Outreach. In the public relations context, the word is enough to send shivers down the spines of results-hungry communicators, not to mention, their long-suffering journalist counterparts on the receiving end of often average, made-for-outreach content. No matter how you slice it, outreach is an inevitable part of earned media activities.

PR practitioners who do outreach are focused on how their initiatives translate into news-making headlines, thereby creating valuable media assets and moving the placement needle in a favourable direction. We have, by and large, been inundated with generic “how to” outreach advice: know the publication, don’t shout in capitals, personalise your pitch and my personal favourite, address the recipient correctly. All the while, the meat-and-potatoes of outreach has remained a closely-guarded trade secret.

Never mind how much window dressing you do in your media engagement, the substance behind your pitch is what is going to make it stand out. Journalists report news to be read, not to have their work go unnoticed. So, don’t put the cart before the horse. Spend time figuring out how you can appeal to a newsrooms sense for a lead worth pursuing and invest in developing an exciting story angle. Indeed, the art of effective PR outreach is more about tapping into the journalistic psyche by contributing timely stories with integrity than it is about fussing over crafting anecdotal email pitches.

media outreach in 2019 - meltwater africa blog

Share your data

Subjects born of data and research can unearth unique insights and be a reliable catalyst for story creation. Protracted market research can help you stock a war chest of current and historical data and, after careful analysis, a thread of stories is likely to emerge.

Travelstart, a Pan-African online travel agency, unlocks the value of data to contribute interesting stories by tapping into a sea of airline supply insights. Travelstart has drawn on their own data to produce credible revelations about airline ticket prices – the topic has a direct bearing on their customers. Sharing this data through the media has positioned them as a thought leader in their category. When airline ticket prices are making news, journalists will tap the brands they know to hold the bigger picture with the data to validate it.

Be a tactful tactician

Unless you’re an Uber, Tesla, Google or any such company of our time, it’s unlikely your brand will be a regular feature of the news cycle.

During slow news periods, work on keeping journalists in your corner by sharing useful bits of information even if it doesn’t result in a brand mention. This behaviour demonstrates a willingness to participate and a concern for the wider ecosystem you play in. Something as simple as sharing a hot industry tip with a trade journalist will position you as a reliable resource and will build a two-way exchange in which both sides benefit.

A press release is not a prerequisite for news

Understand when a press release is called for and when it isn’t. Contrary to popular belief, there are more formats to engage the media with than a press release. Thanks to the power of digital and the universe of tools now available to PR practitioners, it’s never been easier to create and share engaging videos and other multimedia content. In many cases, alternative content types offer a better way to present a story and can make your content easier to consume.

Apply the same thinking to thought leadership pitches. If you’ve identified an op-ed opportunity in a top tier publication then don’t confuse your target by pitching a press release version of events. Articulate your ideas simply and to the point and help get it over the line by offering a preview of the story.

Bonus: For more tips on the best way to reach out, and creative ideas on other mediums of media to use, watch this free on-demand webinar on How to Write the Perfect Press Release

Tweak your email outreach approach

You can improve your email outreach success rate by adopting the “catch and hold” technique. Show that you aren’t a robot hammering out non-specific emails to all and sundry by opening a conversation. One way of “catching” attention is to save your structured press release and instead initiate contact by way of a brief pitch summarising the key points of your story. Not only will this help you gauge their appetite for a story, but it will also differentiate from the many standard press release pitches they receive. Before outreach commences, appoint a credible pre-determined spokesperson and offer this person for interviews. Journalists will appreciate the effort you’ve made in helping them bring a fresh take and voice to your story as opposed to expecting them to regurgitate your press release verbatim.

It will give you more room to tailor the outreach to appeal to their area of focus and lends itself to creating an authentic dialogue. Certainly, if your initial brief is relevant enough, they will request your press release if they want to find out more.

Always add value

Adding value is about sharpening your quality filter when selecting the news you choose to disseminate and avoiding the temptation to run to the press with a story just because someone in the ExCo says its newsworthy. Adding value is about working with select media partners to share information for the better of the broader ecosystem.

In 2019, make it your mission to ditch the standard outreach checklist mindset and transform your PR outreach approach into one that will nurture long-term media relationships and add value to publications and their readers. Sometimes that means forgetting your brand awareness ambitions and giving back by sharing information that won’t, in the short term, increase your mindshare. It’s hard work but the resultant response and rewards from going the extra mile and creating truly newsworthy brand stories are worth it.

Bonus: Meltwater’s Media Contact Database tool enables you to send your press release to the right people, at the right time. Try a free trial here