This post was originally produced for Forbes.
A bit of good press can play a role in attracting capital, new hires and customers. Entrepreneurs often sense that this is the case but have no idea how to get media to pay attention.
Paraphrasing Jerry Seinfeld, it is important to understand that there is no success police. No one is monitoring the activities of all the social entrepreneurs in the world to identify the brilliant new ideas and share them. Your success is up to you. Don’t wait to be discovered. It will be a long wait.
Next, you’ll want to find someone who writes about the sort of thing you do. Search the news on Google for stories about direct competitors or about the social problem you hope to address. This takes time. You want to be sure you understand the journalist’s beat before you prepare a pitch.
One of the mistakes I often see is that people pitch a tangent to a story I’ve written that has nothing to do with my narrow focus on social entrepreneurship and impact investing. For instance, last week I wrote about a blockchain startup that is working actively in the developing world to provide identification for people who lack it, addressing a social problem head-on. In the week since, I’ve received several pitches for blockchain and crypto stories that have no social impact angle. It is a good idea to read enough of a journalist’s work to understand the focus of their attention. Sadly, for most journalists, the social angle is the tangent.
A thorough web search could yield dozens of journalists from CNN reporters to local newspapers and bloggers. There is no good reason to leave anyone off your list. One blogger’s post may lead to something bigger.
Finding contact information for journalists is generally easy. Many news sites will link the author’s byline to a profile that includes either a contact form or an email address. Television sites most consistently do not; a search of such sites will generally get you to a tip line email address. Professional public relations firms are helpful in this regard.
Once you have your list, there is something of an art to submitting a story—some guidelines that are helpful.
First, be sure to send your story to a person and use that person’s name in the email. When people submit a pitch addressed just “Hi,” Hi there,” or “Hi First Name,” (I really do get pitches addressed “Hi First Name”) the recipients know immediately that they are reading a form letter that may have gone to hundreds of people. Most journalists are not excited to share a story that every other outlet will carry and so they’ll ignore such an email.
Next, you’ll get much more attention if you build a rapport with the journalist by mentioning the articles you’ve read and liked. You can get further still by subscribing to or following the journalists in some way. It is easy enough to find them on twitter and follow them there. Tell them you do. Now, you’ve become a fan and a follower, and your pitch is now more likely to be read.
You’ll then want to explain why your story is relevant to their beat and why it is interesting now. Help them see a hook that would make people want to read the story. For me, I find stories that relate to eliminating extreme poverty and improving social justice, improving global health and mitigating climate change are the most interesting. Every journalist is likely to have favorite themes. While you may not know what they are, past stories can provide clues.
It is generally a good idea to include a press release–a draft of an article the journalist can edit and submit. I never use press releases in place of original content on Forbes but I often print them verbatim at MySocialGoodNews.com and GoodCrowd.info. Every outlet and every journalist has a different view about using press releases. One thing is for sure: if you don’t provide one, they can’t use it. Best practice is to send your release in the body of the email and indicate who is available for interviews and if there are photos or video available.
Most journalists don’t respond directly to story ideas and pitches they won’t use. The reason is simple. Responding personally to each one is impossible. While I get hundreds of pitches every week, celebrity journalists must get thousands. That would include popular bloggers, YouTube celebrities and the like. That means you’ll get the same response if your pitch was completely off base or right on target but crowded out by other stories pitched at the same time. So, don’t take rejection personally. You should also feel free to follow up once, to ensure that the journalist has really had a chance to see your idea.
This strategy won’t work with every journalist every time, but it will work with some of them some of the time. If your story merits attention, reaching out this way is likely to bring it.