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The do’s and don’ts of media relations

By ATB Financial 23 September 2020 4 min read

Your business is growing and you’re managing the many moving parts that have your entrepreneurial head whirring. You’ve got a stellar and a unique product or service. Maybe now is the right time to get media attention, but you have no clue where to start.

What should you do and what should you avoid? We spoke to two experienced media relations experts to get the answers you need.


Timing matters

As excited as you are to try to get coverage from local or national reporters, you first have to determine if now is the right moment to reach out.
Karin Põldaas, director of media and reputation, brand, at ATB, advises business owners to ask themselves several questions before reaching out to journalists:

  • Do you have a story that appeals to media? Is it newsworthy?
  • Is it the right time (for your company and in the media) to share that story?
  • Is reaching out and pitching media even the right tactic for your company and its objectives?

She adds when it comes to timing, there are a number of factors to consider, including if it’s timely and if there might be other news going out that day that would overshadow your story.

You should also figure out what makes your story unique. How can you differentiate yourself from everyone else in your market? Journalists are savvy. Their reputation is on the line every time they choose to cover something, so it’s important to do your homework and pinpoint what makes your company stand out.


Is it news or is it newsworthy?

Põldaas notes business owners have to look within to uncover a newsworthy angle to their story. “Sometimes companies confuse their organization’s news with a newsworthy story,” she says. “Unfortunately, a story focused solely on the organization is rarely newsworthy—and it’s highly unlikely that media will cover a pitch like this.”

You’re in a stronger position when you can show how your business is helping people, instead of focusing primarily on product announcements.

Põldaas says, “It doesn’t have to be earth shattering; sometimes small but meaningful gestures will attract media attention. During the pandemic, we shared that ATB Financial was giving free coffee to first responders at a local coffee shop in Lethbridge. Our goal was to raise awareness so first responders heading to work could enjoy a cup of coffee on ATB. Some local media recognized that we weren’t trying to toot our own horn so they helped amplify the message. Together, we made the day a little bit brighter for some folks.”


Do target effectively, don’t email-blast everyone

A good rule of thumb is to target the outlets and journalists in your space. If your business focuses on digital tech, there’s no point in emailing journalists who cover the arts or retail.

Reaching out to someone who doesn’t know your market is not an effective use of your time and resources. Emailing everyone who you hope will cover your story isn’t targeting strategically. You'll be far more successful if you do your research and understand which journalists cover your market.

Then comes your pitch, which is often a short email to the right journalist explaining what makes your business worth covering. Põldaas says, “Media are busy people. Make sure your pitch is as compelling and as concise as possible and you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of getting your story and your company considered.”

Also, try to include some eye-catching photos and embedded videos that aren’t just thrown in there to break up the grey text. Do these photos and videos offer a fuller picture of what your business offers customers and reveal how your business differentiates from others in the same space?

More advice on what you should practice and what you should avoid
Põldaas shares a few other key pointers for business owners seeking to boost their media presence:

  • Look beyond newspapers and seek community news networks online, trade publications, podcasts and even social media influencers.
  • You can be province-agnostic and try to work with journalists outside Alberta, but be sure your products/services are also Canada-wide.
  • Don’t pitch a story that is an ad for your company. If you do, you’ll get a reputation and journalists will start ignoring your emails.
  • Don’t re-pitch the same story to the same journalists. If it wasn’t newsworthy for them the first time around, it won’t be this time either.
  • Never add journalists to your company newsletter. There’s no better way to annoy journalists than spamming them with content they didn’t request.

A well-planned media relations strategy can help build awareness but it’s hard work and most of it comes before you even pitch the story! It takes a compelling story about your business, research on the right journalists to target, following the news intently and a smattering of luck to interest media pros.

And if you’re not getting any media interest despite a concerted effort, just do what you’re meant to do as an entrepreneur and focus on the bigger picture. To paraphrase the classic film Field of Dreams, if you build a successful business, the customers will come.

If you’re looking for a deep dive into everything you need to know around how to grow your business and make it more resilient, our ATB X Accelerator program might be just the place for you. Alternatively, feel free to reach out to one of our entrepreneur strategists to explore where you are with your business, where you want to be, and how to get there!


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