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More than 30 million copies of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People have been sold since the book was first published in 1936 – and for good reason. Carnegie’s lessons about people are simple, effective and can be applied easily to any area of business that involves human interaction.
I’ve found that most, if not all, of Carnegie’s teachings are relevant to my role as a communicator. Business communications is, after all, largely about ‘winning friends and influencing people’, is it not? Whether you’re crafting a social media post, putting together a formal announcement, or sending out a company e-newsletter, you’re probably hoping to ‘win some friends’ or ‘influence people’ with your message.
When I re-read How to Win Friends recently, three particular lessons stood out as being critical to a successful media outreach effort.
Personalize your communications
We’re bombarded all day long with communications from a range of different sources. On top of the regular incoming messages that most of us receive – emails, texts, advertisements, social media posts, etc. – journalists receive dozens (if not more) of unsolicited email pitches each day.
With that kind of competition, how do you make your email to a reporter stand out?
Truthfully, the answer to this question is multi-faceted, but Carnegie gives us one simple tip to point us in the right direction: use your contact’s name.
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Personalize each email you send to a reporter, beginning right with your salutation. Never use a generic “Hey there!” or “To Whom It May Concern” when reaching out to a real, live reporter. Treat them like the human being that they are, and address them respectfully, by name.
Of course, addressing a reporter by name isn’t, on its own, enough to score media coverage, but it’s an important first step.
Increase your chances of generating earned media coverage by personalizing your emails to reporters beyond the salutation. For example, include a line or two of genuine appreciation for a recent piece of coverage by your contact, or tie your pitch angle into a demonstrated journalistic interest of theirs.
Ask yourself: why should anyone care about my company?
One of Carnegie’s most important lessons is to override the natural inclination we all have to focus on “I” and “me” and instead focus on our audience – “you.” This also happens to be one of the most important lessons of communications.
When you stop thinking about your company from your own perspective, you begin to look at it like an outsider might – like, let’s say, a reporter. The ability to do this will drastically improve the ROI of your media outreach campaigns. What you find most intriguing about your company or the reason you care about it is often quite different from what a reporter finds most intriguing or why they might care about what you’re doing.
That being said, my company often works with startups and young companies, and we see time and time again how difficult it can be to get enough distance from your work to look at it objectively. This is especially true for founders and founding teams. But, there are few things you can do to help yourself here.
Start by looking carefully at your target contacts’ recent coverage. Make a note of any trends or similarities between their stories. Does it seem like your target has a specific interest or focus within their broader coverage beat? Does anything about your company or story fit into this particular area of focus? How could your work or product fit into the types of stories your target produces?
Also, spend some time talking with company ‘outsiders’ – friends, family, trusted clients – to find out what they find most interesting or unique about your company, services, or products. You might be surprised by the feedback you receive, and conversations like these can help you identify areas of your story to share with the media that you might not have considered on your own.
Most people aren’t interested in what you want – they’re interested in what they want
Does a reporter care that you want media coverage? No.
Does a reporter care about producing content that will interest their audience? Yes.
Stop focusing your media outreach on what you want and why (i.e., “Write about my company to help us grow!”). Instead, focus on what your media contacts want (i.e., “Your outlet's audience of parents of school-age children will benefit greatly from our new study about the best – and worst – tactics for helping children to learn virtually.”). As Carnegie teaches, an impactful way to ‘influence people’ is to understand what they want – and to show them how to get it.
Of course, you’ll rarely know precisely what a reporter wants or needs, but you can make an educated guess. Research each contact you plan to pitch. Read their coverage. Follow them on social media. Look at the demographics of their core audience. Then, try to offer them information and story angles that are very likely to be of interest to or benefit them and their audience.
One situation in which you might have a pretty solid idea of what a reporter wants is during a major breaking news event. Reporters covering breaking news need to move quickly, and they often want qualified sources who can comment on the news just as quickly. When appropriate, help reporters get what they want by making yourself available to discuss major news as it happens or by issuing a statement reporters can quote from easily in their coverage.
Before you kick off a new media outreach effort, think carefully about each of the three lessons outlined above. Could you develop more personalized messages for the reporters you’re pitching? Are you putting yourself in the reporter’s shoes when developing your pitch angles? What material can you provide to a reporter that they might truly want or need?
Then, if you can find a bit of extra time, pick up a copy of How to Win Friends & Influence People and read it. You’ll be glad that you did.