I have a confession.
Even though I’m “in” marketing. And even though some of my proverbially best friends are in PR. And even though my ex’s sister, who has been a practising journalist for two decades, is the most honest and morally fibrous person I have ever met (sometimes unfortunately). I must confess, I’m lazy. I still resort to stereotypes when I’m thinking about journalists. It’s easy isn’t it? Lawyers, car salesmen, journalists; it’s easy to generalize and to forget that they are real people with a context, a purpose and needs of their own.
I was jolted awake when I attended the 2014 workshop called How to Get Your Story Told, presented by the San Diego chapter of the Association of Black Journalists. The workshop was targeted towards non-profit organizations trying to get coverage from local media. As a member of the outreach team for my non-profit volunteer work, I wanted to get into the nitty gritty of how to engage with the media over perpetual problems that need support, like cash, awareness and other resources. I was also hoping to supplement my capabilities when working with our non-profit clients here at Sauté.
I think I must have expected a set of technical tips for managing barriers, overcoming obstacles and grasping attention. A poker playbook from those in the know. It was surprisingly refreshing to have my assumptions immediately blown away. Instead we were encouraged to draw on simple logic and empathy. In the end, what works is not a set of mechanical tricks, but rather considering each of the other players compassionately that can lead to the greatest successes in PR. I was not expecting to come away feeling so informed and inspired. And I certainly wasn’t expecting the advice “just be nice” to hit me like some kind of epiphany. And these were really nice people.
NBC San Diego Anchor, Danya Bacchus presented the event, and opened the session with an hour long panel discussion. Guest speakers, John Van Zante – Rancho Coastal Humane Society, Pasha Nosrat – NBC San Diego, Aida Soria – Fox 5, Booker T. Crenshaw – SeaWorld San Diego, and Dayna Littlefield from the San Diego Union-Tribune, answered a series of questions with generosity, clarity, and highly practical advice. The topics ranged from the general – such as establishing relationships with individual assignment editors – to the ideal construction of your press release.
The diagram below outlines what your pitch should include and where:
I had gone along expecting to learn technicalities, and sure, I did. But more importantly I received a very tangible impression of the role of the different media personnel and a better understanding of how to achieve more wins by simply helping these journalists and broadcasters to do their job well.
The second half of the morning was led by John Van Zante, PR & Marketing Director for the Rancho Coastal Humane Society. As a veteran broadcaster of twenty-some years, Van Zante has a valuable insider take on how to be seen and heard by the media, so it is unsurprising to see him on Fox 5 News presenting the Society’s adoptable dogs on a weekly segment every Wednesday morning at 8:50 am because of course he’s been there, done that and knows better than almost anyone how to get his story told.
I can’t even describe just how enthusiastically Van Zante explained the details of how to write a great press release and get it in front of the right people. He has heaps of experience and a totally magnanimous attitude as a workshop leader. He’s used to teaching others on the subject, and the delivery was measured and fluid. But more than how to write your piece or how to get it in front of the right person, the enlightening point for me John’s take on how to be; how important it is to understand the perspective of people you connect with and to relate to them in a way that maximises your chances of success.
This session was a shortened version of a three hour workshop, and I am grateful to John for allowing me to share the following tips with you on getting your story told:
- It’s not about you.
- It’s always about the people you want to reach.
- The media owes you nothing – they are running a business, they need reach and ratings and social responses; contribute to their efforts and they will be grateful.
- Make it easy for them to say nice things about you – just be nice.
- In return, you need to make them (the media) look good for telling your story.
- You can never say thank you too much.
- Don’t talk trash about your competitors – it just reflects badly on you.
- Be the good guy for your industry – be a resource they can come to when they need information and help.
- You are only as good as your last story.
- Keep it simple (and heartwarming).