A couple of months ago, I gave myself and my company, Iodine, a doozy of a goal. I wanted The New York Times to publish an article about our new product and I wanted it to run on the same day we launched and demo'd the site at an industry conference. Go big or go home, right?
Why add a challenge like a New York Times story to the existing challenge of launching our product? Because I knew that to make a splash, there is nothing like having the imprimatur of the world's greatest newspaper. So, putting my two decades as a writer and editor to work, I made my case to the paper for coverage--a case that you might find useful as you create a media strategy.
First, I knew the Times would be a hard sell. Our company wouldn't interest a reporter without a really good story connected to it. In this case, a good story actually means two good stories. The first is the product itself: It needs to be inherently compelling and interesting. It has to be worthy of coverage. That's the price of entry. But that is insufficient. There are plenty of interesting businesses out there, but that alone isn't reason to write about them.
The second story is a strong narrative. This might be a personality story, a "triumph over adversity" tale, a trend piece about broader economic forces, or a link to a newsworthy event. In our case, this second story was about our technology and a clever hack that gave us a database of user-generated content.
Next, we had to make our pitch to the right reporter. Luckily, the Times has someone whose beat includes big data. We had our guy--now we just needed to persuade him.
To make contact, we eschewed a PR firm. Nothing turns off a reporter more than a bland pitch from somebody who's never read his or her work. Instead, I sent a personal email that explained what we were up to. My pitch intrigued the reporter, and in a subsequent phone call I explained our product in more detail.
Even after he seemed genuinely interested in our company and paid a visit to our office, it would be weeks before we would know that an article was in the works. And then, there was no telling what angle the reporter was going to take, or whom else he would call for comments. The story was entirely out of our hands. You no longer control the message once a reporter gets involved. As someone who, until then, had managed every aspect of our company, I found this an unnerving experience, but it's all part of the drill, and I knew it.
The day the story appeared, our office was already in a frenzy--we were launching that day, after all, and had that big demo scheduled for the next morning. But when it popped up at NYTimes.com, we took a moment to pop a few corks. Having the piece in the Times was a heck of a way to emerge from months of stealthy effort. All at once, it made this thing we had cooked up in a San Francisco alley very real, and very visible to the whole world. This wasn't just good PR. This was also validation and recognition of Iodine's team of nine, who'd been working long hours for many weeks--and who aren't so jaded by the media as I am. "There's nothing like the world knowing what you've been working on," one engineer said.
Even better, the Times story set in motion a lot of other stuff--visits from users, interest from possible partners, and other media stories. (By the way, there's more out there than The New York Times; we got more traffic from the blog Lifehacker than from the paper of record.)
The best way to work with the media is to help reporters find a story they want to tell--and then get out of the way and let them tell it.