Connecting with the media
by Melissa Barreca
Connecting with the media
Knowing the ins and outs of how the media works will get your stories heard
Public Relations by Melissa Barreca & Kathy Callahan
Melissa Barreca is communications project manager at Ameristar Casino St. Charles in St. Charles, Mo. She can be reached at (800) 325-7777, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kathy Callahan is director of communications for Ameristar's corporate office in Las Vegas. She can be reached at (702) 567-7053, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
One of the most basic aspects of public relations is the act of seeking and maximizing positive media exposure for a company. In fact (much to the chagrin of many PR practitioners), to some the terms Public Relations and Media Relations are still interchangeable. While it's normally just one part of the larger PR function, good media relations is critical to success.
Casinos can take a page from the media relations play book to instantly improve their media exposure by simply:
(1) Learning to think like a journalist; and
(2) Giving them what they're looking for.
Understanding the journalist
Thinking like a journalist means understanding the media business, its goals and its challenges. Publications must fill pages with interesting content that will inform and entertain their readers. Broadcast news outlets have hours of airtime to mold into compelling television or radio programs that attract a regular audience. In the media business, deadlines rule the day as harried newsmen and newswomen churn out story after story.
So journalists must seek out, shape and package stories on a regular basis. The best way to understand what any specific reporter seeks is to understand their readers, viewers or listeners and what matters to them. To the extent that your company can learn this information and work with it, your media relations program will thrive.
For example, a mainstream media outlet, such as a daily newspaper, is probably never going to print your latest jackpot winners (unfortunately there is nothing new or unique about someone winning a $1,000 slot payout at a casino). This type of information is best sent to gaming trades aimed at a consumer audience which are always looking to fill a certain number of pages with smiling faces of jackpot winners holding enormous cardboard checks.
If you continually bombard the local daily newspaper editor with regular jackpot winner releases, you are definitely not making any friends and other stories you send may get overlooked. However, mainstream media might be interested in a different angle, such as the largest payout in the history of your property, the market, the state, etc., or a winner that has some special story or circumstance.
Making the pitch
After identifying a new and unique story angle that you feel a specific reporter might be interested in, contact that reporter to make your pitch. But beware, every reporter has a preferred method for being contacted and receiving information. If you e-mail a reporter who never opens unsolicited messages or leave a voicemail for an editor whose phone is collecting dust, the story will go nowhere.
The manner of pitching is just as important as the method. Consider these tips for crafting the perfect pitch:
• Be passionate about your subject. Reporters won't be interested in a story unless you show enthusiasm for the topic.
• Always say what you want up front. Journalists appreciate contacts that get right to the point.
• Figure out what's in it for them. Your pitch stands a
better chance of succeeding if you lead in with a compelling reason that their readers or viewers will benefit from the information.
If you approach each pitching opportunity with these criteria in mind, you will inevitably develop stronger pitches that enjoy a greater rate of success.
Of course, not every story will be suitable for one-on-one pitching and may need to be distributed to a wide audience of media outlets at the same time. Press releases have long been the tool of choice for disseminating this type of information and e-mail is quickly becoming the preferred method of contact.
However, there are a few pitfalls to be aware of when creating and distributing releases electronically.
Effective electronic delivery
When e-mailing press releases, it is important to consider how it will be received. Many media outlets have sophisticated e-mail filters to block out computer viruses and an onslaught of spam. Many reporters cannot take receipt of an e-mail message from an unfamiliar e-mail address or one that contains attachments of any kind. Others will reject e-mails that don't pass through spam filters.
In sending press releases electronically, make sure that you have addressed both the content and the format of your message to maximize its chance of reaching the final destination.
• Check the content of your message for red flags that might set off a spam filter with the free spam content checker at www.lyris.com/contentchecker to edit out any suspect words or phrases before sending.
• The format of your message should be in plain text with minimal formatting and should preferably fit in one e-mail window.
• Since few press releases fit in this limited amount of space, it's helpful to include just a headline and the first few paragraphs with a link back to a press release posted to your Web site.
• Never include any attachments on the message. Most journalists won't touch them.
• In addition, be sure to send your e-mail individually to media contacts whenever possible. Many spam filters will automatically detect and reject messages that have too many recipients in the "to," "cc," or "bcc" fields.
Knowing your targets and understanding how to reach them are the keys in successful media pitching. With a little research and careful crafting of your message, your company's positive media exposure will improve.