trickle down to your target outlet. How often does it happen? What kind of stories does your target pick up? The more you learn about your target’s affinity for your source’s content, the more productive you will be in influencing what gets covered.

5. Building momentum. Like almost everything else in the PR business, the Waterfall Effect is not a shortcut. It is a long-term relationship-building process to generate coverage for the stories you pitch. The longer you explore who influences your influencers, the more successful you (and your stories) will become.

Want to learn more about the Waterfall Effect? I’ll be attending Ragan’s Social Media Conference for PR, Marketing and Communications at Disney World March 27-29 and we’ll more closely examine The Waterfall Effect while we’re there. Hope to see you at Disney!

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Topics: PR

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