12 Most Productive, Low-Cost Ways to Influence the Media

12 Most Productive, Low-Cost Ways to Influence the Media

Your nonprofit has a great mission and does wonderful work, but has a skimpy budget for marketing and communication. So, how to reach the media with your message? Here are the 12 most productive, low-cost, ways to gain influence with them.

1.Train yourself to think as if you were a journalist or influential blogger

Often, a nonprofit executive thinks: “We need to get coverage about…”. The media don’t care about why you need coverage. They care about newsworthy things and events. So frame things in this way: why it would be helpful for the reporter or blogger to know about you or your news? What’s in it for them? Why does it matter for their audience?

2. Figure out which reporters and bloggers write about the industry or population your group serves

Keep up to date with the news about your field. Notice the by-lines and the kind of stories they write. Are they breaking news? Features? Get familiar with the groups they cover and the sources they quote regularly.

3. Get to know the media and writers who follow your field before you need to pitch anything

It’s very hard to cram in the knowledge quickly that you’ll amass over weeks or months of daily familiarization. It’s the same as it was in college: If you blow off the slow and steady work and pull an all-nighter for the final, you’ll need luck and prayers to do well.

4. But, if you must do this on the fly, the best way is an exhaustive search of the archives of the writer’s past stories or posts

Read as much as you can that they’ve written. Look for trends in coverage: what kinds of pieces are they? What tone do they have?

5. Think about giving the writer information that he or she would find useful, not that you want them to cover

This is crucial. Picture your news as one of the stories you saw this writer publish. What angle would the writer use? What examples? What sources?

6. Email the writer or blogger and comment on a piece, or offer some interesting observation without pitching anything

This is very important, because you want to reach out as a reader and observer, not a salesperson. Reporters and bloggers always smell that, and it’s not pretty.

7. Get familiar with deadlines

When do the stories or posts or publications come out? Take note. Never contact them near deadline. Seriously.

8. When you get ready to pitch an idea, keep it short and on point

Keep the language geared in terms of the writer’s perspective. Refer to one or two other stories or posts they’ve written and suggest  why your idea could be of interest. Show them that you know what they write about and tha you read their work; it does matter. It might get, at least, some consideration instead of a swift press of the delete key (which is what happens to irrelevant or off-topic pitches.)

9. Remember that the pitch is just the basics

This is not the time to send several attachments or an email that takes up multiple screens. Pique interest, and if the writer wants more details, you’ll hear about it.

10. Respect their time

Deadlines are a harsh reality. Writers are often having to multitask and write cut lines for photos, blog and even shoot stills or video, in addition to turning in a daily story (or stories). And they are definitely not waiting around to hear from you, especially if you are a new source or unknown contact.

11. That means do not call to see if the writer/blogger got the email

Oy, almost nothing is more annoying, particularly at deadline (see #7).

12. Look all around for opportunities

They are everywhere. Writers always want fresh, newsy ideas. If you have one, pass it on.  Be that source who conveys relevant information, even if it’s not a pitch. Offer a comment that adds insight or points out a new trend. That’s a great way to make the ground fertile for later, when you do have a pitch for that writer.

These take persistence and diligence. It’s all about developing relationships and trust, and there’s no real short cut for that. But, it doesn’t take a big PR budget. I know because I used to take calls like this. Authenticity and relevance will win over many — even most writers.

What’s your experience? Have you tried these tactics? And how did it go?

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Featured image courtesy of via Creative Commons.

Becky Gaylord


Becky worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times, Salon.com, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact. Becky blogs about that (a few other things) at Framing What Works.

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Cathy Bishop
Cathy Bishop

Yes, first and foremost, it's all about confidence! You got to feel as if. As if you're an influential writer/ blogger in the field of your interest.

Kim Phillips
Kim Phillips

Excellent post. People (particularly CEOs) then to think of the "earned" media as just another advertising channel that they can control. I always found it works better when you look at it from the journalist's point of view and provide them with genuine news — not self-serving advertising — that fits the publication. If you think of media relations in terms of what problem you can solve for writers, you'll earn their trust.


I especially appreciated #6 - #11. Any opinions on HARO which I only recently heard about?


@Kim Phillips Kim, I totally agree. In fact, when I was a journalist, some of my best sources were PR folks who didn't try to spin me. They just gave credible, timely information. And over time, the relationship deepened to the point that, if I needed to check something quickly regarding one of their clients, I knew I could call them and get a truthful answer. There weren't too many like that. And I would always take their calls.


@dbvickery Thanks Brian. Yes, I really like the site Help a Reporter Out, founded by @PeterShankman in 2008. One of the most powerful aspects of it, from the publicist's view, is that these requests are from real, live media folks who are reporting real, live stories. On deadline. They need info and sources. Right. Now. So, it's a jackpot compared to, say, pitching randomly to reporters who are mostly not interested, and even if they are, not doing a story on that topic now. If you don't already have a relationship with a journalist, responding to a HARO query offers a swift shortcut to a returned email. One caveat to new users, though, make sure the response truly addresses the journalist's query. The site, wisely, has consequences for those who don't. Spammers get banned.


@BeckyGaylord @Kim Phillips Did you just say something about PR folks not spinning and giving credible information? I'd love to be introduced. 

Great article. Love #1. So true, it all begins with an identity and only I can choose how I'd like to be viewed. 

Kim Phillips
Kim Phillips

@Emmalish @BeckyGaylord @Kim Phillips I'd like to think I was that kind. It's also useful to remember that he who owns the printing press--or blog--gets to decide what gets published. You wouldn't believe the things I was asked to "tell" the media when I was a young pup.


Thanks for weighing in. And yes, in my view, all the best PR folks are credible. Journalists and bloggers need PR people -- even if they don't admit it, freely or publicly. And the ones they respect and appreciate get back, by deadline, with information, and without demanding what the story's lede or angle will be. Yep, they really exist!  @Emmalish @BeckyGaylord @Kim Phillips