Reaching out to media - what's the best approach?

If you’re thinking it’s about time to share your awesome work with the media, that's great. But when it comes to reaching out, what is the best way to do this?

There are four time tested methods commonly used by organisations wanting to reach out to media.

We’ll briefly cover samples, and press conferences and launches first as they really only apply to certain types of businesses.

Then we’ll look at two more approaches in a bit more detail - press releases and story pitches - as these can be used by any business and are therefore the most common.

Samples and ‘famils’

This approach involves you distributing samples of your product to media - or to invite them to use, visit or try your service, venue or experience - often referred to as “famils” (short for familiarisation).

If you’re lucky enough to be running a business where it is affordable and practical to do this then fill your boots but do be aware that most media have rules which prevent journalists or editors from receiving gifts or incentives to write favourably about a company. If they are able to accept samples or famils they will often need to state in their published article or review that they received the product or tried your experience for free from your company.

If your sample or famil is given in the hope of receiving a glowing review do also be mindful that the review may well not be what you were hoping for!

Press conferences and launches

Press conferences or business or product launches where you invite members of the press along to an event organised by you, in order to provide them with a “first look” (often accompanied by a media pack or press release of some sort) are another way of engaging media but these can also be very hit and miss as far as generating positive media coverage goes.

By all means go ahead and hold your launch event but bear in mind that a poorly attended or executed launch or conference can do more damage than good - especially if you’ve invited the media. For this reason you really want to have a well organised and well connected team to ensure a well attended and successful event.

Press releases and pitches

Now we come to two of the most common methods of media engagement.

Press releases (stories and statements issued by you to the media) and story pitches (personal reach outs to journalists and editors) are both valuable tools in public relations as they can be employed by virtually any type of business, individual or organisation. It was probably one of these two options that you had in mind when considering how you were going to approach the media. But they do serve different purposes and have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s have a more detailed comparison of the two:

Press Release Advantages

Information Dissemination: Press releases are an effective way to disseminate information to a broad audience. They can be distributed to various media outlets and are suitable for sharing news, announcements, and updates.

Control Over Messaging: Press releases initially give you complete control over the content and messaging you want to convey to media and to the public. That’s not to say that the media will not alter or change the message. In fact if they do cover your story, then unless they publish your press release verbatim, they will be telling their own version of your story. But you will have at least had the opportunity to provide a starting point for them, and hopefully set the story narrative in keeping with your business mission.

Archival Value: Press releases create a documented record of the information you want to share. They are often archived on websites and databases, making it easy for journalists and others to access the information.

SEO Benefits: Online press releases can improve a company's online visibility and search engine ranking. When well-optimised, they can show up in search results, attracting online audiences.

Consistency: Press releases provide a consistent and structured format for presenting information. This can help ensure that key messages are delivered clearly and without deviation.

Press Release Disadvantages

Limited Interactivity: Press releases are one-way communication. They provide information but do not facilitate two-way communication or engagement with journalists or the public.

Potentially Overlooked: Journalists and editors receive numerous press releases every day, and many are ignored. Your press release may get lost in the flood of information.

Lack of Personalization: Press releases are often seen as impersonal. They may not be tailored to the specific interests of individual journalists or outlets.

Story Pitching Advantages

Personalisation: Story pitches allow for a more personalised and targeted approach. Experienced PR professionals will tailor their message to the specific interests of journalists and outlets so do the same if you are going to do the pitching yourself.

Two-Way Communication: Pitches enable direct communication and engagement with journalists, opening the door for questions, feedback, and collaboration on story angles.

Increased Relevance: A well-crafted story pitch can make a story more relevant to a journalist's audience, increasing the likelihood of coverage.

Opportunity for Feedback: Pitching provides an opportunity to receive immediate feedback from journalists, allowing you to refine your story and approach.

Story Pitching Disadvantages

Time-Consuming: Crafting individual story pitches and building relationships with journalists can be time-consuming.

Not All Pitches Are Accepted: Journalists may reject your pitch if it doesn't align with their editorial focus or priorities.

Relying on Relationships: The success of story pitches often relies on the strength of your relationships with journalists. Without established connections, it can be challenging to get their attention.

While press releases are suitable for disseminating information to a wide audience, story pitches are better for engaging with journalists, building relationships, and tailoring messages to specific media outlets. Most PR professionals use a combination of both approaches to maximise their impact and I’d recommend you do the same.

Jennifer Liew is the cofounder and media lead at FoundrPR.