Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA invited prominent black leaders in the public relations profession to offer their views and ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the profession. This is the fourth post in the series. A compilation of previous PRSA Black History Month blog posts can be found here.
An old faithful in the industry, media relations mastery is a necessary skill for PR professionals. Social networking and other digital platforms are hot topics, but many clients still want their product or event splashed across headlines. As midsize outlets are muscled out by online giants like Huffington Post and New York Times, smaller publishers are forced to get more and more niche-oriented. Those newspapers and magazines cultivate large readership bases when content is developed for a specific audience, not the masses. And with $1.1 trillion in projected African American spending power by 2015, black people across the U.S. are a market well-worth reaching. What does this mean for your media relations campaign? Whether local or national in scope, black publications are necessary components.
Having worked at a black newspaper, I know why pitching these publications can present challenges. First, most of the largest black outlets have fewer on their editorial staff than general market outlets. You will likely find one editor or writer responsible for covering multiple news topics. More responsibilities mean they have less time to hear your pitch, and a smaller newspaper or magazine means fewer stories get published. The good news is that publications are hungry for content. Tighter staffs mean reporters only get sent out to cover major stories. Editors often depend on PR pros to feed them relevant content for their audience. Here is how to maximize that relationship and get your stories published:
Write your press release as a story
Editors and writers have less time to develop a story, so do the work for them. Mainstream publications usually see the press release as a jumping-off point – they will take the content and follow up with their own research or interviews. Black publications do this as well (for larger, or investigative stories), but are also open to publishing your full press release. Editors appreciate when they only need make a few copy tweaks before a release is ready to print. The more your release reads like a completed story, the better.
Know your angle
Editors at black publications are fiercely protective of their content. Most have loyal followings, and editors know their audience depends on them to provide insightful and meaningful news for the black community. Your story has to directly affect the media outlet’s readership. Many publications have a local scope, so national stories without a local angle affecting blacks will almost always get passed over. Know the publication well, and formulate your story to fit within it.
Also, remember that blacks are not a monolithic target market. Publications can focus on everything from religion and business to community affairs and lifestyles, all reaching black audiences. Find publications within the market that reach the sub-niche you want to target. (i.e.: Don’t pitch a story about an African-American chamber of commerce to a religious magazine.) Whether targeting black nurses, CEOs or mothers, find a publication that reaches them directly for the best results.
Know the publishing cycle
Most black publications are weeklies or monthlies. For smaller staffs, as publishing deadlines approach, editors and writers kick into high-gear and have little time to hear your pitch. Know when the outlet publishes, then pitch your stories on THAT day or the day after. For weeklies, these are usually slower days spent completing preliminaries for next week’s issue. Editors have the time and clear mind (with the latest issue behind them) to hear what you have to say.
Work the contributing writers
Many black publications depend heavily on freelance writers to provide content. That means fewer editors dictating to reporters what stories to cover, and more freelancers offering their own content to publish. See this as an opportunity. Rather than pitch the paper, try contacting the writer directly. If you are familiar with his or her work, you can quickly establish a rapport, opening the door to regular coverage within the paper.
Above all, be sure you grow a relationship. Unlike mainstream publications, chances are you will be pitching the editor-in-chief directly, not a section editor. The more he or she sees you as a resource for valuable information affecting their audience, the more likely your clients will see regular coverage in the outlet. Just make sure you don’t shovel stories to the editor and expect everything to get published. Editors can be highly selective and know when a story is truly newsworthy or only superficially pertains to blacks. Work with clients to make a REAL impact on the black community, not just by spinning a product or event that way, and your stories will pitch themselves.
Matthew Beatty, M.B.A., is communications director at Black PR Wire, Inc. in North Miami Beach, Florida.