Want to Show up in Social Media?  Pitch to Mainstream Media

Ray Boyer, Boyer Media

There is no question that social media can be a powerful way to reach a huge audience with information about your work.  There is a powerful and out of vogue tool that can be used to trigger those social media conversations—good old-fashioned media relations.

Let me explain why I believe pitching stories to the mainstream media should be an element of any organization’s marketing plan.

If I had the luxury, as a public relations person, to focus on just one topic, you’d better believe that I would be hip deep in the social media networks with an interest in my issue.  But let’s consider a place like Northwestern University’s School of Engineering where I work with the marketing team.  The range of topics I encounter is huge—computer science, bio-medical engineering, material science, robotics, the technology of art history, and many more.  For many such stories the university will bring its entire team of media pros to the task.  But there are some that I work alone.  In those cases, the heart of my approach is to pitch it to selected reporters at mainstream media, knowing that if it runs, social media action, and lots of it, is virtually guaranteed.

Here is why.  If my story runs in a place like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or the Associated Press, it will enjoy a large readership right off the bat.  But as soon as it runs, the social media effect kicks in. Anyone with a direct interest in my story’s topic is likely to have a tracking system like Google Alerts that sends them a message each time a significant story about their topic appears.  There is a very good chance that a lot of those people will then use a link to my story as grist for their own social media networks.  So by using the old-fashioned tool of media relations I get a double benefit.  I get the validation that goes with a story that runs in a reputable mainstream publication, and I’m able to engage social media networks much larger than I could reach on my own.

A survey done in 2016 by one of my former clients, the data science firm NORC at the University of Chicago, dealing with how people navigate the media environment reveals the high degree of trust people continue to put in legacy media.  Why not capture that trust by working first with the mainstream outlets, knowing that your story will immediately become part of the social media conversation?

I don’t try to talk any of my clients out of using social media as an important element of their overall marketing effort.  But I counsel all of them to recognize that the mainstream media still makes a huge difference and recommend that they invest a piece of their marketing budget in media relations.

There is nothing high tech or sexy about reaching out to a journalist who has an interest in a particular topic.  After all, it’s their job to write stories, just as it is in the interest of a lot of other people to use those stories in their social media conversations.  My job is to call as much attention as possible to my story and the old-fashioned art of media pitching is a powerful way to get the job done.

About the Author: Ray Boyer, a consultant on public affairs strategy for clients in the public and nonprofit sectors, is the former head of public affairs for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Williams College.