Media Pitching? Be An Expert, Not An Advertiser

(News flash) If your media engagement strategy makes you seem like you’re always trying to get free advertising, you won’t be happy with the results. Try this: Be an expert, not an advertiser.

It’s a simple concept. If you want to have a good relationship with members of the media and get coverage that means something of significance, don’t treat reporters like they’re your advertising agency. Remember, there’s a difference between paid media and earned media — and it’s a BIG difference.

Is your “big news” always newsworthy?

News outlets, and the reporters that create content for them, are concerned with actual news. I know, I know. Shocking.

Now that we’ve covered that, we have to take a bitter pill. Not everything that is momentous at a business is actually newsworthy. Ouch! Trust me, I’ve had to swallow that reality a time or two…or ten. It stinks. Especially when, as a PR person, you’re tasked with “getting coverage” for something internally significant that may not be all that important outside the confines of your office.

What can make this more troubling is if the only time you’ve connected with reporters in the past is when you want them to write a story that’s all about you or your business. If you’re guilty of this — admittedly, I have been — you run the risk of rankling feathers.

“We’re not their marketing department,” is a sentiment my reporter friends have voiced on more than one occasion.

Instead of only advertising “big news,” be an expert resource

As a PR professional, the message-crafting I do with my clients is my service, and my end consumer is the audience my clients want to reach. That said, more often than not, to get that message to the end consumer I have to sell that product (or story) first to another customer: the media.

To do that, I first have to identify the outlets and reporters who (1) will care about my message, and (2) are followed by my client’s ideal audience. This takes work. And while it may be easier to simply fire press releases into every inbox on your master media list when your company has “big news” to share, the stories you want told rarely grow from such a strategy.

But if you do your homework first and identify the right reporter(s), then you can approach them with various story pitches or ideas (not just your “big news” items) that speak to their coverage interests (remember empathy, my friends) and the interests of their audience — which will be your audience. That way, you’ll be an expert who provides valuable resources, not an advertiser masked as a PR pro. 

How to position yourself (and your business) in the expert role

One of your best shots at securing higher quality coverage is to arm your target reporter(s) with information that helps them advance their reporting in a specific field they cover.

Here are four ways you can play the helpful expert:

  • Provide relevant statistics: Audiences love statistics because they offer points of reference for a story. If your business has access to unique and exciting data, be sure to draw specific attention to it in a pitch — or even build a whole pitch around those stats and what they mean for your industry.
  • Highlight team member problem-solving: Say your company makes men’s sunglasses. Does all your media outreach have to be about your actual product? No way. Has your digital marketing team uncovered a massive, yet previously under-appreciated, customer demographic? Has your customer service team developed a successful new engagement strategy? If yes, tell those stories and others.
  • Milestone (deeper/ broader) meanings: Businesses love to run to the media when they’ve hit some milestone. Milestones are beautiful, but what makes them more useful to media and your end consumer is explaining what the broader implications of them are for the industry. You just raised $10 million for a new piece of healthcare technology? Congrats! Now, what does that mean? How will you spend the money? And what does that do for patients?
  • Don’t always pitch a story: If you know your reporters and their interests, nothing builds goodwill like merely passing along helpful information. If you’ve come across an important metric, an industry development, or a tidbit of relevant knowledge, shoot them an email and let them know. It may not score you a feature story, but it will be appreciated and may come back to benefit you down the road.

Can you land one-off pieces of earned media by just chucking out quasi-regular press releases? Yeah, sure. If you want to cultivate media relationships, though, and position yourself as an expert resource, you will do yourself and your business by digging a little deeper.

David Martin is the founder of Heed Public Relations. You can reach him at