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Never Overlook Smaller Outlets When You’re Promoting Your Utility

image credit: Photo 110408388 © Георги Димитров |
Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner, Freelancer

I hold 35 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
  • 1,078 items added with 580,102 views
  • Mar 4, 2022

How tantalizing is the idea of having your utility splashed (for positive reasons) on the cover of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or some similarly prestigious publication?

And how sweet would it be to have a fawning profile about your utility appear on “60 Minutes, “20/20” or “CBS News Sunday Morning,” to name three high-profile outlets?

While you can always hope those things might happen, realistically they won’t. There’s probably a better chance that you wind up in one of those outlets when something catastrophic occurs. And that’s clearly a nightmare.

Therefore, while you can always aim high, it’s also more likely to pay dividends if you aim lower.

In all likelihood, your best bets for wide-reaching coverage may be the tier of outlets that include your local network television affiliates, the daily newspaper and area radio stations. Most of them will be accessible to a large degree and, when you present legitimate news, amenable to your pitches.

Depending upon your prior interactions, you likely know the reporters that cover your utility; if not, work on developing them. Even if you don’t have prior relationships, these outlets probably have dedicated assignment editors or someone to pitch.

But the media, especially these days, goes so far beyond that.

There are dozens of smaller outlets, including weekly newspapers, local talk radio, cable TV programs, bloggers and bloggers.

Granted, the audiences are smaller (and you need to check out in advance how reputable each outlet is), but they can be excellent targets.

That’s because they have a near-constant need for content and a much lower bar for acceptance.

I can give you a perfect example that just happened to me. I’m the editor of a weekly newspaper with a circulation of about 20,000. The entire news staff consists of two reporters and myself.

Each week, we typically write an obit of a prominent person (prominence varies from week to week). During an interview, the wife of the guy we planned to write about flaked out and decided she didn’t want to talk to us (she had been unreasonable about expectations from the start).

That left us having to scramble to find someone else. Now with obits, we can just pick the next-most-prominent person and go from there. But if one of our other stories fell through, we’d be scrambling for a backup. If your utility came to us with a good story idea that targets our readership, we might well use it

Also note, that smaller outlets tend to be less sophisticated, so you likely can get your message out less filtered than at the bigger, more prestigious outlets. Smaller media sources usually have less-experienced or less-skilled people working there and, given the pressure of deadlines and fewer people to take up the slack, they’re less likely to challenge what you’re saying.

I’d like to think that after 35 years in the business, my BS meter is strong and both my young reporters are quite good at what they do, but the sheer crush of work can limit background research and vetting. If it seems logical, we might take you at your word.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should lie or misrepresent something to any news outlet, but a reasonable slant is more likely to be accepted.

As always, the usual rules apply. Be courteous to media sources. It’s OK to push a hesitant editor or reporter to consider your story pitch, but being too aggressive won’t help you in the long run. Remember that pitching is akin to cold-calling; your success rate is going to be low. By alienating outlets, you’re likely to limit future opportunities. News is a judgment call, so if Editor X has had bad experiences with you before, he’s less likely to approve of even your better pitches.

When you make your pitch, provide plenty of information. That includes background about whatever you’re pitching, general utility background, headshots of key people and so on. When asked for other materials, provide them promptly. If the journalist wants to talk to specific people at your utility, do your best to make it happen. (And yes, I realize that executives won’t always do what you want.)

In other words, make it easy for the journalist to do your story.

When you do get hits, you can add to the impact by linking coverage on your social media channels and website. Thank the outlet and follow up if the story warrants it.

Remember that little hits add up over time. They’ll be included on those outlets’ websites for years to come and be picked up by search engines.

While coverage in an elite outlet is exciting, getting a dozen placements in smaller outlets can be just as effective, if not more so. Quantity can equate to quality when it comes to public relations.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 4, 2022

Great way to stay in front of your community members-- always key to remember!

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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