A lot of times when I speak at conferences – no matter the place – I get asked several variations of the same question:
“I understand the importance of media outreach, but I just can’t get my boss to get on board. Any ideas?
First off, I want to address one big question: What does your boss actually think media relations entails? I ask this because the response is typically one or two of the below:
- Press releases
- Press trips/FAMs
- Hiring an agency to handle everything for you
… and none of those are correct.
The media doesn’t really don’t care about the first two (seriously), and the last one only matters on the quality of the pitch – they don’t care if it’s coming from a destination itself or an agency as long as the substance is good and piques their interest.
The pitch. That’s what media relations is all about.
But here’s the rub, you already have a full day slated – you’re skipping lunch in fact – and taking an hour to write a custom pitch just doesn’t seem in the cards. Sending a blanket press release is easier, while writing a custom pitch is harder and much more time-consuming… meaning you’re probably going out to fewer publications. BUT THAT’S OK. Why? Because the likelihood you will be picked up is so much higher.
Read on to learn the top three myths I hear all the time and let me bust them for you!
Myth #1: “We have to offer press trips.”
Nope. You sure don’t. When it comes to legitimate top-tier publications, they aren’t going to take you up on it anyways. Don’t believe me? Take this quote from Keith Bellows at National Geographic Traveler to heart, “Stories aren’t written based on press trips; if a place warrants coverage… we send a writer and photographer, on our own dime, with instructions to be as anonymous as possible.”
I want to be clear. I’m not saying you never want to do a press trip ever again (and if an awesome publication reaches out to you asking for one, it may make sense), but don’t feel like this is the only way to make a piece happen. In most cases, it’s not even a part of the equation.
Instead, focus your time and budget on creating quality pitches that pique a writer’s interest.
Myth #2: “It’s best to blast out a press release to as many contacts as possible. This will up our odds of getting picked up dramatically!”
Wrong. If all you’re looking for is general pickup of a press release, perhaps around a new hire or winning an award, sending a release out through a company like PR Newswire may make a lot of sense. But if you are trying to get an actual story about your destination, it is a waste of time and money.
Let me say it to you plain: stories are not written off of press releases. Now say that out loud to yourself.
…and thinking that they are is a naive way of looking at how the media works today.
From Mr. Bellows again, “We don’t work for you… You need to think about what we care about, not what you need to push. The idea that we would rush your release into print is, thankfully, a thing of the past.”
Members of the media today are looking for customized pitches. They want you to understand what their audience is looking for and be realistic about the timeline in which you expect to see coverage. When you change your approach about media pitching you will see a dramatic shift in the amount of interest you get from members of the media.
From top freelance writer Joanne Dibona, “Everyday I open my inbox to dozens of PR pitches, many of them inviting me to write a travel piece using boilerplate copy and generic destination photos. When I do get the rare pitch that shows me the sender has actually read some of my work… I immediately respond and begin to work with that individual.”
Myth #3: “We need to have an agency do our media relations – they have all the contacts”
I understand why many destinations think that the only way they could have a media relations program is to hire an agency or an expensive consultant – that’s how it’s always been done. But the fact of the matter is this is just not true anymore. Media are now spread throughout the country, not just located in New York City or San Francisco.
I live in Boise, Idaho (not exactly a hotbed of media contacts) and I have been able to get coverage in high-end publications like Martha Stewart Living, Alaska Beyond Magazine and Big Life, even though I do not know that contact personally. I spend my time doing a little research on them and crafting a pitch that I think will really speak to them. That is what people really respond to.
To be perfectly clear this isn’t to say that all agencies or consultants aren’t doing a good job. On the contrary many of them do a fantastic job, but it’s your job as a destination to hold them responsible for getting the quality results you’re looking for – Not just press release pick ups. Again, just because it’s always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that that’s the best way anymore.
But sometimes, especially for small to medium-sized destinations, the funds just aren’t there to bring someone on. Don’t get hung up on this; that does not mean you have no hope for getting media coverage, all it means is that you need to create a media program that works for you. You can do it!