Back in the day when I was director of marketing and PR for Zoo New England (the non-profit that runs the Franklin Park and Stone Zoos in metro Boston) editors and producers paid attention to my media pitches. Why? Because it’s a high profile organization; the media and the public at large know the zoos; and even if they are not fans, they are at least curious about them. Besides, like the Simon and Garfunkel song goes, “It’s All Happening at the Zoo.”
But most of the time, we PR folks are not so lucky to have the easy attention of the media; we face a lot of rejection or, worse yet, no response at all to media pitches. This is especially true when publicizing a smaller, lesser-known non-profit or company. One of my current clients, The Work of 1000 documentary film project, hired me to augment their media relations campaign, primarily involving a series of small press releases to announce upcoming speaking and screening events. The project had received several significant media placements a couple of years earlier, around the time of the film debut, so it was not brand new “news” anymore. The Boston Globe, for example, had already done two stories on it in the past four years. So I had to manage expectations for myself and my client; even though it was a compelling, “feel-good” human interest story, reporters and editors have plenty of those to choose from.
To get fresh media attention for this project, I pondered the possibilities. I knew that some reporter or editor at a media outlet out there had not covered the project yet, and would see a fresh angle on old news. I looked for timely news “hooks” where the project was relevant to something going on today. Ah, National Rivers Month was coming up, and this project is partly about the clean-up of a major river… there was the hook, a reason to reach out to the press.
I had the idea to pitch Chronicle TV news magazine. It took several attempts over a few weeks to find the right person to pitch to, and the best method of contacting that decision maker. Then one editor responded politely, saying basically “interesting, nice story, we’ll keep it in mind, sometimes it takes years to find a fit.” At last, there was a glimmer of hope, but not much to hang a hat on. I let it go, put it on the back burner. Then, out of the blue, several weeks later a Chronicle producer emailed me. Ultimately the show aired a 10-minute segment about the project. Score!
On a smaller scale, for the past several months I’ve been doing publicity for a local jazz musician, Molly Flannery. Flannery had not been doing media outreach to promote upcoming gigs with the two or three bands in which she plays. So it was again a matter of introducing the media to this musician and the bands in which she plays. I had to convey that Flannery and her fellow musicians have a boatload of talent, and that they play gigs regularly; in other words, that they are “real.”
There were no hard news hooks: no major gigs in large venues, or exciting CD release parties. It was mostly a matter of pushing out events calendar listings to the local papers and radio stations. Over the course of a few months, I began to get regular ink in the calendar sections, and one of the bands (The Sergio Mendes Project) was mentioned in the Globe’s “G” section and highlighted in the Boston Phoenix music calendar. For a band that was not on anyone’s radar screen a few months earlier, that was major progress!
You may have heard the term “drip marketing,” in which one slowly, consistently sends news or pitches to prospects. Well, that’s what it takes to get on (and stay on) the radar screen with the press. If you are representing a small or relatively new organization, you have to send several news releases or event listings to build trust, so they know you are not a “fly-by-night” organization. It’s a matter of building brand awareness, specifically for the media audience. It does not happen overnight, unless you have a truly new piece of hard news to convey. Rather, it takes months to grab the media’s attention. Besides having a good story to tell, a PR person needs patience and perseverance; these two virtues pay dividends over time.